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Chicago Public Schools Contend With Massive State-Wide Budget Cuts

>   First Posted: 12/20/2011 11:42 am Updated: 12/20/2011 1:42 pm

Iemaan is a junior at Whitney Young Magnet School and a student reporter for The Mash, a weekly teen publication distributed to Chicagoland high schools.

School districts all over Illinois are tightening their belts to shoulder massive statewide budget cuts. Jean-Claude Brizard, the newly appointed CEO of Chicago Public Schools, is a man with a plan. The former superintendent of the Rochester, N.Y., school system recently told The Mash in an exclusive interview that he inherited more than 400,000 high school, middle and elementary students and a $712 million budget deficit when he took over the Chicago job -- with the district expecting the budget to fall short by $860 million to $1 billion by 2014.

Brizard has already made headlines for wanting to increase the length of the school day as soon as January in some schools. He also plans to change how teachers are evaluated, cut back on physical education classes, and eliminate division/homeroom periods.

Statewide, the public school system is taking a $2 billion hit, according to the Chicago Tribune. A chain reaction of layoffs, program cuts and class-size growth in many school districts followed suit.

According to Brizard, the situation is looking dismal for CPS. “If we do get this billion-dollar shortfall, you’re going to see impacts across the system. We will see class sizes increasing, teachers getting laid off and programs being cut. I don’t think anything’s going to be kept sacred.”

Jaszmine Parks, a junior at Jones, said she has already felt the effects of cuts -- she’s noticed most of her classes this semester have 30 or more students. The choir program shrunk from five classes to one and students had to pay an extra $15 or more to participate in choir, theater or sports. Parks criticized how the cuts at CPS were handled.

“I wish they had sent out a letter explaining what was going on and why fees were being hiked up,” Parks said. “Most parents were surprised to find they had to pay about $100 more this year [for class and activities fees].”

Sai Koppaka, a junior at Northside, has noticed that class sizes are larger than they were two years ago, and that some fees went up for classes and activities.

Whitney Young junior Mary Khalaf saw that different level Italian classes were being mixed due to a shortage of teachers.

“Sometimes it gets confusing because the Italian IV students are doing the same thing as the AP Italian students,” said Khalaf. “But I think the teacher does a good job handling the situation and keeping everyone on track.”

Brizard was sympathetic to students but firm in his decisions to cut funds from programs he felt were “important, but ineffective.” According to Brizard, “$400 million [in] cuts can be made within bureaucracy, but with a billion-dollar [shortfall], you’re looking at cutting back programs in schools.”