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Hint of good news, but mainly the blues at Wednesday school board meeting

by Lauren Timm
May 26, 2010

Parents of incoming kindergartners got a hint of tentative good news Wednesday, following a board of education meeting punctuated by talk of  budget cuts to sports programs as well as bilingual education, along with increased class sizes.

The issues of Tuesday night's teacher rally hung in the air at the monthly Chicago Board of Education meeting. Fears about Chicago Public Schools budget cuts propelled many of the speakers to state their views during the public participation portion of the meeting.

Representatives from O.A. Thorp Scholastic Academy, whose full-day kindergarten program faces cuts to half-day if the current budget stands, spoke to the damages of a shorter day. Virginia Sabella, who has two children who went to Thorp’s kindergarten program and another entering this fall, asked, “How can we offer a quality education in two-and-a-half hours?”

Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman offered the board’s support to the Thorp parents. “We absolutely share your commitment to full-day kindergarten,” he said. “We think it’s absolutely critical.”

Although he made no promises for full-day programs, he told the crowd that if CPS receives the same funding from the state next year, kindergarten programs will be some of the first to be restored. In 2010, CPS had an operating budget of $5.328 billion.

“I can tell you I was on the phone a good chunk of the day yesterday with legislators in Springfield,” he said. “I’m cautiously optimistic that we may achieve level funding.”

Questions remain regarding most other parts of the budget, including exactly how many teachers will be jobless in August and what student programs will be available in the fall.

“The budget’s still fluid, obviously, since the number one source of our funding is yet to be determined from the state,” Huberman said.

Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart reminded the board that thousands of CPS employees protested outside headquarters Tuesday, feeling disrespected by the district.

“The teachers were out here yesterday,” she said. “They will come out again.”