"We feel like teachers should be given a fair contract. We know, a parents, that a teacher's teaching conditions are our children's learning conditions, and a parents we also know how much budgets have been cut, and it's really rough in our schools right now," said Jennie Biggs of Raise Your Hand.
"The McClellan community really rallied when the school was on the initial school closings list," said Jennie Biggs, a Bridgeport parent and board member of education-advocacy organization Raise Your Hand.
Student fees began rising in 2013 when CPS moved to a budgeting system that earmarks money for schools based on the number of students, rather than the number of teaching positions, according to a survey by parent-advocacy group Raise Your Hand.
Schools' growing reliance on fees has widened the gap between schools in wealthier areas, like the Far Northwest Side, and lower-income areas of the city, according to the group, which advocates for additional funding from both the state and city for Chicago schools.
Among the changes in this year’s budget: Funds for general and special education classes are now commingled into a single allocation, which some teachers say puts those programs at odds with each other when it comes to resources, funding and scheduling.
“This creates a lose-lose situation for principals who have to meet the needs of students with special needs by taking resources from the larger gen ed population,” said Mary Hughes, who serves on the board of directors for Raise Your Hand Illinois, during the early session Friday morning.
Jennie Biggs with the Raise Your Hand parent group proposed another way CPS could save some money: cancel plans for the new Near North Side selective enrollment school formerly known as Obama Prep.
"We are in financial crisis. Chicago does not need another selective enrollment high school that serves the few while redirecting scarce resources from the many," she said. "Cancel Obama Prep. Canceling the Obama Prep project would free up $60 million in TIF funds, and $30 million of that could then be directed back to the taxing body it was withheld from, CPS."
It isn’t that the spending isn’t important to the public, said Wendy Katten, who accompanied fellow Raise Your Hand board member Christopher Ball.
“A lot of people feel like there’s absolutely no one listening and they have no voice,” Katten said. “Having it here during the day doesn’t work for anyone. People work, who doesn’t work? Everyone works. And they’re not going to pay to travel downtown to talk to a board that doesn’t care what they say.”
Katten said she’d be back Friday to speak at one of the daytime budget hearings.
But that constant shuffle stymies anyone who attempts any independent analysis of the budget, including board members from the parent group Raise Your Hand and CTU staffers — and it’s nearly impossible for ordinary taxpayers.
CTU researcher Pavlyn Jankov said he’s troubled that the ratio of spending on central office to schools and networks has decreased since 2015.
And Raise Your Hand’s Christopher Ball said he and his colleagues have been comparing positions and salaries, suspecting that some CPS work previously done in house now gets contracted out.
"We can't get basic transparency from our district, whether it's intentional or not," said Wendy Katten, head of the Raise Your Hand parent advocacy group, to the school board.
"And when CPS repeatedly tells the public that cuts didn't hit the classroom, it makes it difficult for us to advocate for the equitable funding Chicago students need and have an honest dialogue about state of our public education system."
Raise Your Hand takes hundreds of hours a month to research issues, plan events, launch campaigns and conduct grassroots organizing around public education. With your support, we can advocate for a parent voice in public school policy and equitable and sustainable school funding. Your generous, tax-deductible contribution is needed to improve education for all children in Chicago and the state of Illinois.