CPS budget unanimously approved despite $480 million hole

CHICAGO (STMW) - The Chicago Board of Education unanimously passed a $5.7 billion operating budget Wednesday that counts on nearly $500 million from the state though the General Assembly hasn’t yet committed to doing anything.

All seven board members approved the budget that the district’s chief financial officer told them was not ideal and relied on more borrowing, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting. State law requires a balanced budget be in place by Aug. 31.

“We know this is not the budget we want to be presenting to you, but it does reflect the reality of where we are,” chief finance officer Ginger Ostro said. Ostro added that she was hopeful that $480 million would come before the end of the year from the General Assembly, which has yet to agree on whether to step in at all. She also blamed the state for heavy contributions toward teacher pensions everywhere in Illinois except for Chicago.

The board also approved selling $1.04 billion in bonds, a little more than half of that to pay for past debt including risky “swap” agreements and the rest to complete existing capital projects.

Board President Frank Clark compared the district’s financial situation to living off credit cards, then cast his vote for it.

“And you can do it short term, but sooner or later those credit cards max out and you’ve gotten yourself in a very serious situation,” Clark said. “That’s where CPS finds itself today. We understand that. . . . It is a budget that keeps us going today. It is not a sustainable approach long-term.”

CPS has yet to publicize its contingency plan should the state balk.

Opposition to CPS’ spending plan for the school year starting the day after Labor Day came from parent groups, the Chicago Teachers Union, the Civic Federation and disabilities rights groups. Those groups, including Access Living, accused the district of shortchanging vulnerable special education students to balance its books.

Many of the employees targeted in a $200 million round of cuts already made to school staffers are special education aides. CPS’ claims that its special education students have been overstaffed according to state requirements.

Rod Estvan of Access Living told the board that a “roller coaster of special ed staffing” in the district must be fixed.

“We go through a series of cuts, then we restore these positions. This has to stop,” he said. “Over the course of the year . . . approximately 565 cuts will be restored, and we need to have these positions up front as children are identified so services can be delivered rather than trying to hire staff during the year when there is nobody available for hire.”

At a rally outside the Board of Education meeting Wednesday morning, Beard Elementary School mom Laurie Viets contested CPS’ claim that special ed services aren’t needed.

“CPS will try to make you believe that the reason they are slashing and burning special eduction is because the need is not there, the students are not there. Do not believe them,” she told the crowd outside 42 W. Madison. “If enrollment is down then CPS is not doing its job to get students the support and services they need.”

Vaughn Occupational High School dad Josh Radinsky said the loss of 28 positions at his son’s school — 23 of them aides — is “shortsighted” of CPS.

Surrounded by Vaughn staffers, parents and students, he said, “It’s not going to save money because [parents are] all going to do due process.” That’s a time-consuming process where parents meet with administrators to make sure their children are getting the services they’re entitled to.

Also on Wednesday, CPS revealed the findings of a third-party audit of its no-bid contract process that resulted in the awarding of a massive $20.5 million contract to a company that had employed former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. She resigned in the wake of a federal probe into the deal.

Accenture recommended that CPS make a few changes to its process, including publicizing no-bid plans well in advance of board votes and distinguishing between situations where truly only one provider exists versus instances where factors justify the selection of one supplier. It also told CPS to let its internal no-bid review committee vote in secret instead of out loud.

Click play above for more on this story from FOX 32's Anita Padilla.