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Parents, Teachers Wary of CPS Reform


Protesters Outside of Sept. 28 Board of Education meeting

Every school day, Kimberly Perkins helps her grandson Khamari, 5, get ready for school. His mother, Keturah, drives the first-grader to and from Miles Davis Magnet Academy in West Englewood, 9 miles away from the family’s home in the West Pullman neighborhood on the far South Side.

“I wish he could’ve gone to the school across the street from us, but their kindergarten is only half day,” said Perkins, grandmother of two.

She said she’s always been involved in her daughter’s education, and now she’s making sure her grandchildren get the best public schooling they can.

“It’s all worth it,” she said. “The time, the gas spent every day in traffic. As long as they’re getting the education they deserve.”

Perkins was among the dozens of parents, teachers, janitors, security officers and other Chicago Public School workers at the Sept. 28 Board of Education meeting at CPS headquarters. They came concerned about budget cuts, layoffs and the future of the school district.

At the meeting, held once a month, CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard laid out a series of structural changes the system is adopting over the next two years. The reforms include reducing the number of area offices, an additional $44 million in budget cuts and the implementation of the longer school day district-wide.

Six schools have already added 90 minutes to the day. So far, 13 schools have taken up Brizard’s offer of a two percent raise in teachers’ salary and up to $150,000 grant for schools where teachers voted to extend the school day and break with their union contracts.

“One of the things that really concerns me is the pioneer program of the longer school day,” said Chicago Teacher’s Union President Karen Lewis. “I’m still interested in a better school day, but up to $150K?”

Lewis said the proposal is flawed because it does not take into account the number of faculty members each school has.

“That’s not equity,” she said. “We’re still need to look on how we divide our resources appropriately, especially now that we’re under such constraint.”
More than 80 CPS maintenance workers, from janitors to security staff, held a protest outside the headquarters under cold rain to protest proposed cuts and layoffs in the next two school years.

Frank Klein, regional director of Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, said the city has funds that could be used towards CPS to avoid service cuts and the loss of worker’s benefits.

“The city has hundreds of millions of dollars in TIF’s [Tax Increment Financing] that could be allocated to improve education, but instead chooses to help wealthy corporations,” Klein said.

Chicago Public Schools is the third largest school district in the nation, with 675 charter, elementary and high schools. Its students rank last in overall performance among the 10 largest U.S. school systems, and they also have 15 percent less instruction time than the national average, according to CPS representatives.

For grandmother Kimberly Perkins, it all comes down to whether Chicago children have access to an education that is going to prepare them to deal with an uncertain economic environment.

“Longer school day, budget cuts… Nothing matters more than quality education. These kids can become senators, mayors, even president. There’s no limit on what they can accomplish if they’re well prepared,” she said.

And, Perkins said,  if kids are going to spend more time at school, they need to be doing something productive

. And she doesn’t mean extra gym time.

“More math and science classes wouldn’t hurt.”

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