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James G. Blaine budget cuts challenge school culture, practices

James G. Blaine school. Photo from Patch.

James G. Blaine Elementary School in the Lakeview neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side is facing some challenges stemming from steeper budget cuts than they faced last year.

Blaine, 1420 W. Grace St., has between $35,000 —$50,000 less to work with than in the 2013-2014 school year, said Principal Troy LaRaviere during the April 29 LSC meeting. The first draft of the budget is due to the Chicago Public School District by May 9, and the final budget must be approved by May 21.

The school is one of the top performing neighborhood K-8 schools in CPS, with at least 89 percent of its students meeting or exceeding standards, according to LaRaviere. Blaine is a Fine Arts Magnet school, according to the school’s website.

CPS is a climate and culture that is overwhelmed with standards and testing and necessities,” LaRaviere said. “And now it’s reached the point your goals have to be their testing.

LaRaviere said he is committed to maintaining a culture at Blaine that goes beyond testing, fostering learning and student growth.

Local School Council Chairman Tony Porfirio said he is worried that Blaine won’t be able to maintain high standards if the budget is cut every year.

The main thing I’m worried about is we’ve become accustomed to running slim,” Porfirio said. “[The budget] looks about the same as last year, and so it didn’t scare us as much, but we have to remember what bare bones that was. We had overcrowded classrooms, we don’t have enough supplies and we’re literally $700,000 to $800,000 short of where we were just a few years ago. It’s a big deficit.”

Chicago Magazine ranked Blaine Elementary NO. 16 in Top Elementary Schools in its October 2010 issue.

Blaine’s newly elected LSC Secretary and Community Representative Kate Bolduc said one problem Blaine is going to face is funding for interventionists, who monitor classrooms to make sure students are learning. Interventionists offer specialized one-on-one lessons to students who have trouble keeping up.

Marquee at James G. Blaine Elementary in Chicago.

With CPS budget cuts requiring the school to increase class size, Bolduc said she thinks interventionists play a vital role at Blaine. Losing them could cause potential harm to some students, she said.

‘At a school with 900 students and class sizes that are a little too large, we’re afraid that some students may get lost,” Bolduc said. “Those interventionists are really important to recognizing which students need help and pulling them out of the classroom.”

Despite their challenges, Porfirio said budgeting issues are NOT unique or severe at Blaine, adding the budget cuts are a districtwide problem.

“When we got the [Common Sense Coalition of LSCs] together, we found we were probably in the middle,” Porfirio said. “Probably half [the] schools [are a] little worse than us, probably half a little bit better than us. We were dead on in the middle — but we have the means of finding some solutions. A lot of schools don’t.”

Bolduc said the parent community at Blaine provides a funding safety net, but as cuts increase, she fears parents will not be able to fully fund needed programs.

It’s quite possible that we’ll have parents step up again and pay for these positions, but it’s a lot to ask of our parents every year,” Bolduc said. “One example is our student fee last year was $200. If you’re living in the city and you’re committed to public school and you pay your property taxes, why should you have to pay that much because CPS has been irresponsible with their budget?

Last year, Blaine vehemently opposed CPS budget cuts and rejected the budget, joining a coalition of more than 80 LSCs organized by Bolduc to send a message to CPS and advocate for more funding, according to a March 18 WBEZ report.

“We’ve had very open and respectful conversations with CPS,” Bolduc said. “We’ve been outspoken, and I think we’ve come to them with some great ideas. I think we speak for many schools in the district that may be afraid to speak up. It’s a highly bureaucratic organization. Some may fear some sort of punishment or retaliation if they speak openly to the media.”

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