Chicago Public Schools hiring 2,000 staffers, but might be missing 100,000 students

Chicago Public Schools hiring 2,000 staffers, but might be missing 100,000 students

The Chicago Board of Education approved a $9.3 billion budget that hires 2,000 new, permanent staff using temporary COVID-19 federal aid. There are also concerns about whether 100,000 students will return.

Chicago Public Schools is intending to hire 2,000 new permanent employees using temporary federal COVID-19 aid, setting up a “fiscal cliff” when those funds run out, the board president warned.

The school district also faces the prospect 100,000 Chicago students won’t rejoin the school district when classes resume Aug. 30, interim CPS CEO Jose Torres said.

Board of Education members recently approved a $9.3 billion budget for Chicago Public Schools. The 2021-2022 budget calls for nearly $1 billion in additional spending that school leaders said will help return to in-person learning, including giving raises to educators and increasing staff sizes.

The budget allocated pandemic funds to hire more than 2,000 new support staff and student support positions during the coming year following mounting pressure from the Chicago Teachers Union to put a full-time nurse as well as a social worker in each of more than 600 Chicago schools, according to an analysis conducted by the nonpartisan watchdog The Civic Federation. It notes this hiring comes atop 890 jobs being added in the past decade despite the district enrollment dropping by nearly 63,500 students.

“While the size of the budget continues to grow, the number of students in Chicago Public Schools continues to shrink. These issues need to be addressed through a comprehensive long-term plan,” Civic Federation President Laurence Msall told board members.

Personnel costs jumped by 40% during the decade, the analysis stated. That’s an extra $1.4 billion in pension, salary and benefit expenses while staff numbers were relatively steady and student numbers dropped.

The Board of Education president warned against using temporary COVID-19 funds to fill permanent jobs in the upcoming school year.

“It’s basic math that if we take those federal dollars, and we use those federal dollars to create full-time positions at high numbers, that within a couple of years, when those federal dollars are gone, we will not have the funds to pay for those positions,” Board President Miguel del Valle said. “The fact is, there is a cliff in a few years. ... And for this board, or any board, to not understand that and face up to it I think is a mistake.”

CPS administrators outlined a district-wide campaign to “reengage” 100,000 students at risk of not returning this school year. They said the campaign began in mid-July as district representatives began conducting house visits to about 18,000 students, while calls to parents of about 75,000 students started the following week.

CPS has also partnered with community groups in the most impacted areas to improve back-to-school and COVID-19 vaccination outreach.

“My primary goal is engaging 100,000 students who are at risk of not re-enrolling at CPS because of multiple factors, and opening schools safely for five days a week of face-to-face instruction beginning on Aug. 30,” Torres said.

The renewed effort to reengage Chicago students has been a priority for CPS leaders since enrollment plummeted by 14,500 students last fall. That was the district’s largest single-year drop in more than two decades.

The 2021-2022 CPS budget includes $7.8 billion in operating expenses, $707 million for building repairs and technology improvements, and $763 million for the district’s long-term debt payments.

The increased spending was subsidized with $1.06 billion in federal pandemic relief payments. CPS expects to receive $2.6 billon in coronavirus emergency funds by 2024.

After that, the math is not in favor of CPS.

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