Surviving the cuts

Parents look to raise money and find volunteers

06/23/2010 10:00 PM

By BETHANY REINHART
Contributing Reporter

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With Chicago Public Schools set to lay off teachers and slash funding for programs to close its budget deficit, parents and community stakeholders at some public schools around downtown will lean on fund raising strategies and outreach efforts to try to mitigate the worst of the cuts.

On June 15, the board of education approved measures allowing CPS to increase class sizes to up to 35 students this coming school year and dismiss 2,700 teachers in all. Programs like bilingual education and full-day kindergarten are on the chopping block, CPS officials have said.

At Jones College Preparatory High School, parents involved in the school’s Friends of Jones group are uncertain where they will direct any funds they raise, given that the final contours of CPS’s cuts aren’t yet known.

But what gets help is expected to change. Friends of Jones chair Barry Moltz said last year the group’s fund raising efforts helped finance student travel, new computers and even a new pottery kiln for the school.

For the upcoming year the group’s fund raising goals will most likely be more basic. When CPS’s final budget numbers are released, Friends of Jones will likely be unable to provide some of the previous luxuries.

“We have to be part of the budget now since we don’t have the luxury of funding whatever the teachers want,” Moltz said.

South Loop School’s non-profit, Friends and Family of South Loop School, is seeing a similar shift. The organization had traditionally raised money for things such as the acquisition and maintenance of technology in the school and assistants for crowded classrooms.

John Jacoby, an outgoing member of the South Loop local school council and current head of school’s fund raising group, wrote in an e-mail that if CPS follows through with its cuts, raising enough money to keep the school’s three kindergarten teachers at full- rather than half-time positions will become the main priority.

In recent years, the South Loop group has raised anywhere from $75,000 to $100,000, mostly from school families but also from corporate entities. This year, according to Jacoby, the target could be more than $150,000, much of it going toward the full-day kindergarten teachers.

Tim Jefferson, the president of the local school council at Smyth Elementary, on the Near West Side, said fund raisers at his school typically have involved candy sales, which have supported book purchases and sports programs, something he said the school community could increase.

“Even if it’s small, everything counts at this point,” he said. But there are challenges going back to parents who don’t have additional funds to give.

“Our school is predominately low income. Our parents are pretty much tapped out already,” he said.

That doesn’t mean they can’t help out, though, Jefferson said, as volunteers in the school. And Jefferson hopes partnerships with nearby hospitals will continue providing resources to Smyth.

Friends of Jones is also trying to get as many parents as possible to volunteer at the school. It can be a tough sell.

“Most parents work full time and we understand that, but hopefully the parents who can volunteer will,” Moltz said. “We’re trying to find a way so any parent who is interested in contributing is able to.”

Although parents and administrators said they are frustrated that CPS and state legislators haven’t found a solution to stave off the cuts, many reported they are not surprised by that fact.

“The politicians in Illinois have let everyone down with regard to education,” Jacoby wrote. “But that is nothing new. Illinois has traditionally ranked in the bottom five of all states in terms of the amount of state funding provided for education.”

“Hopefully they can come through with some funds and save our kids,” Jefferson, from Smyth, said of the elected officials.

With the cuts looming, one thing seems likely — schools will be forced to look inward to parents and outward to philanthropic and private organizations to provide services they want for their students.

“If we’re going to survive this in the next two or three years, it’s really up to us — the community and the school — to figure it out,” Moltz said. “We really can’t look for assistance from CPS.”

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