CHICAGO — The Chicago Public School, CPS, district is laying off about 1,100 teachers and staff this year, but this is a normal occurrence, a spokesperson says.
Joel Hood is the director of news affairs at CPS, and said district-wide enrollment projections appear to be about flat for the upcoming school year, but that doesn’t mean some schools won’t see a substantial reduction in students, and a reduced need for teachers and staff.
All told, about one-third of schools in the CPS district will be affected by these layoffs, the district said.
Some schools will see decreases in enrollment, others will see increases.
“This happens every year,” Hood said. “Some schools gain and some lose, depending on lots of factors.”
Those factors, according to Hood, include the depletion or growth of unique communities, the rising prominence of private and charter schools, and the academic success and sustainability of various schools.
“It’s more of a rearranging than major cutbacks,” Hood noted. “These teachers aren’t being fired for cause. About 50 percent of who lose their jobs do reapply elsewhere in the district and are often rehired.”
District funding is allocated based on enrollment fluctuations of independent schools. If one school is expecting a 10 percent decrease in enrollment for the upcoming year, its funding will be reduced and staff cut. If another is expecting a 10 percent increase in enrollment, it will receive more dollars and bulk up its staff as well.
“It just makes sense. If a school has fewer to teach, those teachers will be better used in schools with more students to teach,” Hood said.
This explains why, despite laying off 550 teachers and 600 non-teaching staff, CPS is also claiming 1,780 teaching and staff openings for the upcoming school year.
The schools experiencing consistent enrollment drops are those located in geographic areas where private and public charter schools have planted and experienced success, Hood said.
“Families are voting with their feet” Hood said. “They’re going to schools they believe best fit the academic needs of their children.”
Ken Johnson is the dean of students at Chicago Math and Science Academy, a public charter school that has a limited number of student openings. Anyone can apply to CMSA, but only about 25 to 35 students are admitted each year, decided by a blind lottery drawing of applicant names.
Johnson said the school could support about 750 students, but current regulations keep them capped at 599.
“Each year our waitlist to get in is several hundred more than we can admit to the school,” Johnson said. “This year it’s about 600. It has been above 1,000 in past years.”
A recent Pew study found enrollment in Chicago charter schools has increased nearly 200 percent since 2005.
The study also showed that 43 percent of the time a public school closed in Chicago, it was reopened as a charter school. This coincides with the increased demand for alternative education options.
“Parents just want to do what’s best for their kids and their education,” Hood said. “Sometimes that’s CPS schools, sometimes it is other options.”