Updated 08/28/13 – 3:50 p.m
CHICAGO (CBS) — About 200 people — including 20 to 30 students — rallied outside Chicago Public Schools on Wednesday, as the Board of Education on Wednesday approved the district’s annual budget, which includes hundreds of millions in cuts.
CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports the students were boycotting school for a day to protest school closings and budget cuts at CPS.
Community activists who organized the protest rally and boycott said it would serve as a real-life lesson for students.
CPS is facing a $1 billion budget deficit for this school year. The Board of Education voted 7-0 to approve the district’s a $5.58 billion budget plan.
It cuts classroom spending by $68 million, reduces central office expenses by $112 million, raises its property tax levy by $42 million, and taps $700 million in reserve funds to eliminate the deficit.
“The alternative to using the reserves is to inflict what we think would be devastating pain on our schools,” said CPS administrative officer Tim Cawley.
The biggest problem now facing CPS: underfunded teachers pensions. There are $400 million in pension payments alone this year.
And without pension relief from Springfield, there no chance CPS can repeat the same financial magic next year.
“Pension reform means a change that comes out of somebody’s hide. whether it’s taxpayers, unions or whatever,” said CPS board member Henry Bienen.
Laurence Msall of the Civic Federation said, “There is no wiggle room in this budget. It will mean if there’s something not foreseen, we’ll have to cut personnel and more schools.”
Protesters said they organized the protest to speak out against school closings and budget cuts, claiming CPS students have been denied their civil right to a quality and safe education. After rallying outside CPS headquarters, the protesters marched to City Hall to take their message to the mayor’s office.
“It is not right, it’s not right to close our schools,” 7th grader Akilra Roberts said.
Asked if she has a responsibility to be in the classroom to learn, and make sure she can get into college, Akilra said, “yeah, that’s what I want to do.”
The one-day boycott is not only on the third day of school, but also marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and protesters said there’s been a lack of progress since the start of the civil rights movement; that the district continues to discriminate against poor African American and Latino students.
“This is a very important education. We’re teaching our kids to fight for their rights,” grandmother Irene Robinson said. They is attacking our Black and Latino kids, and it’s wrong. What they’re doing to their schools is sabotage.”
High school senior Ashley Haynes said, “If we don’t stop now, this is what’s going to happen for the rest of our lives. I was never taught to just sit here and deal with the problems. If I have a problem with something, I’m going to address the problem.”
CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Mayor Rahm Emanuel reacted harshly to the planned boycott.
“Do not take the kids out of school, and harm them in their future, what they can live up to,” Emanuel said Tuesday. “When I say all of us have a responsibility so our children can live up to their potential, I mean all of us have a responsibility.”
Supporters said students who skip school will learn more about democracy in one day than they would in a month of classes.
But Byrd-Bennett said children belong in class, not at a rally to protest district policies.
“I think to use children as a protest tool, and not to attend school is reprehensible,” Byrd-Bennett said. “Our children need an education. Our children need to be in school, and if we have differences, then the adults should come to the table and have those conversations.”
This protest was timed for before the start of the Chicago Board of Education’s meeting at 10:30 a.m. to vote on the district’s budget plan.
More than 3,000 CPS employees have lost their jobs this year, due to the closings of 49 elementary schools and one high school program, and other budget cuts. However, many will likely get re-hired to fill vacant positions.