Over the years, Hitch’s reputation in the neighborhood has noticeably improved. Hitch is now recognized as a premiere neighborhood school within CPS, and our results speak for themselves. While many acknowledge the success of Hitch, that recognition has boosted enrollment. In some grade levels, that has caused large class sizes.
As the Principal of Hitch and a parent myself, I am deeply disappointed that our current budget does not allow for smaller class sizes. If I had a larger budget, I would immediately hire more staff to reduce class sizes. Unfortunately, that is not that reality of Hitch's SY 15/16 budget.
In recent budget meetings, top CPS officials have said they are displeased with the current school budgets as well. In a report released to Principals, CPS Interim CEO Jesse Ruiz stated that CPS teachers represent 17% of the state's teaching force yet receive less than 1% of the state's pension funds. This inequality in teacher pension funding in Illinois reduces per pupil dollars to our schools.
Chicago Public Schools uses a system for budgeting called Student Based Budgeting. With Student Based Budgeting, schools receive a total budget based on the number of students enrolled. Each student enrolled brings in roughly $4,500. Hitch saw major cuts to our SY 15/16 budget because CPS projected our enrollment to be 499 students in K-8. As of September 9, 2015, Hitch had 551 students enrolled in K-8: 52 students greater than CPS projections.
If schools have a higher enrollment than projected, those schools receive a budget adjustment on the 10th day of school. Assuming our enrollment stays 52 greater than projections, Hitch could receive as much as $234,000 added to our budget. I believe that is a high estimate because there is no guarantee that our enrollment will remain 52 students above projected. Nevertheless, that is the actual estimate based on our Sept. 9, 2015 enrollment.
After listening to teachers, parents, and community members, I believe it would be in the best interest of Hitch students to hire an additional K-2 teacher and Parent Workers for K-2, should our 10th day budget adjustment allow.
Some stakeholders have asked why not rehire the Teacher’s Assistants that Hitch impacted during the summer budget cuts. There are several reasons for this. One, the majority of those staff members found employment elsewhere. Secondly, depending on the teacher hired, there is not a major difference between salaries of Teachers and Teacher’s Assistants (e.g. some Teachers can cost approximately $75,000 and Teacher’s Assistants cost approximately $50,000). Unlike many Teacher’s Assistants, Teachers have a special certification in the state of Illinois. Teachers attend undergraduate and graduate schools of education and they specialize in delivering instruction. They can instruct whole classes of students in math, reading, and different content areas. Moreover, teachers can reduce class sizes for all of the day or a portion of the day. Teacher’s Assistants cannot reduce class sizes, nor are they required to have a college degree in education. To that end, Teacher’s Assistants must work under the supervision and or guidance of school staff.
I do not share these facts to lessen the role of Teacher’s Assistants in schools. In fact, they can be a vital part of school operations and instruction. Teacher’s Assistants can make a tremendous impact on students. That, however, does not change their official role as governed by the state of Illinois. To that end, Hitch needs to position itself for the future. If our school continues to grow – which it very well may – the only long-term solution to reduce class sizes is to invest in certified Teachers.
Assuming Hitch receives a 10th day budget adjustment more than $200,000, I plan on hiring an additional Teacher and Parent Workers to alleviate the large class sizes in K-2. Below this message is a tentative outline of their schedules:
The schedules would provide morning and afternoon support for our two largest grades, Kindergarten and 2nd grade. During the blocks where the teacher would support larger classes, the two homerooms would spread out across three classes. Consequently, for a portion of the day class sizes would be reduced from 33-36 to 22-24. We would schedule these blocks strategically so students work in small classes for critical subjects like Math and or Reading/Writing. When classes remain with their homerooms of 33-36 students, a Parent Worker will support larger class sizes. This tentative plan was developed in cooperation of the Hitch administration and Hitch teachers. It would take approximately 4-5 weeks to implement after the 10th day adjustment.
Please remember, this is only a tentative plan. There is no guarantee that our 10th day budget adjustment will be big enough to afford a Teacher, Parent Workers, and all the other expenses necessary to keeping the school running. Nevertheless, my team and I feel it’s important to communicate this plan to key stakeholders so you can be confident that we’re thinking one step ahead and doing what’s best for students.
Regardless of the budget adjustment Hitch receives on the 10th day, I’m confident that our staff is capable of delivering a high quality education to all the students in our community.