Questions Abound as Chicago Public Schools Requests $5 Million for New Furniture

Budgets are tight for public schools around the country, especially in Chicago. But despite massive school closings and all kinds of financial woes, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is asking to double its furniture budget to nearly $10 million this year. Much of that total, $5 million to be exact, is part of a plan to relocate CPS’ headquarters.

With so many budget issues plaguing the third-largest school system in the country, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis is questioning the decision to ask for that kind of money.

“It’s about: Where are our priorities?” she said. “Again, these are moral decisions based on what’s important to some people and what’s important to other people. I think it’s just poor stewardship of money.”

The past year has already been tough for CPS and protests and anger have stemmed from teacher cuts, program reductions, and even schools closing their doors.

In response, 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti said, “I don’t think they can justify it at all.”

CPS spokesperson Joel Hood has justified the move by saying that investing in new furniture now will save the system some $60 million over the next 15 years by helping to streamline the central office and making it more efficient. He added, “Simply the cost of breaking down the existing furniture, transporting it over there, rebuilding it, dealing with whatever might break, that’s going to be a pretty expensive move in and of itself.”

“I wonder if it’s a half a million for the actual move, and $4.5 million for a new set of executive office furniture,” says John Kiel, Vice President of Precision Office Furniture Installation. “Is this the school district that President Obama’s kids came from? For a state that’s in financial trouble, to throw that kind of money at relocating their offices is surprising. Is this what they wanted to raise taxes for?”

Concerns over the spending on new furniture are not just coming from administrators and authorities either. Kate Schott Bolduc, a member of the Local School Council at Blaine Elementary School in Lake View believes that priorities need to change for the health of the district.

“Every penny counts,” she said. “For almost a year now, parents have been asking CPS to cut spending for central office and put the money in classrooms where it belongs — and to serve students. I think teachers and textbooks need to come before furniture.”

It is reasonable to think that most everyone associated with CPS would believe that saving the $60 million over time would be a good thing. But it is unclear whether or not making the investment now is the right, or at least accepted, move.

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