By Paul Biasco
September 9, 2015
HERMOSA — The first day of senior year is usually filled with excitement and optimism.
But 17-year-old Sherilyn Flores spent her morning Tuesday outside Kelvyn Park High School describing to reporters her fear of the future due to $2.2 million in budget cuts at the school — cuts that resulted in the loss of Kelvyn's college counselor.
Flores said she is nervous about upcoming interviews and a lack of preparation heading into the college application process.
"I'm worried about college more this year than any other senior would be," she said.
In total, the school was forced to eliminate 19 staff positions, including its college counselor and only clinical social worker.
"Would you send your child to school without basic fundamentals like a college coach? Without a clinical social worker?" said Darrick Ivy, a junior at the high school.
The cuts have also impacted the school's newly implemented restorative justice program that seeks to move away from lengthy suspensions to keep kids on track and in school.
The neighborhood school, which has been facing declining enrollment for years, is expecting 782 students this year. Last year the enrollment was around 900.
The school has lost 698 students from the 2008-2009 school year to the 2015-2016 school year, according to Chicago Public Schools.
“While declining enrollment is a challenge for some schools, our priority is to make sure that dollars follow students so that we distribute enough resources to schools with increasing enrollment," said CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner.
Bittner said CPS is working with leaders in Springfield to reform a school funding inequity that has resulted in CPS schools receiving more than $2,000 less per student than schools outside Chicago.
Because of student-based-budgeting, the declining enrollment has led to budget cuts at the school for a number of years in a row.
At Kelvyn Park in 2012-2013, the budget was cut by $3.5 million and last year the school had $1.7 million cut.
Those cuts were a result of a number of factors including decreasing enrollment, but also the loss of school improvement grant funding that totalled more than $5.5 million between 2010 and 2013, according to CPS.
"This is not a new thing. This has been going on since my freshman year of 2012," Flores said. "High school doesn't feel like high school anymore."
The group demanded that the Chicago Board of Education plug the budget gap and restore fundamental positions to the school such as the college counselor.
The school's clinical social worker, whose position was eliminated previously, led a weekly support group for girls who survived sexual assault and abuse.
“I am furious that without someone to speak to — someone with the clinical experience dealing with these deep issues — many of my students may fall into deep depression and chronic absenteeism," said Erin Matthews, the social worker who was cut. "I am the point where I just believe that no one cares about poor kids unless they are at Whitney Young.”
Michael Brunson, Recording Secretary for the Chicago Teachers Union, called the situation "destruction by design."
Students and teachers were joined by state Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-39th), state Sen. Iris Martinez (D-20th) and Ald. Milly Santiago (31st) outside the school, 4343 W. Wrightwood Ave.
"For us to look these students in the eye and say we are providing them with the same opportunities as other students in the city, I mean, is frankly a farce," Guzzardi said.
Guzzardi cited the creation of charter schools as the main factor in declining enrollment and said that it "is not an accident that there are fewer students here.
"It's a result of deliberate policies that are draining this school of the resources that it needs to be successful," Guzzardi said.