Monday, April 11, 2016
Good News Everybody -- Spring is coming (graupel nothwithstanding)! And since it is an even numbered year, that means local school council elections. As your current community representative on the Amundsen High School local school council, before I ask for your vote I'd like to give you an update on everything we've accomplished since the last election.
Our IB program is the envy of the city. The "cut off" score for admission into the IB program is relatively low compared to other schools, so that our program can welcome enthusiastic and committed students even if their grades or test scores were not stellar. But when they graduate, these students end up with test scores that look just like (or better than) their peers from the more selective IB programs.
About this time two years ago, we received notice from CPS that we were no longer on probation, as our performance and test scores had improved sufficiently. As of November last year, we achieved the rating of Level 1. The community, and most importantly the families of rising 8th graders, have taken notice, as visible in our enrollment forecasts, which are up again for next year, as they were this year.
With the support of Aldermen O'Connor and Pawar, we have invested a substantial amount of TIF money into capital investments at our school. The gymnasium, locker rooms, auditorium, and other school facilities have been renovated and improved, and this summer we will be building a couple new computer labs and a "maker" lab, funded by the Dyson Foundation. In aggregate, these projects represent several million dollars in investment in your neighborhood high school.
Our financial situation going forward is less rosy, though. You may be aware that CPS's financial position is precarious, at best. At Amundsen we have done everything in our power to ensure that our own school's operations are not impacted by the troubles higher up in the system. We set aside a significant contingency fund within our 2015-16 school budget, anticipating midyear budget cuts. When those cuts materialized a couple months ago, our prudent planning allowed us to weather the storm without cutting programs or staff. And we still maintain a small cash reserve in our internal and locally controlled accounts to buffer additional financial instability in the future, although CPS has asked us to drain those reserves as we approach the end of the current school year. Doing so would unfairly penalize our school for being successful and fiscally responsible over the long term. Since our school is no longer on probation, our LSC has legal authority over our school budget, and I am working to try to get CPS to respect that authority.
The next two years will be a challenging time for CPS, and Amundsen High School. I will do my best to ensure our neighborhood high school is one we can all be proud of, both today and in the future. If you'd like to support me, Jeff Newman, in that effort, you can come out and vote in the LSC election on Thursday April 14. The only polling place is at our school, and polls will be open 6am to 7pm. You do not need to be registered to vote, just bring 2 forms of ID (a driver's license and a credit card is fine).
p.s. I'd also encourage you to vote for Alfonso Martel. I don't know him that well but I met him at our recent candidate's forum / meeting, and he had a lot of great questions and input to offer.
Friday, April 1, 2016
This morning, our beloved Alderman Pawar announced he’s stepping down from office. Despite an overwhelming victory in last year’s elections, he said it’s time for him to move on. “I’m super proud of all the accomplishments we have made in the 47th ward over the past 5 years: the Lawrence Avenue streetscape, Mariano’s and the rest of Ravenswood Station, Lycée Francais, expansions at Bell, Coonley, and more,” he said. “But the community deserves turnover in this office. Far too many alderman sit in office forever getting hardly anything done. I’d prefer to walk away at the top of my game and take on a new challenge, rather than hanging around too long doing the same thing over and over.”
Alderman Pawar admits his early departure isn’t entirely altruistic, though. “The central of my political career all along has been clear: families move to the suburbs to get a complete K through 12 experience. Well, I’ve got a family now, and just like everyone else I need to do what’s best for my child.”
Alderman Pawar also noted that, because he doesn’t own his home, he’s not invested in the community. “I’ll admit, I didn’t know that renters don’t care about their neighborhood,” he said, “but I learned that from the Internet. It’s great that there’s a lot of helpful people on the Internet who, through thoughtful and reasoned commentary, can help me learn things.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel probably has mixed feelings about seeing Pawar go, as he hasn't been quite the rubber stamp kind of alderman that Rahm prefers, but he has been a pretty effective legislator. Nevertheless, he’s moving fast to refill the seat—applications to be 47th ward alderman should be available online on the city’s website by the end of today, April 1st.