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Chicago Changes the Start Time at 82 Schools To Save Money

The Chicago public school district is shifting the start of the school day at 82 schools in an effort to save $13.5 million.

Come September, some schools will open later—including up to an hour later than last year at about 60 high schools—but some elementary and high schools will start 15 minutes earlier, according to an announcement from the school district.

While there is healthy debate in some districts about starting the school day later because of the potential health benefits for students, in Chicago, the later start time is about the savings.

The district has a $1.1 billion hole in its 2015 operating budget. It nearly missed a $634 million teachers' pension fund payment at the end of June, and it is unsure how it will come up with the money for next year's payment. The district is still hoping that help will come from Springfield.

"Every dollar we save by staggering school bell times and streamlining transportation services next school year is one more dollar we don't have to cut from our classrooms," Forrest Claypool, the district's new chief executive officer, said in the announcement.

"No matter how grave our financial challenges are, we are committed to our students' learning and their safety. We will continue to work with principals and parents to minimize disruptions and protect in-school time, as well as develop a comprehensive plan to address after-school activities."

Claypool is part of the new leadership team appointed this month to right a ship beset with financial challenges.

On Monday, Fitch Ratings downgraded Chicago Public Schools' debt to junk status, following a similar move by another ratings agency, Moody's Investors Service, in May.  

After borrowing to make the last-minute pension payment at the end of June, CPS announced $200 million in cuts. The changes in the transportation schedule are part of that effort to find savings and keep the cuts out of the classrooms.

According to the district, Chicago was among the few big urban districts that were not using staggered start times for their elementary and high schools. As a result, CPS was paying three times the median that districts of 100,000 students were paying to transport students, the district said. Chicago paid, on average, $4,450 per student, while other districts used in the analysis were paying, on average, $1,250.  

The district also plans to consolidate bus routes for its magnet schools, another effort that's likely to save $2.3 million.

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