Speech to Finance Committee, City Council of Chicago

"Public education is public business. There neither are, nor should be, any secrets in it."
Chicago, IL • January 16, 1956

The 1956 Budget of the Board of Education is the largest in the history of our Public School System. This year, the total figure is $195,078,711, an amount which because of its size alone deserves the attention and scrutiny of every public-spirited citizen in this great metropolis. As elected representatives as of the citizens of Chicago, you have a special interest in our program and as President of the Board of Education, I want you to know that I welcome your interest and your enquiries — and even your criticism — just as I value the similar interest of many other groups and persons in our community.

Public education is public business. There neither are, nor should be, any secrets in it. We wish to avail ourselves of the best suggestions whatever their source. We are dedicated to one goal only — to create in Chicago public school system second to none.

Public Schools in the City of Chicago are not only public business; however, they are big business too. We, Members of the Board of Education — eleven in number — are trustees of an Illinois Municipal Corporation whose assets exceed half a billion dollars, whose physical plant includes 425 schools at all educational levels plus 53 regular branches and hospital and home instruction branches. Our pupil populations ranging from kindergarten to junior college and Teachers’ College is well over 450,000.

It is a long span of years and efforts from our first public school – the Dearborn Schools built at Madison Street near Dearborn in 1845 at a cost of $8,000 to the $7,000, 000. Dunbar Vocational High School being erected on South Park Avenue near 31st Street which many have said will present to the world the finest trade and vocational school of all time. Yet this is but a single instance of the forward march of Chicago, in its ambition to be second to none in providing educational facilities, housing, and opportunity for boys and girls of today.

The Members of our Board who conscientiously work without monetary compensation are alert to their responsibility to each and every Chicago family and each and every boy and girl. That is why they have unanimously approved a budget for 1956 which can honestly be described as the equal of any public school program in the nation.

Here are some of the reasons why this budget received unanimous approval and I commend these facts and considerations to your earnest study:

First: This budget contains the most ambitious building program in the history of the 20th Century Chicago. Every man and woman in this room knows of the shortage of classrooms nationwide. Every person here knows that many communities are begging for state and Federal help. But I believe, that every Chicagoan can and should rejoice that your Board of Education has not waited for “someone else to do the job” but has itself created a program calling for the expenditure of $36,000,000 in 1956 alone. This equals the total of all new school construction in the ten year period from 1930-1940. Upon the completion of this program, Chicago’s Board of Education will have added one-hundred and fourteen new schools and additions to schools in five years. Without even counting the millions of dollars spent on rehabilitation of school buildings, I think Chicago’s record in meeting the shortage of buildings and classrooms equals or surpasses any city in American. THAT IS POINT NUMBER ONE

POINT NUMBER TWO concerns the wages of our teachers. As a result of the unanimous action of our Board of Education, Chicago’s teachers are now paid well or better than those in all cities with a population of more than 500,000 in the U.S.A.

If Chicago is to claim credit for being the first city of our nation in any respect whatsoever, I can think of none better than being America’s No-1 City in terms of teachers’ salaries.

Today, according to a study made by the Civic Federation, Chicago along with Los Angeles, pays the highest salary for a starting teacher with an A.B. degree of any city in the U.S.A. For those with a M.A. degree, Chicago pays the second highest salary of any city in the U.S.A. For those with a Ph. D. degree, Chicago pays the highest anywhere.

Salaries such as these mean that your children, and all children in Chicago have a first-rate chance now to receive the best quality public school education. If you compare today’s excellent rates for Teachers’ salaries in our city with those of five years ago, you elected representatives, and all right minded citizens will rejoice that Chicago has moved from eleventh, twelfth, or fourteen position among America’s top seventeen cities, to today’s position of first, second and third.

POINT NUMBER THREE concerns the cost of building our schools.

In 1952 and 1953 when we started our modernization program, we had to pay from $1.17 per cubic foot to $1.52 per cubic foot. In 1955, we paid from 90¢ to $1.05. That constitutes a percentage cost reduction varying from a minimum of 22% to a maximum of 30% per building. For every taxpayers’ dollar today, therefore, we are getting six buildings for the 1952-1953 price of five. And this achievement has been made despite inflation.

POINT NUMBER FOUR concerns our recreational program.

From 1921 to 1946, the Board of Education maintained 63 playgrounds. We could not expand the program. We did not have the money. Our 1¼¢ tax levy produced barely enough income to continue the existing playground facilities. For more than ten years, we had been stymied. There was no progress at all.

In the period of 1945-1947, the City of Chicago tried to remedy the situation. The City sought to improve lands belonging to the Board of Education by equipping them with recreational facilities. By installing equipment on Board of Education land, the City of Chicago tried to eliminate the necessity of buying land on which to create its own playgrounds.

City playground equipment was installed under this program on 16 sites belonging to the Board of Education. At that point, the Corporation Counsel ruled that the City was proceeding beyond its legal authority, and the City equipment on the Board of Education land was turned over to the Board.

Just for the record, it might be well to emphasize that the City of Chicago therefore, never gave the Board of Education these celebrated 16 playgrounds. The Board received some playground equipment. Nothing more. And it was cheaper for the City to give this equipment to the Board than to remove it, once the Corporation Counsel had delivered his opinion.

Irrespective of such considerations, the important thing is our program for the future, not recriminations and counter-recriminations about the past. You, like we, are most interested in what is going to happen in 1956, not in historical arguments about what did or did not happen in 1948,1949, or 1950.

For 1956, therefore, the Board of Education proposes the biggest recreational program since 1921. The Board has budgeted the entire proceeds from the 2½¢ tax — the legal maximum. To this maximum of 1956 has been added everything appropriated but not expended in years past. Thus, in 1956, the Board of Education plans to expend $2,924,619.66 for recreational purposes — the largest amount, I believe, in any single year in the Board’s history.

Specifically, in 1956 the Board has authorized improvements on one-hundred and fourteen (114) play areas adjacent to public schools in all parts of Chicago.

Ninety-nine of these locations were chosen by our District Superintendents who analyzed the recreational needs and opportunities city-wide. Fifteen more are part of the celebrated “16 playgrounds.”

On all of these 114 playgrounds, there will be work accomplished in 1956 looking toward the grading, drainage, surfacing, and fencing of these areas. Thirty-two of these 114 play areas will be improved in 1956 in accordance with our “Hitch School Plan” — which includes equipment as well as grading, surfacing, drainage, etc,

At 67 of these new play areas, we plan to provide supervisors for the four summer months because our experience in the summer of 1955 indicated that such supervision was most popular with parents and children in all parts of the city.

Thus, in summary, we plan to improve outdoor recreational facilities and services at approximately 1/4 of all the schools in Chicago.

So much for our recreational program — The General Superintendent can supply answers to detailed questions on this or any other aspect of our budget.

Before I close, however, I request your permission to pinpoint ONE other novel aspect of our 1956 BUDGET.

This year, for the first times, we have budgeted monies to bring some of the advantages of small and select and private schools to our children in our public schools. This is an effort to improve the QUALITY of our educational program, rather than merely providing the same old program taught in the same old ways

FOR EXAMPLE: We have budgeted $50,000, to commence the first, big-city effort to teach by television. We have budgeted $4, 000, to initiate special clinics in reading where superior teachers can assist problem students.

We have budgeted $30,000, to employ additional psychologists to improve our Guidance and Counselling program.

We have budgeted $4,000, to enable District Superintendents in difficult areas to transport the under privileged children to those areas to our great cultural and civic institutions like the Art Institute, Museum of Science and Industry, City Hall. Etc.

We have planned a free summer school program to accommodate a 50% increase over 1955. Most important, we have planned a special program for gifted children in our summer schools—teaching them advanced physics, advanced chemistry, advanced mathematics, and advanced foreign languages.

We have planned to open 25 swimming pools next summers instead of twenty (20) as in 1955. There were forty-six days in 1955 when the temperature was ninety degrees or higher, and our swimming pools operated to capacity.

We plan to operate three Continuation Schools in the summer of 1956, rather than two as in years past.

Finally, on the financial side of our operations, we have opened our tax anticipation warrants to competitive bidding for the first time in a quarter century. If the Board of Education, the City of Chicago or any other local municipal corporation is to obtain the “AA” rating so earnestly desired on all our securities, that result will be achieved only if the investment community as a whole, comes to know and respect our capacity for sound fiscal and business management.

There are many other interesting features of our 1956 Budget, but I have already taken more than the usual amount of time to focus your attention on some of the high-points of our program. May I close by thanking you for your attention and courtesy and by quoting this statement:

“The people of any generation are only the stewards of the public schools; they are not their owners. The schools have been passed down by previous generations; they will be passed on to future generations...”

Let us all so conduct ourselves in these days that future generations will bless and herald the good schools and the climate of good government established in Chicago in 1956.

Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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