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Chicago Principals' Group Votes To Cancel After-School Activities

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Chicago high school principals last week canceled all winter and spring extracurricular activities in response to a 43 percent cut in the budget for after-school programs by the city's school board.

Citing lack of funds, the 75 principals voted unanimously to suspend both athletic and academic activities after the board cut $1.2 million from this year's extracurricular budget of $3.6 million.

While students in fall sports will be allowed to complete their seasons, all other sports and year-round activities--including marching band, honor society, and other academic clubs--will be suspended in January. Nearly 25,000 high school students participate in extracurricular activities each year, district officials said.

Some observers voiced concern about the move's potential effect on students at risk of dropping out.

"Sports keep students in school,'' said Herschel Tolson, the district's director of recreational activities. "This will definitely affect their future.''

The canceled season may also jeopardize the college-going plans of the approximately 200 students who win athletic scholarships each year.

The board made the cut to help offset a projected $185 million deficit in this school year's $2.6 billion budget. The other hardest-hit area was the central administration, which lost 20 percent of its $57 million budget, along with 250 positions.

Bruce Bernt, president of the Chicago Principals Association, asserted that canceling the activities was the most equitable method of dealing with the reduced budget.

"How can you tell one kid that the basketball team is more important than the chess club?'' Mr. Bernt asked. He hoped the cancellation would have a "positive effect'' on the district's obtaining funding, and added that his group would lobby state and local agencies for more funds. cw-1 cw-1 cw-1

Pro Teams Weigh Help

Spokesmen for the city's professional-sports teams said last week they were reviewing the situation.

Rob Gallas, the senior vice president of the White Sox baseball team, said that while the club was not "ruling anything out'' concerning a possible donation to the athletic program, it had already committed $100,000 to a reading program at 10 city schools.

A spokeswoman for a local education watchdog group last week questioned how the decision was made.

Joan Jeeter-Slay of Designs for Change said the local school councils, which, under the landmark state reform law governing the city schools are to be the key unit of school governance, should have decided on any after-school cutbacks.

She also faulted the board for approving the cut under the mistaken impression that funds could be transferred from playground-maintenance money.

Lauri Sanders, a board spokeswoman, maintained that the principals had the authority to cut the after-school programs.

In response to the principals' announcement, the board late last week voted to raise a minimum of $800,000 from foundations and corporations to offset the budget cut, Ms. Sanders said. She added that unnamed individuals have already pledged donations.

"We admit it's a Band-Aid fix, but we believe after-school clubs are as much a part of school as reading and writing,'' Ms. Sanders said.

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