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Audit shows CPS with unexpected $344 million — union calls it surplus, CPS says it’s not

Karen Lewis | Sun-Times Medifiles

Karen Lewis | Sun-Times Media files

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Updated: March 1, 2013 7:58PM

The Chicago Teachers Union accused Chicago Public Schools on Monday of manufacturing its fiscal crises, pointing to a newly-released audited budget for the last school year that seems to show an extra $344 million.

But CPS said the money, already budgeted for the current school year, only shows on last year’s books thanks to a Cook County fluke that saw property tax bills sent out on time for the first time in more than 30 years.

The Comprehensive Annual Financial Report received by the Board of Education last Wednesday showed a net increase of $328 million for school year 2011-12 over the year before.

“CPS understates and underprojects revenue, and overprojects spending every single year to raise this call about, ‘Oh, we have a billion dollar deficit. We have this, we have that,’” CTU president Karen Lewis said of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report approved by the Board of Education last Wednesday.

Months after the budget is drafted, the final audited version typically shows a smaller financial hole, she said.

“It’s a manufactured crisis. It’s been a manufactured crisis,” she said.

The district says it faces a budget hole this year of some $700 million that will grow to $1 billion by summer. Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett is making plans to shutter some of the district’s 681 schools, but won’t yet say how many.

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said the $344 million turned up during the last fiscal year because of historically early payments by Cook County and the state of Illinois.

There is no surplus, she said; the money originally was budgeted for the current school year and will be spent.

The chief financial officer at the Cook County Treasurer’s office said that for the first time in 34 years, property taxes were due August 1, so tax money started arriving in July.

In previous years, the second installment of Cook County tax bills weren’t mailed out until September, Patrick Nester said.

CPS began getting its share of property tax money on July 17, Nester said, adding, “You got a July to October timing difference as to when the cash came in.”

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