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CPS parents, community members call on mayor to release more TIF dollars to struggling schools

Updated: October 16, 2013 6:31PM



A group of Chicago Public Schools parents and community members called on Mayor Rahm Emanuel Wednesday to release more leftover tax increment financing money into struggling school budgets, saying $20 or $25 million isn’t enough.

Parent members of the Raise Your Hand and Local School Council members making up the Common Sense coalition say the mayor’s recent decision to declare an annual surplus in the city’s tax increment financing districts and return 25 percent of the cash balance — $20 to $25 million — won’t send enough money to fix ongoing budget woes at many neighborhood schools.

The group also asked the city’s Office of Budget and Management and the Housing and Economic Development department for records of TIF funds, pending TIF projects and TIF money ported from one taxing district to another.

“Fund your city’s schools, up the surplus amount and change lives,” said Beard Elementary School mother Laurie Viets, whose youngest son’s therapeutic day school has lost seven teachers and eight aides this year.

Darwin Elementary dad Jeff Karova said the school’s been asking local businesses to donate the $14,000 it needs to keep a successful behavior program going.

“Budgets are priorities,” he said, flanked by representatives of King College Prep high school in Bronzeville and Murphy Elementary school in Avondale, “and I’m asking where the priorities are if we are funding private development in favor of our schools.”

TIFs siphon tens of millions of dollars away from local taxing districts, such as the school district, by freezing property taxes for 23 years and using the increment for business subsidies and infrastructure within those boundaries. City spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said the TIF information the groups requested could already be found on the city’s website.

The mayor’s 2014 budget will declare a TIF surplus in the $40 to $50 million range, 53 percent of which goes to CPS. City Budget Director Alex Holt has said the surplus has been closer to 20 percent in recent years. City Hall says $1.5 billion of the $1.7 billion total in Chicago’s 175 TIFs is “already committed,” $350 million of which is tied to school projects.

The mayor revealed a handful of new CPS capital spending projects, including a new specialty STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — program at Al Raby High School and new classrooms at two other West Side elementary schools, and a $17 million annex to nearly double the capacity at the highly coveted Walter Payton College Preparatory High School.

“That’s not an equitable . . . distribution of funds,” said Raise Your Hand’s Wendy Katten. “We can’t fund our current STEM programs. You don’t create a new facility when you can’t fund what you have.”

Katten said the district’s budget cuts and teacher layoffs are driving families out of the city. Three thousand fewer children enrolled this year over last.

“The district projected we would have 5,000 more students that we have right now,” she said. “Further cuts and not restoring these cuts we believe will lead to that continued trend and we don’t understand how these policies will lead to a brighter and better future for Chicago.”

CPS, which faced a $1 billion budget deficit this year and projects a similar gap next year, says it’s too early to say how the district plans to spend any of the TIF surplus money.

CPS continues to seek out pension reform in Springfield as the solution to its budget problems.

“We can’t ‘TIF’ our way out of the District’s financial crisis. As a one-time revenue source, TIF surplus funds will not address our structural budget problems or bridge the annual $1 billion dollar deficits facing the District today,” CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said in a statement.

The City Council’s Progressive Caucus, which has been pressuring Emanuel for months to put TIF dollars toward struggling school budgets, introduced an ordinance in July to declare TIF revenues a surplus if they are “not already required, pledged for specific projects, earmarked or otherwise designated for payment of or securing obligations” at the close of the year.

Their proposal, signed by 32 aldermen, remains in the Rules Committee.

Email: lfitzpatrick@suntimes.com

Twitter: @bylaurenfitz



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