The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Property Tax Hikes, Classroom Cuts Highlight CPS 2013-14 Budget

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jul 24, 2013 9:20PM

Photo Credit: Aaron Cynic

Chicago Public Schools revealed their $5.58 billion proposed budget for the 2013-14 school year Wednesday and it is not good, crimestoppers. In fact, CPS may have a better chance of trying to close the $1 billion deficit they’ve claimed to have for months by riding a hot round of blackjack at Horseshoe Casino.

For the third straight year, CPS will raise the property tax levies that fund the system to the maximum amount allowed under state law. They’ll also be tapping into nearly $700 million in reserves and cutting classroom spending by $68 million. They’re digging deep, too: not only is CPS using unrestricted funds to help fill the budget hole, they’re reaching into funds normally reserved for to pay off debt and legal rulings—the municipal equivalent of digging for change behind couch cushions.

CPS said they will gain $41 million from the closings of 50 schools announced in spring. But tapping the reserves, Crain’s Chicago Business’ Greg Hinz noted, will leave the school system with nothing at the end of the school year and mounting pension obligations on the horizon.

Care to take a guess as to what CPS is blaming the budget woes on again? Here’s what CPS Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley said.

“We’re spending $1,000 per pupil just to cover the increase in our pension obligations. Imagine what schools could do with an extra $1,000” per student.

They'd probably give it to a charter school, but whatever.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett added, "It is very, very clear that the lack of pension reform in Springfield has really brought this crisis right now to our classroom doorstep."

Give them credit: they know how to bludgeon you with a message. Never mind the school system received three years of pension relief and didn’t plan ahead or the TIF districts that drain the system of much-needed funding. CPS’ budget, which Cawley called unsustainable, is at the point where even if Mayor Emanuel declared a TIF surplus, it may not be enough. TIF districts have accumulated over $5.5 billion in the past 26 years and, according to the Reader’s Ben Joravsky, more than half of that money could have gone to CPS. (My offer to do a Polar Bear plunge if Emanuel declares a TIF surplus still stands, by the way. At this point, it's an easy bet to win.)

The Chicago Teachers Union and other opponents of the budget protested outside CPS’ downtown headquarters Wednesday morning.

Craig Cleve, a teacher at Columbia Explorers Academy on the Southwest Side, said: “I’m here because of the appalling cuts that have happened last year and the past couple weeks. Most of our after school and before school programs are gone. Why run on a campaign promise that you’re going to lengthen a day and make it better and slash us to the bone this year?”