CPS Budget Cuts: $68 Million to be Slashed Citywide, Property Tax Hike

By Tanveer Ali on July 24, 2013 12:02pm | Updated on July 24, 2013 12:58pm

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 Demonstrators took to the sidewalk outside of CPS headquarters and the second floor of City Hall Wednesday to criticize the city for recent budget cuts.
Demonstrators at CPS Headquarters and City Hall
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DOWNTOWN — After Chicago Public Schools announced budget plans for the coming school year, including $68 million in cuts to individual schools and a property tax hike, a series of students accused CPS leaders of failing to make decisions with children's needs in mind.

"You are slashing our education. You are pulling it away," Asean Johnson told the Chicago Board of Education Wednesday.

"You need to go to our mayor and tell him to leave his job," added Johnson, who once served as the third-grade class president at Marcus Garvey School and gave an impassioned plea to stop the closures of dozens of schools in May.

To help fill a nearly $1 billion budget deficit, the district expects to collect $88.6 million more in property taxes, based on implementing the maximum allowable rate hike by law.

The district said it would also cut $112 million from central office costs and dip into "$700 million in one-time reserves."

The plan comes after a tumultuous few months that ended with the shuttering of 50 elementary schools and the elimination of 3,500 educators from the district's payroll.

"By reducing central office, administrative and operations spending, we are minimizing the impact on our schools as best we can," CPS boss Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a statement.

Byrd-Bennett said the biggest financial issue is pension costs, and she's appealing to state lawmakers to make reforms to the system.

The explanation wasn't enough for some attending Wednesday's board meeting, including Rousemary Vega, who was a vocal parent about the closure of Lafayette Elementary School.

"You're a Zimmerman," she yelled at Byrd-Bennett as she was escorted out of the meeting, implying the school's actions this year were racist.

Among the many CPS students who addressed the board were Whitney Young Magnet High School's Avelardo Rivera and Diane Argulo.

After Argulo, who is deaf, spoke to the board using sign language she verbally asked the board "Are you listening to me now?"

"We're trying to influence the School Board and make them understand that what they do influences us and our education," Rivera said.

The district's budget announcement came after morning demonstrations outside of the district's headquarters and City Hall.

Protesters called for the rehiring of laid-off teachers, reallocating surplus TIF development funds to public schools. And they lamented the closures of dozens of schools ahead of the coming school year.

At a demonstration at City Hall, protesters called on the City Council to get behind a plan to send surplus TIF money — property taxes that are allocated to development projects in certain neighborhoods — to public schools to plug budget holes.

"Our schools cannot function with the budgets we've been handed," said Jennie Biggs, a member of the citywide parent organization Raise Your Hand.

The district cites a $405 million hike in higher pension costs and $93 million in salary increases among the causes of the budget deficit.

Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union addressed the board Wednesday and said she agreed that pensions are part of a larger "revenue problem" in the district.

In addition to calling for a progressive income tax that she said would add more money to the schools, Lewis added she was willing to work with the board to address pension reform in Springfield.

"If we work together in Springfield to change those laws to get more of the revenue into the system, we'll have less of a problem," Lewis said.

There will be three public hearings on Aug. 1 and Aug. 2 before a final budget is voted on at the Aug. 24 board meeting.

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