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CPS Could Use TIF Funds, Say Council Progressives

By Ted Cox | June 27, 2013 4:00pm
 Aldermen John Arena, Roderick Sawyer, Bob Fioretti and Scott Waguespack of the Progressive Reform Caucus want TIF funds diverted to school budgets.
Aldermen John Arena, Roderick Sawyer, Bob Fioretti and Scott Waguespack of the Progressive Reform Caucus want TIF funds diverted to school budgets.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — "Alarmed" by impending school budget cuts, City Council progressives are suggesting a prominent tax fund should be diverted to Chicago Public Schools.

The Progressive Reform Caucus issued a statement Thursday suggesting that tax funds set aside to spur neighborhood economic development should instead be diverted to CPS budgets.

"Schools received their new budgets this month and found their budgets severely reduced," according to the PRC statement. "As elected representatives of the communities of Chicago, we are alarmed by the stripping of basic necessities which define a school. The neighborhood schools have been reduced to beggars, lacking such essentials as sanitation supplies, library book funds, field-trip money, playground supervision. The principals have been given the new budgets and told to ‘do more with less.’

"In order to hold onto their schools' teaching positions, the principals are forced to make the cuts themselves," it added. "Some principals are combining classes to eliminate a teacher position. Thus class sizes will increase."

The statement was signed by Aldermen Bob Fioretti (2nd), Leslie Hairston (5th), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Toni Foulkes (15th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Nick Sposato (36th) and John Arena (45th).

A new way of allotting school budgets has caused deep cuts and forced some schools to consider ending programs or even charging for classes. The grassroots group Raise Your Hand is charting the cuts, estimating $82 million from only the first quarter of individual CPS budgets it has gained access to. The group suggested drawing on tax increment financing funds earlier this month.

The PRC echoed that, saying, "It is not too late to prevent these cuts and reverse the direction of our city. Instead of divesting from our public education system, we should invest heavily from the TIF funds."

TIFs siphon off an estimated $250 million a year citywide and are intended to spur economic development in downtrodden areas, although many TIF districts are in the most opulent areas of the city downtown. Earlier this month, the mayor announced DePaul University would get $55 million in TIF funds to finance a new arena. Critics have called it a slush fund largely administered by the mayor.

CPS and the Mayor's Press Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Just this week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel blamed budget cuts on pension problems, saying 45 percent of the estimated $1 billion CPS budget deficit was attributable to required pension payments. CPS has blamed the $1 billion deficit for the 50 schools closed this year.

"We understand an annual TIF surplus may not be a sustainable solution, but it's available now and clearly better than short changing our children's future with draconian cuts," the PRC statement concluded.