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CPS Should Get All Extra City Development Cash, Clerk David Orr Says

By Ted Cox | July 11, 2013 3:58pm
 Cook County Clerk David Orr called for city development funds to be diverted to public schools.
Cook County Clerk David Orr called for city development funds to be diverted to public schools.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

THE LOOP — The city should send any extra development funds to the public schools, Cook County Clerk David Orr said Thursday.

"How do we explain to school kids that gym, music and art classes are canceled while profitable businesses are tapping into the city’s tax base?" Orr said Thursday in an annual report on Tax Increment Finance districts.

According to Orr, the city has already turned $182 million in TIF surplus funding to CPS over the last five years, including $10.5 million last year, but the city could do more given the $457 million in surplus tax revenue TIFs generated last year.

"TIFs may have helped make downtown Chicago beautiful, but not enough is being done with TIF funds in the neighborhoods where they are needed most," Orr said.

TIFs redirect increased property tax revenues in designated districts — taxes that otherwise would have gone to the schools and other bodies — to be used to invest in development. The funds are still sometimes used for individual schools in that area, but the city needs to declare a surplus to divert all extra funds to CPS overall.

Orr called on the city to formally declare a surplus in the funds and send them to Chicago Public Schools, which just closed 50 schools in part to address what it claimed was a $1 billion budget deficit.

In that, Orr echoed similar calls from City Council progressives and CPS parent groups. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has also called on TIF funds to be used to ease CPS budget cuts.

The CPS budget deficit has not only been blamed for closing schools, but has been passed down to individual school budgets.

Yet, CPS does not regard the potential funds as a cure-all.

"No combination of one-time fixes is going to address a structural financial deficit at CPS that has built up over decades and currently stands at $1 billion, including $400 million from increasing pension payments," said CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll. "We have made more than $600 million in cuts to the central office while doing everything we can to protect critical classroom investments. Now it's time for Springfield to pass meaningful pension reform as a way to help balance our budget, protect the classroom and ensure a better education and brighter future for our students."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has likewise blamed the CPS budget shortfall on the statewide pension crisis.