CITY HALL — A coalition of groups including DePaul students and union teachers protested the funding of the university's proposed McCormick Place arena Thursday before part of the project went before the Chicago Plan Commission.
The Grassroots Collaborative said the development funds should instead be diverted to help avert Chicago Public Schools budget cuts.
At a City Hall news conference, Blaine Elementary Principal Troy LaRaviere cited Mayor Rahm Emanuel's push for a full school day, then attacked a CPS budget that "turns a full school day into an empty school day."
LaRaviere said budget cuts at his school meant he no longer had the option to hire the best teachers and staff, but that cost becomes the main concern.
"I don't understand how you can hold students accountable for achievement, and you can hold principals accountable for ensuring that they achieve, but then handcuff them in the hiring and interview process," he said.
"We've lost our music," LaRaviere added. "We've lost our reduced class sizes. We've lost our intervention specialists. I've lost my ability to recruit and retain and rehire the most effective teachers."
"These cuts are devastating to our schools," said Kate Schott Bolduc, of the Common Sense Coalition of LSCs for Fair Funding, an amalgamation of more than 50 Local School Councils fighting the budget cuts.
She cited figures amassed by the grassroots group Raise Your Hand showing that an estimated $95 million was being trimmed from 150 known school budgets — and that's not even a third of the district's 550 schools.
"This deal is a microcosm of everything that's wrong about Chicago," said John Jacoby, vice president of the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance. "This is a terrible deal. It is siphoning funds from public education, from police, from fire, from parks, from things that build communities."
Jacoby said TIF money invested in the McCormick Place area would be better spent on a neighborhood high school, a longtime goal for the South Loop neighborhood.
LaRaviere mentioned Mayor Emanuel's statement that the $1 billion CPS budget deficit was largely brought on by the statewide public-pension crisis. "Inaction in Springfield is no excuse for inaction in Chicago," LaRaviere said. He lauded the mayor for his "initiative, drive and creativity" in finding funding for bike lanes, boathouses on the Chicago River and the DePaul arena.
"Building a stadium, he found a way." LaRaviere said. "But when it comes to the education of our children, it's Springfield. No initiative, no creativity, no drive."
Jacoby brought the issue back to the 50 schools closed this year by CPS, saying, "They've ripped apart communities by closing schools and claiming they don't have the money to fund them."
"It's shocking that we have to beg the mayor for our tax dollars to be used in our communities," said Charles Brown, an Englewood resident with the community group Action Now.
CPS and the Mayor's Press Office have responded that the city has already drawn on TIFs for some school funding, and that diverting TIF funds to CPS is not a viable long-term solution to the budget crisis.
The Grassroots Collaborative includes the Chicago Teachers Union and Service Employees International Union, as well as community groups like Action Now and CPS Local School Councils.
DePaul students delivered a petition with 3,000 signatures opposed to the funding to the Mayor's Office. Erika Wozniak, a DePaul alumna who delivered the petition, said she hoped DePaul President Dennis Holtschneider would tell the mayor, "Thanks, but no thanks" for the public funding.
The DePaul arena was not actually on the Plan Commission agenda Thursday, but the disposition of city land for a McCormick Place hotel that is part of the overall project was approved by the body.