ALBANY PARK — Albany Park schools collectively lost $6 million for the coming school year as Chicago Public Schools switched to a new formula for allocating budget dollars.
At the same time, in 2012 alone the neighborhood's five Tax Increment Financing districts diverted $4.6 million in residents' property taxes.
In a TIF district, tax revenue generated by increased property values goes into a special fund earmarked for infrastructure and capital improvements in the district instead of the Board of Education or Park District.
"This is your money. You want it? Can you do something with it? Talk to the mayor," said Tom Tresser, co-founder of the Civic Lab, as he conducted a "TIF Illumination" seminar for residents of Albany Park Thursday night.
Both aldermen signed a ceremonial check that would return TIF dollars to their original taxing bodies, among them Chicago Public Schools.
Colon added that he did so reluctantly.
"I don't think the [TIF] surplus is a good fix," he said. "Our problem with our schools is bigger than the TIF solution."
Timothy Meegan, a teacher at Roosevelt High School and one of the event's organizers along with the Albany Park Neighborhood Council, conceded the point to Colon.
"TIF is a one-time fix," Meegan said. "But we need it. How are schools going to function?"
Representatives from various neighborhood schools were on hand to detail what the budget cuts will mean for their students in the coming school year.
At Albany Park Multicultural Academy, down $350,000, after-school programs will be eliminated. Parents have credited these programs with helping to raise graduation rates.
Murphy Elementary, down $700,000, lost its band program and had to drop its reading intervention program and counseling for families in crisis.
A dual-language coordinator position, which bridged the gap between administrators and non-English speaking parents, also came under the ax at Murphy and Volta elementary schools.
"CPS asks parents to get involved and then cuts resources," said a Murphy parent.
The list of cuts kept coming: $1.6 million at Roosevelt; $750,000 at Bateman; $600,000 at Haugen; $450,000 at Cleveland; $400,000 at Belding; $300,000 at Hibbard; $250,000 at Volta; $300,000 at Edison Regional Gifted Center; $350,000 at Patrick Henry; and $115,000 at North River.
"Damage to any one of our schools is a damage to all of us," said one Volta parent via a translator.
Attendees were encouraged to call the mayor's office and demand the return of TIF dollars to schools.
Noted Tresser, "This country got started when they were messing with our taxes."