CITY HALL — Chicago Public Schools parents and City Council reformers were thwarted Monday as an attempt to grant schools relief with economic development funds stalled in committee.
As it did Friday, the Finance Committee took up other items for business ahead of a Chicago Public Education Revitalization Ordinance that would set a process for declaring a surplus in Tax Increment Finance district accounts and redistribute it to CPS. By the time the committee took up the proposal, just at 3 p.m., parents in the gallery had to leave to pick up students from school.
Dozens of CPS parents began chanting, "We want a vote. Keep our schools afloat."
They were ushered out by City Hall police officers.
Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) accused some of his colleagues of in effect "filibustering" to slow down the process by asking inane questions on an earlier matter involving reforms to the city's red-light and speed cameras.
"We can stop asking stupid questions," Moreno fumed.
In the end, there was no vote, as the original proposal sponsored by Ald. George Cardenas (12th) and a substitute submitted Monday by Ald. John Arena (45th) were held in committee.
Ald. Edward Burke (14th), chairman of the Finance Committee, signaled his intentions early by saying, "I don't think we can take any action today."
Burke added, "I don't think it's fair to move this," without the input of Budget Director Alexandra Holt.
Holt did testify, but brought up several technicalities in declaring a TIF surplus. She said the ordinance would insist that the only authorized TIF projects that would avoid being part of a surplus "would need to be projects adopted by the City Council."
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) immediately pointed to an affordable housing project he's working on near North Avenue, and said it was taking months of clearing red tape to process, and might conceivably have missed a Sept. 1 deadline the ordinance sets for declaring a surplus. According to Burnett, that would have deprived the project of $3 million in critical TIF funds.
"I cannot support this," Burnett said. "I cannot hurt my people to help someone else."
"If we don't educate our kids, we got nothing," countered Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th). She said there are CPS classrooms in her ward with 42 students, as well as a kindergarten class with 39 5-year-olds.
"I really believe we have to put education first," Garza said.
Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) said he backed more funding for CPS, but "we have to be very careful about who we could be hurting and the obligations that are already there."
He added that he couldn't spare any TIF funds in his ward.
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said his Downtown TIFs typically supplied most of any declared TIF surplus, as in the $113 million redistributed last year. He said other aldermen grew more "nuanced" on the subject when their own TIFs were endangered.
"We all want to see a surplus," Reilly said, "but no one wants to see it out of their particular ward."
Arena called Cardenas' proposal "an emergency trigger ordinance," which would kick in when CPS funding was endangered, as in this school year. He proposed a substitute ordinance that would "keep CPS honest" by redistributing any TIF surplus directly to schools, allocated according to how much their budgets had been cut from the previous year. It alsp would have kept any TIFs from being wiped clean.
Cardenas supported Arena's substitute, saying it "enhanced" his original proposal.
Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) said the substitute measure was "trying to direct funding to where cuts have taken place."
The majority of the aldermen showed little support for shifting their TIF funds to CPS, and the matter was simply held in committee, although Arena held out hope that it would be addressed by a working group to be put together on the topic.
"The devil's always in the details, isn't it?" Burke concluded.