CITY HALL — Aldermen, state legislators and Chicago Public Schools parents urged Mayor Rahm Emanuel Friday to free up $200 million in development funds to pay teachers more and avert a strike next week.
"We're at a point in time now where we've got great anxiety as we stand here today on Friday. And it's not about the Cubs," said Ald. Harry Osterman (48th). "It's about are the schools going to be open on Tuesday morning for these kids in every community in the City of Chicago?
"We need additional money right now to help avert a strike," Osterman added.
"None of us want a strike," said Northwest Side state Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago). "But if teachers walk out on Tuesday it's not a choice of the teachers. If teachers go out on strike next Tuesday it's because this administration made a deliberate choice to leave those funds in the slush funds for developers rather than direct them to our public schools."
Late last month, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the opposite, noting that if the teachers decide to go on strike it would be "one of choice, and not of necessity."
"We must avert the strike without further penalizing the teachers," said Cook County Clerk David Orr, who has made an issue of Tax Increment Finance fund reform. "Some of these TIFs may be nice, but they're not as critical as saving our public schools."
Osterman said development can wait, adding, "What can't wait is the education that will be lost next week if kids are out of school. What can't wait are the cuts that CPS continues to go through that affect the classrooms."
Guzzardi said the General Assembly had delivered additional funding for CPS in the stopgap state budget passed over the summer, and "now it's time for the city to do its share."
Ald. George Cardenas (12th), lead sponsor of a proposed ordinance to declare a surplus in citywide TIF funds and redistribute as much as $200 million, said doing so would strengthen Chicago's position in seeking more funding from Downstate legislators, who persistently ask, "What has Chicago done?"
"We have invested in Downtown," Cardenas said. "And I think it's time for that to change."
"It's really time for us to free the funds," said Joy Clendenning, a CPS parent and member of the Local School Council at Kenwood Academy. She estimated that $200 million would deliver an extra $500 a pupil districtwide.
"We're in a really difficult moment right now, and we know that there's a solution," she added.
The Chicago Teachers Union has persistently said CPS is "broke on purpose," and has demanded new revenue for education both publicly and in contract talks. The union voted 96 percent to strike this fall, and set a strike date of Tuesday as negotiations continue.
The Mayor's Press Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Cardenas has taken a direct role in negotiations between the Emanuel administration and teachers on redistributing TIF funds, and the mayor has already declared a $60 million surplus, but Cardenas said more is necessary.
His proposal to declare a major TIF surplus and redistribute the funds has been controversial in the City Council, with Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) leading opposition stating that the funds are needed for the development they were originally intended for.
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