SOUTH LOOP — The new South Loop Elementary School will draw nearly $50 million in tax increment financing, more than five times the $9 million that was reported when plans for the new school were introduced last year.
An ordinance approved this month by the City Council also revealed the construction budget for the future four-story school at 16th and Dearborn streets has jumped 13 percent to nearly $62 million, up from about $55 million last year.
But it's the nearly fivefold jump in TIF funding that's raising eyebrows from neighbors. Parents at nearby National Teachers Academy, 55 W. Cermak Road, said it's another sign Chicago Public Schools officials are trying to phase out their school, along with plans to expand South Loop Elementary's boundaries. Many academy parents worry their school will be converted into a high school or otherwise absorbed into the new South Loop school.
National Teachers Academy "is happy South Loop is getting their building. If they have an overcrowding issue they need to solve it," said Elisabeth Greer, chairwoman of the academy's local school council. "But the South Loop is growing. We need two elementary schools."
South Loop Elementary opened for 580 students in 1988, but now has 839, according to CPS. And the South Loop, one of the few city neighborhoods growing in population, is slated for thousands of new homes in the next decade.
The new South Loop school will fit 1,200 kids with 50 classrooms, two computer labs, two art rooms and a rooftop play area, among other amenities. The school at 1601 S. Dearborn St. would house classes for kindergarten through eighth grade and is expected to open in fall 2019.
TIF districts capture all gains in the property tax base for a designated area — diverting revenue from other local taxing bodies including school districts — and place them into a special fund for projects meant to spur redevelopment in blighted areas.
The method is heralded as an economic engine by some, but decried as a "slush fund" for politicians' pet projects by others.
The Chicago Teachers Union has criticized the city's use of TIF funds for real estate developments for years. The proposed Near North Side high school once known as Obama College Prep was put on hold last year after Mayor Rahm Emanuel used $175 million in TIF funds to reach a contract with Chicago teachers and avert a strike. A union spokesman did not return a message seeking comment on South Loop school's TIF funding.
The Board of Education moved last year to acquire the site of the future South Loop school, telling parents then that the project would be partially funded with $8.7 million in TIF funding. The amount was raised to $10.7 million by July.
An ordinance approved earlier this month by the city council said the TIF contribution will now be an amount "not to exceed" $48.3 million.
Michael Passman, a CPS spokesman, did not return a message asking why the amount of TIF funding has changed.
Passman did say in a statement, generally, that "we want to make sure that a diverse group of neighborhood residents and children can attend South Loop, and we will also work on a plan to strengthen [National Teachers Academy] so that it continues to effectively serve the community."