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Rahm: Chicago Schools Will Open In Fall Regardless Of State Budget Impasse

 Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday he plans to run for a third term as mayor of Chicago.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday he plans to run for a third term as mayor of Chicago.
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools will open Sept. 5 as scheduled — regardless of whether state lawmakers have reached an agreement on a budget, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday.

After rattling off a host of specifics designed to tout the progress made by Chicago students during his time in office, Emanuel said the opening of schools for the 2017-18 academic year won't depend on Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic-controlled General Assembly reaching a budget deal after an impasse of more than 700 days.

"Parents don't need anxieties about that," said Emanuel, who used his education speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to bash Rauner for failing to reach an agreement on a state budget. "Chicago will be open for the future. I can't say that about the rest of Illinois."

Emanuel did not elaborate on how  cash-strapped CPS would find the funds to open in September if the state does not start paying its bills. Because of the impasse, the state owes more than $15 billion to a variety of vendors and agencies, including school districts across the state, according to Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza.

The state owes CPS $467 million in grants that have been stymied by the more than two-year impasse.

CPS officials announced Monday night that the district had borrowed $275 million at a 6.39 percent interest rate in order to finish the school year and pay its employees' pension fund $721 million by June 30.

CPS plans to borrow another $112 million in the coming weeks.

Because of the district's poor financial condition, the interest rate on this debt is four times higher than it would be for other governmental agencies, according to financial market data.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said on Twitter that in briefings with financial officials from Emanuel's office, aldermen had been told to expect the district to borrow the money at an interest rate closer to 3 percent, which would have saved the district hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Waguespack said those assertions "weren't believable anyway."

A spokeswoman for the mayor said that during briefings about the financial crisis engulfing CPS, aldermen asked Chief Financial Officer Carole Brown to speculate on a possible interest rate.

Brown told the aldermen that 3 percent would be a typical rate for short-term lines of credit, but acknowledged the market would set the final rate.

The district already owes about $950 million in short-term loans, and district officials have said CPS' ability to borrow more money is limited.

Emanuel dismissed criticism from 22nd Ward Ald. Ricardo Munoz that borrowing to make the pension payment amounted to a "payday loan" that would saddle the city with additional costs at a time when it can ill afford to borrow more money.

The Chicago Teachers Union has called the additional borrowing "terribly irresponsible."

Rauner's office has blamed the school district's financial woes on decades of mismanagement.

In February, CPS head Forrest Claypool threatened to close schools 20 days early, on June 1, if state officials did not give Chicago schools more money.

CPS has argued that the state funding system is unfair to Chicago and is discriminatory because of the large number of CPS minority students. However, after a judge declined to order the state to give CPS more funding, Emanuel decided against closing schools early.

In response to a question from the audience at the National Press Club Tuesday, Emanuel said he planned to run for a third term as mayor, but promised to discuss the matter first with his wife, Amy Rule.

During his speech, Emanuel extolled the virtues of his push to oversee what he has called a "seismic shift" in public education from a kindergarten-through-12th-grade model to a pre-kindergarten-through-college focus.

In May, the Chicago Board of Education approved a measure that would prevent high school students from graduating unless they can prove they have plan in place for college, a trade school or a job.

Rising sophomores — who are set graduate in 2020 — would be the first to be required to provide a plan. All students who graduate from CPS high schools now are automatically granted admission to the City Colleges of Chicago.

In addition, students — starting with next year's freshman class — must now take chemistry, physics and biology in order to graduate from high school.