CITY HALL — The average Chicago homeowner will pay $177 more next year in property taxes to fund the Chicago Public Schools next year, but officials promise CPS is now on firmer financial footing after years of massive deficits and repeated rounds of cuts.
However, members of the Chicago Teachers Union and several community groups rallied Thursday at City Hall to tell members of the City Council's Finance Committee that despite the looming tax hike, schools are still underfunded — and few have librarians or enough counselors to help students.
The tax hike is set to be approved Oct. 25 by the Chicago Board of Education, whose members are appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. More than half of the tax hike will go toward Chicago's teachers' pensions, which have long been underfunded by state and city officials.
Emanuel Wednesday defended the tax increase, which he has previously said is needed to "avert a train wreck."
"I don't take lightly asking taxpayers for anything," Emanuel said. "This is for education, not willy-nilly."
Chicago students and parents will not have to worry about midyear budget cuts, which disrupted the last two school years, Emanuel said.
That gave principals a "palpable" sense of relief, Emanuel said.
The largest portion of the $225 million tax hike — $130 million — will come from a 2.5 percent property tax increase approved by state lawmakers as part of a new school-funding formula, CPS officials said.
Because that increase is tied to inflation, the board can generate another $16 million, officials said.
That works out to about $177 per year for the owner of a home worth $250,000, officials said.
That new funding formula requires CPS to give charter schools an additional $37 million to ensure all students are treated equally.
CPS plans to save $55 million by refinancing its debt at a lower interest rate, officials said, and it will add $67 million to its bottom line by raising its existing property tax rate to keep pace with the cost of living.
A separate property tax levy earmarked to build new facilities and expansions for overcrowded schools will increase by $3.6 million, also to keep pace with inflation, officials said.
The CPS budget also relies on $80 million from the city to cover the cost of securing schools.
Ald. George Cardenas (12th) — along with a half-dozen community groups, including the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Logan Square Neighborhood Association and Parents 4 Teachers — called Thursday for the City Council to dip into redevelopment funds and tax big firms to fund schools.
If the city is prepared to offer Amazon a generous incentive package to pick Chicago for its second headquarters, officials can fully fund schools, several speakers said.
“If the city is willing to offer hundreds of millions of dollars of tax cuts and land giveaways to lure Amazon, then there’s money to fund our schools," said Catherine Henchek, whose son attends Vaughn Occupational High School in Portage Park.
Cardenas said half of any surplus in the city's tax increment financing funds should go to Chicago schools.
TIF districts capture all growth in the property tax base in a designated area for a set period of time, usually 20 years or more, and divert it into a special fund for projects designed to spur redevelopment and eradicate blight.
Last year, Emanuel avoided a teachers strike by using about $88 million from TIF funds.
The coalition also renewed its call to tax companies with more than 50 employees $33 per worker per month.
However, Emanuel frequently touts the elimination of the $4-per-employee monthly tax by the City Council in 2011 at his request as a key reform that helped spur millions of dollars of economic activity in the city and prompted dozens of companies to relocate to Chicago.