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Rahm Blocking Plan To Pay For School Sign, Alderman Moreno Says

By  Alisa Hauser and Heather Cherone | October 31, 2017 2:28pm | Updated on November 1, 2017 11:50am

Sabin principal Gwen Kasper-Couty and Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) in front of the outdated marquee. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]

WICKER PARK — Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) says Mayor Rahm Emanuel is blocking his effort to fund a new sign and marquee for Sabin Dual Language Magnet School in Wicker Park.

Moreno said his push to use $70,000 of his office's discretionary budget to replace the outdated school sign with an electronic marquee advertising school news, in English and Spanish, was blocked by Emanuel.

Molly Poppe, a spokeswoman for Emanuel's budget office, declined to comment on the issue.

Sabin Principal Gwen Kasper-Couty said the sign at the entrance of the school at 2216 W. Hirsch St. needs to be replaced.

"It needs to be electronic and digital, so we can advertise in English and Spanish," said Kasper-Couty, adding that there is "no way" she could raise enough money from school families to replace the sign.

The city's 50 aldermen get $1.3 million a year in a discretionary fund to spend on roads, sidewalks or other projects designed to spruce up their wards. Also known as "menu money" for the list of permanent improvement projects that aldermen get to choose from, the fund allows aldermen a pot of money to spend as they see fit — and curry favor with voters.

Moreno said the mayor's office told him the sign was not eligible for funding from his menu money.

"The [Emanuel] administration is asking me, 'What is the community benefit?'" Moreno said. "We've got a Level 1-plus magnet school, a beautiful facade, and this... sign. We can do better. This sign is not an enhancement. It's a capital improvement."

In recent years, Moreno has used his discretionary fund to pay for four new stoplights in the southern edge of his ward at 2100 West Chicago Avenue in Ukrainian Village and for a new playground at LaSalle II Magnet School, 1148 N. Honore St., in East Village.

The marquee is needed to advertise what's going on at Sabin to the community and to draw more Wicker Park families to the school, Kasper-Couty said.

"It's a community benefit," said Kasper-Couty, adding that a sign could have drawn more neighborhood residents to the fall festival.

It is not uncommon for aldermen to use their ward menu money on projects at local schools.

In the 45th Ward, Ald. John Arena used $183,000 from his 2013 discretionary budget to replace the blacktop at Beaubien Elementary School with a rubberized surface in an effort to prevent students from being injured.

In the 36th Ward, Ald. Gilbert Villegas plans to use $40,000 for new security measures, garbage cans, drinking fountains and benches for Locke Elementary School, 2828 N. Oak Park Ave.