CPS sets 2015 capital budget at $423 million

Written By BY STEFANO ESPOSITO AND BECKY SCHLIKERMAN Staff Reporters Posted: 06/04/2014, 06:12am
Array Two modular classrooms at Arthur E. Canty Elementary School. There are four classrooms in each .| Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times

Easing overcrowding, repairing crumbling buildings and installing air conditioning all get priority in Chicago Public Schools’ proposed 2015 capital budget — one of the smaller budgets in recent years, officials said Friday.

“We’ve tried to be incredibly thoughtful — between the imperative of upgrading our schools and fiscal prudence,” CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said during a conference call.

At $423 million, the budget is among the smallest of the last six years, officials said. About $260 million of the budget comes from district financing. About $134 million is made up of $91.4 in TIF funding and other “outside” funding, which includes state and federal grants and corporate and private donations.

The plan also allocates about $29 million for the move of its central headquarters.

Byrd-Bennett said the district is operating in an environment of “extreme financial constraints” and has a “$3.5 billion dollar capital deficit [that] far outweighs what we are able to address.”

Still, the proposed budget is almost three times the $162 initially proposed last year. The addition of later projects boosted the total actual spending to about $307 million.

Some of the capital projects have made headlines already.

Last month, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced plans to install air conditioning in 206 CPS schools within five years at a cost of about $100 million. About $20 million is budgeted for air conditioning for 2015, officials said Friday; 57 schools will get the upgrade this summer.

The budget includes about $98 million for three of the district’s selective-enrollment high schools on the North Side, including $60 million in tax-increment financing funds for the proposed Barack Obama College Preparatory High School.

Some $22 million of the $98 million is planned for repairs to Lane Tech High School on the North Side — the district’s most populous school, with some 4,100 students. Officials there are dealing with crumbling walls and a bad roof, among other things.

“We want our buildings to be warm, safe and dry, and this building without this investment would be neither warm, safe, nor dry,” Byrd-Bennett said of the project, which is expected to take several years. “It does sound like a large investment on the north, but it’s a necessary investment.”

The district also plans to build annexes at Canty, Jamieson and Richard Edwards elementary schools to ease chronic overcrowding.

At Canty, “Those students in that building are actually eating lunch on their laps in the auditorium,” Byrd-Bennett said.

Canty mom Stacy Babich, who often speaks at Board of Education meetings about the school’s overcrowding, was thrilled to finally see an $18 million expansion; it will add 16 new classrooms, a lunchroom/multi-purpose room and a new play lot.

“It’s a dream come true,” she said.

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey said schools like Canty “won the lottery” but there’s hundreds of other schools that need help, too.

“The mayor has chosen a small number of high profile investments because he thinks they look good on a re-election campaign but the overall plan doesn’t begin to address the real needs of the schools,” Sharkey said. “For that he would have to come to terms with raising some real revenue.”

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