Chicago Board of Education approves $1 billion in more borrowing

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Chicago’s Board of Education unanimously authorized the sale of $1 billion in bonds Wednesday, with the bulk of the borrowing to pay for yet-to-be announced capital projects.

In addition to the $840 million for capital spending, Chicago Public Schools plans to borrow an additional $160 million to refinance debt taken on at interest rates as high as 9 percent, district officials said Wednesday. That’s on top of an anticipated $945 million in short-term credit needed to keep the district operating until property tax revenue rolls in next spring.

“These bonds are replacing high-interest variable bonds with lower interest fixed rate bonds. We anticipate savings this year,” finance chief Ron DeNard told the board, declining to quantify those savings.

Chicago Public Schools also still won’t say how much their deal with the Chicago Teachers Union will cost taxpayers, despite the fact that its higher costs will trigger a new round of yet-to-be-announced budget hearings and will go back before the school board.

“When we hold the Dec. 7 meeting we will approve the revised budget,” President Frank Clark said.

Speaking for the first time since the late-night deal was brokered, literally minutes before a midnight strike deadline, CEO Forrest Claypool said he’s hopeful that teachers will review the agreement and approve it when they vote on Monday and Tuesday.

“Once finalized, CPS will present a revised budget to board” that’ll include “revised costs” of the labor agreement that kept a 7 percent pension benefit the district had hoped to eliminate.

He didn’t explain those additional costs, and board members didn’t ask for details, either.

A new pilot program aimed at saving an undisclosed amount has been met with disgust at a large Northwest Side high school.

As school budgets and central office staff have shrunk, CPS sought to free up remaining school staffers and principals with a new system designed to help schools keep track of payroll, reimbursements and transfers.

“CPS initiated the School Support Center pilot to ease the administrative burden on principals so that they can focus more of their time on their core mission: educational improvement,” district spokesman Michael Passman said in an email. “By assuming financial, accounting and other functions from schools, CPS can — through economies of scale and concentrated expertise — save tens of millions of dollars, which could help prevent additional cuts to academic resources.”

He declined to say what the program cost.

Von Steuben was one of the 40 schools initially chosen, according to an LSC community representative, that happened without consulting the principal or the local school council.

Ann Scholhamer said the program solves “a problem we do not have” at the top-rated high school, 5039 N. Kimball Ave., that’s never failed an audit and boasts an “experienced and qualified” principal. She likened the extra checks to “microscrutiny” that has delayed routine purchases by weeks — so students had to wait six weeks for classroom projectors.

“Working systems have been replaced with failing systems,” she said, repeating calls for Von Steuben to be removed immediately from the pilot. Claypool promised to meet with school reps.

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