CPS to give $8M from $55M TIF surplus to charter schools

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Four members of the Chicago Public Schools board held a public hearing Monday on the district’s budget. | Sun-Times staff

As special education advocates pleaded for enough money to serve their students, Chicago Public Schools officials said Monday they’ll send charter schools $8 million in surplus tax increment financing money — part of $55 million released to pay for the new teachers’ contract.

That’s what the district, which is still banking on $215 million in conditional aid from the state to pay for its pensions, announced at a new round of budget hearings necessitated by $55 million in changes to the school system’s operating budget.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel directed the extra $55 million in surplus TIF funds to the schools to avert a teachers strike minutes before the Chicago Teachers Union’s deadline to walk off the job in October.

About $45 million of that will go to pay the raises awarded for experience and continuing education known as steps and lanes, CPS budget official Matt Walter told a quorum of school board members plus a few dozen members of the public.

But another $8 million is destined for the 120-plus charters that CPS has authorized, a development that appeared to be a surprise to two of the city’s largest charter chains.

Only two people spoke at a Monday afternoon hearing on the CPS budget; attendance was a little higher at a 6 p.m. hearing, moved to a later time after some complaints. | Sun-Times staff

Only two people spoke at a Monday afternoon hearing on the CPS budget; attendance was a little higher at a 6 p.m. hearing, moved to a later time after some complaints. | Sun-Times staff

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said that “to provide proportionate funding after the CTU contract, charters will receive a proportionate amount per pupil of CPS’ additional revenue.”

She likened the budget boost to the teacher salary adjustment afforded to district schools who employ veteran teachers that cost more than the district average.

“That’s good news,” said UNO Charter School Network spokesman Brian Towne. Charter schools don’t employ CTU members, but UCSN teachers are in a different union that recently negotiated raises, too. UCSN agreed to those raises despite falling $1.5 million short to pay for them, hoping for a slice of TIF money.

Seated among charter parents and students who also implored the board for more money, Noble Network of Charter Schools spokesman Cody Rogers also had no details.

Special education teachers and advocates said the amended budget does nothing to bring funding levels for their students up to par because it still puts tough decisions on principals who don’t get enough per-pupil funding for the district’s most vulnerable students. Nor did it replace 4 percent CPS kept aside for appeals.

Emanuel and the Board of Education have “created unsafe environments for our students in special ed and our students with trauma,” said Sarah Chambers, who teaches special ed at Saucedo Elementary in Little Village. Saucedo’s nurse comes only two days a week even though, the school has a student who suffers from seizures, Chambers said; most schools, she added, are short one or two special ed teachers.

CEO Forrest Claypool stood by the amount of special education money, saying schools fund special education first, and he encouraged anyone with evidence that students aren’t being served to come forward.

The school board held Monday’s hearings to fulfill a state requirement before taking a Dec. 7 vote on the new budget.

At the 3:30 p.m. hearing, four board members constituting a quorum listened to two speakers but asked no questions. Under public pressure, CPS moved its second hearing to 6 p.m. — after business hours. That later hearing drew 14 speakers.

The amended operating budget, now totaling $5.514 billion, assumes that state lawmakers will agree to “pension reform.” Earlier this month, such a bill was moved to the governor’s desk, and Republican Bruce Rauner has until Jan. 4 to sign or veto the measure. If he takes no action, the legislation automatically takes effect.

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