Ald. Ricardo Munoz accuses CPS of stonewalling on finances

SHARE Ald. Ricardo Munoz accuses CPS of stonewalling on finances

Ald. Ricardo Muñoz (22nd) speaks during the Chicago City Council meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) on Tuesday forced a premature end to an otherwise routine Education Committee meeting after accusing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s hand-picked school team of stonewalling his request for information about itsfinancial crisis.

Munoz said he is determined to summon Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool and his budget director before the Education Committee to talk about their shortfall, and what the City Council’s options are if the Illinois General Assembly fails to ride to the rescue.

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of a bill that would have provided $215 million in pension help, already built into the CPS budget, has prompted several rounds of budget cuts and furlough days.

CPS also has threatened to end the school year three weeks early and dramatically reduce summer school if the pension help is not forthcoming in time for the broke school system to make a state-mandated $730 million payment to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund due on June 30.

With the deadline fast approaching and parents on edge, Munoz wants answers he’s not getting.

“We’ve been requesting for several weeks now — actually more like four or five weeks — that CPS come before the City Council to tell us what this financial scenario looks like so that the City Council, if needed, can try and assess how to solve the problem,” Munoz said.

Munoz said the request for Claypool’s testimony was on the agenda for Tuesday’s Education Committee, only to be “taken off” by Chairman Howard Brookins (21st).

Brookins said he removed the matter from the agenda only after “going back and forth” with CPS and the mayor’s office of Legislative Counsel and Government Affairs.

“A lot of people weren’t around because of spring break. They told me they couldn’t get anybody there competent enough to answer questions from the aldermen. So they asked that I postpone it,” Brookins said.

He said CPS officials were “working on the first week of May,” but that’s not soon enough.

“I agree that the public needs to know how dire and how real the situation is, specifically about stopping school 13 days early,” Brookins said.

“If it’s gonna come back on the City Council to come up with additional money to keep schools open, they need to answer some questions,” he said. “I agree the subject matter is urgent.”

Munoz said he won’t know what the City Council is prepared to do to help CPS, even on a temporary basis, until he knows the actual numbers.

That’s why his threat of a quorum call forced a premature end to an Education Committee meeting called to consider mayoral appointments to the City Colleges board. Eleven aldermen were needed for a quorum. Only eight aldermen were present.

“There’s been misinformation out there about what the real picture is. One day, they say they’re $200 million short. Another day, they’ll say $250 million short. Another day, they’ll say $130 million short. . . . The numbers Forrest Claypool puts out there are all over the place,” Munoz said.

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said, “We’ve been working to coordinate a time and date through the Education Committee chairman for the past several weeks. We haven’t received a request from Alderman Munoz for a hearing.

“On top of regular phone calls, office visits and meetings that take place several times a week, CPS representatives attend every City Council meeting to address aldermen’s questions, concerns and requests. In addition, a CPS representative met with Alderman Munoz at his office on April 10, when the alderman didn’t raise an issue about the committee hearing,” she continued.

She said CPS also has met with aldermen specifically about a pending civil rights lawsuit CPS filedagainst the state, seeking more money for the district’s mostly minority students.

Last week, Emanuel refused to say whether he was prepared to borrow money, raid tax-increment financing funds or raise taxes again to prevent the Chicago Public Schools from closing three weeks early.

“Taxpayers of Chicago already are taxed twice. In this state, [they are] the only people who are doubly taxed on pensions. We pay for every other teacher in the state of Illinois pensions. And then we also pay when we pay our property taxes for our Chicago teachers,” Emanuel said.

“And before I ask them — and I don’t believe it’s right that they should be asked to pay three times when every other person in the state of Illinois is only paying once — I want equity across the system,” the mayor said. “If you threw in your towel there, what I know about Springfield is they would actually do exactly what they always do: treat the children of Chicago as second-class citizens. And that has to end.”

He was asked how he could countenance lopping three weeks off the school year when he fought so hard — and took a 2012 teachers strike that was Chicago’s first in 25 years — to make that longer year happen.

“You know my view, having fought for a full school day and a full school year when Chicago used to have the shortest in America. And not only for every child, but to make sure that we no longer had about 50 percent of our kids getting only a half-day of kindergarten,” he said.

The City Council’s Black and Hispanic caucuses have filed friend-of-the-court briefs that joined the civil rights lawsuit that CPS has filed against the state.

At the same time, Aldermen Roderick Sawyer (6th) and George Cardenas (12th) have raised the possibility of either raiding TIF funds again or raising taxes and fees yet again to prevent CPS schools from closing early.

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