City to kick in additional $269 million for Chicago schools budget

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Chicago’s public school system is counting on $269 million in additional money from the city of Chicago government to balance its $5.79 billion operating budget for the coming year, school officials announced Friday.

Officials propose more in operational spending, up from $5.6 billion proposed a year ago, to cover higher pension costs and Chicago Teachers Union raises, according to the Chicago Public Schools’ 2017-18 budget proposal.

The $269 million in local funding would be in addition to state money that school officials are hoping will arrive through school-funding legislation that’s been the subject of yet another ongoing political battle in Springfield.

And it’s still unclear how the $269 million would even be generated.

The Chicago Sun-Times has reported for months that Emanuel has been considering taxing downtown businesses, high-net-worth individuals or both to put the schools on solid financial footing. But the mayor has repeatedly refused to discuss specifics, noting that showing his cards “would be the dumbest thing he could do” because that might let state lawmakers off the hook when it comes to providing state aid for CPS.

Schools CEO Forrest Claypool echoed that at Friday’s budget unveiling.

“There are many options for local resources to fill this gap and meet our commitment for a balanced budget,” he said. “This is not the time or place to discuss them. Our focus right now is on Springfield.”

Emanuel press secretary Matt McGrath refused to say where the city would find the $269 million for CPS. It comes at a time when City Hall itself faces a $114.2 million budget shortfall for 2018 that does not factor in the steep cost of police reform, the second year of a police hiring surge or pay raises tied to soon-to-be-negotiated union contracts.

“Until state funding is clear, which it is not, I can’t give you an answer” on where the $269 million will come from, McGrath said. But he said, “Any local solution will not come at the expense of the city’s long-term stability.”

The idea of the city of Chicago kicking in hundreds of millions of dollars to shore up a school district’s budget is unusual because schools already charge property taxes of their own, in addition to getting state money.

The situation underscores just how financially burdened CPS now is after years of failing to pay money into into the Chicago teachers’ pension fund and entering into costly borrowing deals — from lines of credit to bonds to risky interest rate “swap” deals — under former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

The Illinois Senate will reconvene Sunday in Springfield to consider an override of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s amendatory veto of the school-funding legislation worth $300 million extra to the city’s schools system, and the House meets next week.

Absent a new funding formula such as the one in that bill, Illinois has no way to distribute general state aid to its public school districts, as it was supposed to do on Thursday.

CPS repeatedly has asked state lawmakers for a greater share of state funding for school districts serving poor children, and CTU and others have criticized local leaders for not doing more on their own.

“While the mayor devises taxes, fines and fees to squeeze revenue from working families struggling to recover from the Great Recession, he has let Chicago Public Schools slide into financial disaster,” the union said in a statement Friday. “The figures introduced in today’s 2017-2018 CPS operating budget ‘framework’ remain insufficient, and the Chicago City Council will be voting on inadequate funds to cover previous budget cuts weathered by parents, students and educators, and not any additional resources for our schools.”

The past two years, CPS leaders banked on money from Springfield to balance the books but ended up slashing budgets during the school year and laying off staff when the money didn’t materialize.

Officials have said that no matter what happens with the state, school will start on time on Sept. 5.

Friday’s release of the full operating budget is the latest in recent years.

Principals found out a few weeks ago, though, what they will have to spend at their schools, including about $200 more per student to cover contractual teacher raises.

Citywide, enrollment is projected to decline by about 8,000 students, following last year’s plummet of about 11,000 students. The latest plunge led to nearly 1,000 layoffs, including about 360 teachers, though many of those laid off are expected to be hired at other schools.

The Chicago Board of Education has postponed its scheduled meeting to approve the entire budget until Aug. 28. Two budget hearings will be at CPS headquarters, 42 W. Madison, on Aug. 23: at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Capital budget hearings will be on Aug. 21 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at three yet-to-be-announced locations.

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