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Emanuel defends CPS decision to spend $9.5 million on furniture

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday defended the decision by his handpicked school team to spend $9.5 million on furniture — double the current budget — in preparation for the cost-saving move to a new central headquarters.

“They’re getting out of a building they should not have been in [and] into a much more affordable footprint because there’s been literally over $700 million worth of cuts to the central office. And the central office staff now is smaller,” the mayor said.

The nation’s third-largest school district is moving its headquarters from 125 S. Clark to smaller offices on the first three floors of a Loop building that houses Sears’ flagship store, which is closing. The move is scheduled to be completed by late November.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has questioned the rationale of doubling the furniture budget to outfit the new central office and eight satellite offices in a system still reeling from 50 school closings and devastating cuts to school budgets that forced 3,168 layoffs.

“It’s about where are our priorities?” she said. “Again, these are moral decisions based on what’s important to some people and what’s important to other people…It’s just poor stewardship of money.”

On Wednesday, Emanuel made the opposite argument.

“There’s a $60 million savings, so we’re protecting from future [classroom] cuts,” he said.

The mayor likened the decision to spend money up front to achieve bigger savings later to the office consolidation that began in December, 2012 at century-old City Hall.

It will allow three city departments to move out of 124,875 square feet of leased office space at 33 N. LaSalle that cost Chicago taxpayers $4.4 million-a-year and into renovated office space at City Hall. The city hopes to recover its investment over three years and save $4 million-a-year after that.

“We’re making a series of consolidations and bringing people into City Hall and we’re gonna save $12 million. We’re spending a little on the up-front to save $12 million,” he said.