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Modest CPS 2016 capital budget 'reflects difficult choices under a dour fiscal reality'

Interim CPS CEO Jesse Ruiz unveiled a "bare bones" capital budget for 2016 on Friday | (Brian Jackson/Chicago Sun-Times)

With a more than 1 billion dollar deficit and ballooning pension payments, Chicago Public Schools officials are proposing a “bare bones” 2016 capital budget — the smallest in 20 years.

“This capital budget reflects difficult choices under a dour fiscal reality,” Jesse Ruiz, the district’s interim CEO, said Friday.

CPS is proposing a $160 million capital budget. The district would foot $113 million of it with $47 million coming from special taxing districts and other funding sources, officials said.

Last year, the district approved a $510 million capital budget that included millions for a new North Side selective-enrollment high school.

The 2016 capital budget is less than a third that size, reflecting massively reduced ambitions.

No major new construction projects will begin in the 2016 budget year, but buildings will get “emergency repairs, essential maintenance,” Ruiz said. Some incomplete projects will be completed.

The district plans to spend $69 million on urgent structural maintenance “to keep students safe, warm and dry” in buildings that are, on average, more than 75 years old, Ruiz said. Some of those schools include Saucedo Elementary Scholastic Academy, Manierre Elementary School and Tilden Career Community Academy High School.

The major renovation of Lane Tech High School — begun last year — will continue, the district said.

And two overcrowded schools, including Mount Greenwood Elementary, will get extra classrooms at a cost of about $10 million — as promised by Mayor Rahm Emanuel during his campaign for a second term.

CPS will also upgrade computer data networks and computer systems at a cost of $10.6 million — with $4 million provided by the federal government.

Civic Federation President Laurence Msall said this conservative capital plan “reflects the ongoing financial challenges and fiscal crisis of the Chicago Public Schools.”

“Anyone who cares about the Chicago Public Schools has to be concerned about its current financial challenges and this capital budget is a appropriate level of spending, but doesn’t represent the needs of the district,” he said.