CTU marches against TIF projects as members brace for layoffs

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Chicago Teachers Union protest over the use of TIF funds for development instead of using the money for schools. February 25, 2016. Brian Jackson/ for the Sun-Times

As Chicago Teachers Union members brace for layoffs next week, dozens of them marched Thursday from City Hall to a tony new downtown development benefitting from tax increment financing money.

They say the layoff are unnecessary — and the TIF money belongs in classrooms.

Carrying signs reading “Silly Rahm, TIFs are for kids,” the red-clad members circled in front of City Hall at rush hour, then took their cause to 444 W. Lake Street, to the half-built riverfront tower getting $30 million in TIF money.

“It’s not right that a politically connected developer on a high-end office tower should get money that comes out of the schools at the same time that black and Latino working people are seeing their schools cut in the middle of the year,” vice president Jesse Sharkey said. “We need money for schools and for students, not for connected developers.

“Will it solve the crisis? No — to solve the crisis, the wealthy are going to have to pay … but this would be an act of good faith,” Sharkey continued.

Special education teacher and CPS parent Alix Gonzalez said the entire TIF program should be shut down since the projects “are mostly in areas that don’t need them” and take away from neighborhood schools and parks.

The downtown buildings are a prime example, said the 13-year veteran of Telpochcalli Elementary School, which will manage to stave off layoffs — but only by cutting budgets for all supplies, materials and field trips through June.

City budget spokeswoman Molly Poppe said that the mayor has released nearly $700 million in TIF surplus since 2011, more than half of which went to CPS.

“However, TIF surplus is a one-time revenue source that doesn’t come close to addressing CPS’ financial concerns. Instead, the State should focus on fixing a discriminatory state funding formula that penalizes Chicago’s students,” she wrote in an email.

She added that the building in question will also have a public riverfront park.

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner confirmed that pink slips to CTU members are coming Monday. The district has cut and borrowed its way through a massive budget gap that counted in vain on pension help from state legislators and a Republican governor who’s vowed to veto any deal that does not include major reforms from his “Turnaround Agenda.”

CPS had offered in January a contract proposal it said would stave off layoffs but the union struck it down, saying hundreds of teachers would have had to retire to pay for the raises.

Negotiations are ongoing but not scheduled for the weekend, so it’s not likely the parties will reach an agreement before Monday. The CTU’s 27,000 members also are going to lose a seven percent pension contribution next week that CPS has been making on their behalf since bargaining to do so decades ago.

CPS won’t say and the CTU didn’t know how many members will lose their jobs Monday but Sharkey didn’t expect it would be as many as the thousands earlier feared.

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