If Mayor Rahm Emanuel can offer a lucrative incentive package to lure Amazon’s second North American headquarters, he can afford to do far more for the financially strapped Chicago Public Schools, parents and community groups said Thursday.
The Chicago Teachers Union has repeatedly demanded that Emanuel dig even deeper into the city’s tax-increment-financing funds — even after using a record $87.5 million TIF surplus to stave off another teachers strike.
On Thursday, the union joined forces with Ald. George Cardenas (12th) and a coalition of community groups that include Action Now, the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, North Side Action for Justice, Parents 4 Teachers and Raise Your Hand.
They renewed their demand for an employee head tax and for a long-languishing TIF Surplus Ordinance that would re-direct tax-increment-financing dollars to CPS in any year when the Chicago Board of Education is in crisis.
Catherine Henchek’s son is a student at Vaughn Occupational High School. She disputed Emanuel’s claim that the school funding crisis has been “solved” by the bill that gave CPS $450 million in funding that includes a $125 million property tax increase for teacher pensions.
“We need local revenue of at least $500 million to bring our schools back to the funding level they were at two years ago. And we could do that if we passed the TIF ordinance and the corporate head tax,” Henchek said.
“If the city is willing to offer hundreds of millions of dollars of tax cuts and land give-aways to lure Amazon, then there’s money to fund our schools. … Aldermen, you’ve got to stand up to the mayor. Aldermen need to tell him and his unelected school board to stop lying to us parents, teachers and students and put CPS first.”
Kurt Hilgendorf, a policy adviser with the Chicago Teachers Union, said Emanuel has some nerve taking a “victory lap” on school funding when CPS needs $2 billion to be “fully-funded” and the system is getting less than 25 percent of that money.
“You have $400 million in cuts baked into the fiscal year `18 budget. You have black and Latino schools being hit the hardest. … Schools were cut deeply during the summer. Some high schools up to $3 million,” Hilgendorf said.
“You have 140 librarians across the city … 1,100 students-to-one social worker at a time of unprecedented violence. You have a 330-to-1 student-to-counselor ratio at a time when the mayor has put forth a plan that demands that everyone have a post-secondary plan to graduate high school. There’s no one there to do the work.”
Molly Poppe, a spokesperson for the city’s Office of Budget and Management, said Emanuel is “focused on growing jobs” in Chicago neighborhoods.
“We are not going to tax job creation,” she wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Emanuel has resisted a proposed monthly head tax of about $16 after keeping a campaign promise by ending a $4-per-employee tax despised by business leaders.
The mayor’s handpicked school board has outlined plans to raise property taxes by $225 million — nearly matching the $250 million imposed for teacher pensions a year ago.
“I’m not enthusiastic about raising taxes. On the other hand, I am enthusiastic about education,” Emanuel told reporters after Wednesday’s City Council meeting.
“I am enthusiastic about the state finally stepping up and treating the children of Chicago fairly and equitably, and I am for the state of Illinois finally contributing to the teachers’ pensions of Chicago like they do for everybody else down state.”