Chicago Public Schools held a legally required Truth-in-Taxation hearing Thursday morning, saying the early hour would accommodate the schedules of Board of Education members “to ensure a robust community input” before the board votes on a tax hike for teacher pensions.
CPS staffers appeared to outnumber the members of the public seated in the audience — just 12 were said to have signed in. And after just under 21 minutes and a single speaker testifying before four board members, the hearing on $250 million in new property taxes for Chicago’s homeowners came to a close.
CPS security guards briskly cleared board chambers at 42 W. Madison.
The new taxes — which’ll run about $245 more per year on a house worth $250,000 — are needed to prop up the teachers pension fund that CPS skipped paying into for a few years.
It isn’t that the spending isn’t important to the public, said Wendy Katten, who accompanied fellow Raise Your Hand board member Christopher Ball.
“A lot of people feel like there’s absolutely no one listening and they have no voice,” Katten said. “Having it here during the day doesn’t work for anyone. People work, who doesn’t work? Everyone works. And they’re not going to pay to travel downtown to talk to a board that doesn’t care what they say.”
Katten said she’d be back Friday to speak at one of the daytime budget hearings.
“I’m not expecting a big crowd,” she said. “The community hearings used to get a lot of people because they made it convenient for people who work and live in the neighborhood. They don’t even care. It’s a sham.”
CPS has said that it doubled the number of public hearings this August compared with last year.
“We scheduled a total of six hearings to accommodate members of the public to attend at their convenience in order to garner robust input by the community on all aspects of this year’s proposed budget,” district spokeswoman Emily Bittner wrote.
Three evening meetings were held on Wednesday about the capital budget in different neighborhoods. Board members will return to CPS headquarters Friday during the day for two more rounds.
On Thursday, two hours were set aside for the state’s largest district to discuss “Truth in Taxation” in a hearing that’s required whenever the levy is projected to exceed 5 percent of the previous year. This year’s property tax levy is estimated to rise by 14.3 percent to $2.7 billion.
The full Board of Education is set to vote Wednesday on a new property tax levy that’s estimated to bring in $250 million dedicated to teacher pensions.
CPS budget manager Cameron Mock defended the need for the tax levies — that come in addition to $45 million in more taxes for capital projects approved last year — saying they’re “being used to maintain funding to classrooms first and foremost by relieving some of the pressure of the inequity in our pension system.”
Mock also chalked up the bulk of the district’s growing pension woes not to the string of years the district skipped paying altogether into the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund but to a combination of other factors. “It is actually due to the fund underperformance, benefit increases and plan adjustments and also some liability-related experience.”
The Chicago Teachers Union, which continues to negotiate a contract with the board, said everyone’s investments tanked in 2008 when the market collapsed.
“I don’t know to what extent they’re factoring that in,” staff coordinator Jackson Potter said by telephone. “Something I would want to look at to see if they’re unfairly incorporating what was a financial meltdown across the market to trustees that have very little power, control over those matters.”
“There were a whole variety of poor decisions that preceded this generation of trustees,” he said.
According to district calculations Mock showed the board, those other factors add up to 59 percent of the shortfall, while insufficient contributions account for 41 percent.
Then it was time for the one participant who had registered between 9 and 10 a.m., before the 10:30 start of the actual hearing.
And Raise Your Hand’s Ball was allotted two minutes to speak.