A grim state funding outlook and looming pension contributions have Chicago Public Schools looking to raise property taxes, raid its rainy day funds and possibly cut even more staff, officials told the public at a hearing last night.
The district’s $5.3 billion budget also counts on using stimulus funds to pay for some programs the state had cut. And $61 million would be taking from the district’s reserve funds to fill the rest of a hole in the budget, leaving the reserves with less than half of what they should have in them.
The 30 residents and students at the hearing at Amundsen High School in Ravenswood last night asked a range of questions. But CPS officials had few answers.
If approved, the 1.5 percent property tax hike would mean an extra $18 per year for the owner of a home assessed at the city's median value of $260,000 home. All told, the hike would raise $43 million for CPS.
The district could have raised property taxes more, leading Rodney Estvan with the advocacy group Access Living to wonder why it hadn’t.
CPS was passing up “millions of dollars of revenue” by staying with the modest increase, Estvan said, compared with the state-allowed cap of a 4.1-percent hike.
Liz Brown with the Caucus of Rank and File Educators asked for greater details in the budget about how charter schools were using the money they got from CPS.
“We don’t know how they’re using their budget exactly,” district budget director Christina Herzog said in response. “We know how much we’re giving them.”
That was little reassurance to Brown, who next pointed out big differences in how much money schools were getting for construction projects in the new budget.
“Why are (charters and turnaround schools) getting such a bigger share of capital improvements than neighborhood schools? It seems like we’re starving the neighborhoods,” Brown said.
Herzog’s reply was that she’d have to wait until eventual hearings on the capital spending plan. Those hearings haven’t been announced yet.
Residents had a host of other questions, too.
Some wondered why the district wasn’t trying to recoup TIF funds set aside for blighted areas. Others wanted to know what happened to the district’s investments in risky derivatives, once valued at more than $450 million.
And there was frustration that the budget was only released at the end of last week, giving residents little more than three days to plow through the dense document before last night’s hearing.
Antonio Jackson, a senior at Julian High School on the South Side, wanted more details about how CPS would preserve classrooms if additional cuts are made.
Herzog said the district would first look to save money on contracts it has with other companies. But she was noncommittal in saying how many or what kinds of jobs could be cut if a second round of layoffs was needed.
That answer didn’t satisfy Jackson.
“I didn’t really get a straight answer,” he said after the meeting.
Residents, students and teachers have two more chances to comment on the budget.
A hearing tonight starts at 7 p.m. at Marshall Metro High School, 3250 W. Adams St. Tomorrow night’s hearing is at 7 p.m. at Robert Black Magnet Elementary, 9101 S. Euclid Ave.