At a Tuesday morning news conference, community groups and the Chicago Teachers Union touted a City Council ordinance – to be introduced tomorrow by Ald. Scott Waguespack – that would return half of Chicago’s unused tax-increment financing funds back to the city and 55 percent of that money to the schools.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward) estimates that $500 million is left over in TIF accounts; if half of that was returned to the city, as the ordinance specifies, schools would get $137.5 million. That money could help cover the school district’s current deficit without further cuts. Last week, CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said he was still looking for $44 million in savings in order to cover the current year’s budget.
But it would do little to cover the substantial deficit that is predicted in the coming years. Next year, the district is projecting that it will be in the hole $286 million and, in 2014, $861 million.
Still, getting the city to turn over the TIF surplus to the schools and other government agencies would be a victory for the Chicago Teachers Union and other advocates. They have long argued that TIF funds are essentially slush funds for developers and, at the press conference Tuesday on the issue, advocates and aldermen stood by a 5-foot-tall model of a slushy beverage.
Last year, Waguespack said, aldermen declared a $187 million TIF surplus, sending about $103 million to the schools.
Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd Ward), though among those supporting the ordinance, pointed out that existing TIF money is already used for school construction – such as a new building for Jones College Prep and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance renovations at the schools in his ward.
He also noted that if the TIF money is returned to CPS, there’s no way to guarantee that it would go where he, and the Chicago Teachers Union, want it to go: toward raising teachers’ salaries and preventing layoffs.
Advocates from the Grassroots Collaborative stated at the news conference that $854 million is sitting unallocated, but that number came from a December 2010 report. Social Justice High School teacher Dave Hernandez said that the money could be used “without laying off one worker, without privatizing one asset, without raising any taxes.”
He complained that dilapidated school buildings, overcrowded classes, and a lack of music, arts and foreign language instruction were taking away students’ opportunities.
However, with support from just 15 aldermen, the proposal is a long way from passing. Ald. Joe Moreno (1st ward) emphasized that he needed public support: “When you ask your local official why you can’t have another school, or why you can’t improve the construction of your school, and they say there’s no money, you say, ‘Where’s my TIF money?’” he urged.