CHICAGO – Chicago Public Schools approved a $5.4 billion budget for next school year that relies on three property tax hikes for local residents, but teachers union officials contend it’s not enough.
The budget will increase the district’s regular property tax levy to the maximum allowed under state law, a CPS tradition for the last two decades. But district officials also plan to tax residents specifically for capital improvements, and will impose a new tax to pump an estimated $250 million into teacher pensions, the Chicago Tribune reports.
According to the site:
CPS officials say the district’s total tax increases would cost the owner of a $250,000 home an extra $245.
The CPS tax hikes represent the latest financial pain city government has inflicted. Homeowners this month started feeling the effect of last year’s record city property tax hike to shore up police and fire pensions, a $554 annual increase for the owner of a $250,000 home that’s being phased in over four years.
The additional taxes are on top of a new $1.40 a month fee for cell phone users and landlines to pay city laborers’ pensions, as well as a proposed water and sewer tax that would increase the cost for an average user by $115.20 a year to find a city municipal workers’ pension fund. That fee would come after the city recently doubled water and sewer rates and added a $9.50 a month garbage fee, the Tribune reports.
The “balanced” CPS budget also relies on about $30 million in concessions from the Chicago Teachers Union during the ongoing contract negotiations with the district, something union officials seem unwilling to accept, ABC 7 reports.
“They say cut back,” CTU members chanted as they marched in the rain outside of CPS headquarters before the board meeting Wednesday. “We say fight back!”
Union officials have threatened to walk out on students if the district pushes forward with the concessions. The CTU’s Contract Bulletin #14, sent out August 22, calls on members to prepare for a “likely” strike in mid-October.
“We’re very concerned. A lot of positions, especially for special education, there were vacancies before this school year started and they closed those vacancies,” CTU financial secretary Maria Moreno told the news site. “It’s going to be a cut in salary. Teachers don’t get social security, so it’s their retirement – what they expect after working many years.”
“This is an attempt to cover up the many years of board cuts that have destabilized our school district, and have caused an exodus of principals and the layoff of experienced, highly skilled teachers,” Moreno told board members as they approved the budget in a 6-0 vote Wednesday.
Service Employees International Union spokesman Brynn Seibert also complained about the proposed budget.
“We’re seeing CPS shuffle money from pre-K education to K-12 education, instead of using those dollars as intended,” Siebert told ABC 7.
Aside from the heavy taxes, the CPS budget also requires the district to borrow against future tax revenue at very heavy interest rates and relies on a $200 million bailout from the state’s General Assembly, which has been in a political gridlock with Gov. Bruce Rauner since he took office in January 2015.
“They bought a little time,” Civic Federation President Laurence Msall told the Chicago Sun-Times. “This is a very expensive budget, at the mercy of the CTU on the concessions, at the mercy of the Legislature on what pension reform would look like and what the governor would accept — and then they still need everything to break right.”
Regardless, CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner “insisted … that ‘CPS’ revenues match expenditures, and expenditures are down $234 million from FY16.”
CPS CEO Forest Claypool, meanwhile, said the district will continue to hold out for a hand out from Springfield lawmakers, a tactic that did not go so well during the last budget.
He said in an email to the Sun-Times that officials will continue to “push for long-term education funding reform from the State of Illinois.
“Education funding reform will lay the groundwork for fiscal stability not just for Chicago’s schools, but for countless struggling districts around the state – and their students living in poverty,” he wrote.