Chicago Public Schools officials heard familiar pleas for more school funding during a budget hearing Wednesday night in the South Loop.
CPS convened the 6 p.m. hearing to get public feedback on the district's proposed $338 million capital budget for 2017. The hearing, held at the National Teachers Academy, was thinly attended and ended an hour early.
"I like the capital plan, but most people came here because they lost teachers at their school, they lost programs at their school," Martin Ritter with the Chicago Teachers Union told CPS officials.
Chicago's public schools are grappling with budget cuts and the recent layoffs of nearly 1,000 teachers and support staff.
"We have hundreds of schools that are asking for adequate and appropriate resources for these students, and we need CPS to do a better job," Ritter said.
Ritter pressed CPS officials to support a proposed Chicago TIF, or tax increment financing, surplus ordinance that aldermen introduced last month. He said it would provide CPS with approximately $200 million in new revenue.
"I think everyone here, their schools could use more money so they can provide a better education," Ritter said. "We need this TIF ordinance brought in September at the City Council and voted on. And we need CPS to join hands with the CTU and ask for progressive revenue and TIF reform so that our schools have the dollars that they deserve."
Regarding TIF, CPS Treasurer Jennie Huang Bennett said about $54 million in TIF funding is included in the 2017 capital plan and another $30 million is in the district's proposed operating budget.
"In the past year, we spent a lot of time and effort looking for more revenue sources from the state" and other "stakeholders, including Chicago taxpayers," she added.
That being said, Bennett agreed the district needs more funding in general.
"There's no question about it," she said.
Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) was at the hearing and thanked CPS for helping her recently surplus $1.6 million from two TIF districts in her ward to fund local schools.
"While I was able to do this, there needs to be a citywide response, and a citywide effort, to find a way to fund" Chicago schools, she stressed.
Jennie Biggs with the Raise Your Hand parent group proposed another way CPS could save some money: cancel plans for the new Near North Side selective enrollment school formerly known as Obama Prep.
"We are in financial crisis. Chicago does not need another selective enrollment high school that serves the few while redirecting scarce resources from the many," she said. "Cancel Obama Prep. Canceling the Obama Prep project would free up $60 million in TIF funds, and $30 million of that could then be directed back to the taxing body it was withheld from, CPS."
CTU President Karen Lewis also attended the hearing. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Lewis said union and school district representatives are expected to meet Thursday to continue contract negotiations, which are going "pretty well."
"We're gonna sit down and exchange some proposals tomorrow, I think, to try to move closer to where we need to be," she said. "They know what we're needing, and we're finally trying to figure out what they need. I will tell you this: It will not be the January 29th offer. That is not acceptable to our membership."
The district's $5.4 billion operating budget relies partly on "anticipated" labor savings similar to those contained in the district's four-year contract offer presented to the CTU in January. The proposed contract offer, which has already been rejected by the CTU's big bargaining team, would have phased out the district's pension pickup for teachers and increased health care costs for union members. Teachers would have also received slight increases in their compensation under the contract offer.
"We will not agree to that," Lewis said of the January proposal. "So if they're still stuck on that, then we'll have problems, and I'd like to avoid that."
The district's proposed budget is expected to go up for a school board vote August 24.