Chicago Public Schools officials released their 2015 budget proposal this holiday week, unveiling the eyebrow-raising plan late Wednesday.
The budget overview, which states that pensions "continue to be the single largest driver in CPS's structural deficit," details a plan to fill its more than $876 million budget deficit by expanding the length of time in which it collects property taxes — a tactic that can only be used once and essentially dips into funds that would be made available for its 2016 budget.
"This is a one-time fix for this year and gets the District through next school year without having to initiate major cuts to the classroom, but without pension reform, we may not be able to protect the classroom from cuts," reads an announcement by the district about the plan to collect about $650 million in property taxes for an additional 60 days after the end of the fiscal year. (The remainder of the deficit would be filled by "one-time reserves" that reportedly went unused in FY2014, according to CPS officials.) The CPS pension obligation for Fiscal Year 2015 is $634 million. The district's pension contribution is set to increase by $84 million in FY2015, but the recently-passed Illinois budget offsets the increase by $50 million courtesy of a state contribution to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund in that amount.
The district reports that about $4.8 billion of the proposed $5.7 billion budget "is directed toward schools, ensuring that students have the tools, resources and supports they need for college, career and life." Some $466 million is allocated to capital spending, and the plan calls for an additional $1 million to be put toward the Safe Passage program. Meanwhile, the budget proposal cuts $55 million from the central office.
CPS is also touting the proposal's allocation of $1.7 million for 14 new social/emotional learning specialists to be deployed to each school network and an additional $4.5 million going towards seven new Alternative Learning Options Programs, meant to "re-engage out-of-school students and provide a path to a high school diploma." The district also plans to open a new SAFE school for students that have been expelled due to violence, using $1.4 million for the effort.
But Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis is far from impressed with the plan, saying it is nothing more than a re-election prop for Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“Every single thing that this guy does until February is going to be a re-election spin,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times. “They’ve miraculously lengthened the year.”
“I think there’s got to be a time where people actually sit down and do some real serious discussion about what priorities are,” she added. “We have always said budgets are moral documents and they actually present your priorities. We’re still not clear what the district’s priorities are.”
There will be a public comment period and hearings on the proposal. The Chicago Board of Education is currently set to vote on the final proposal during its July meeting, which is scheduled for July 23. Read more about the proposed budget on the CPS website.