Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Wednesday May 22nd, 2013, 12:23pm

South Side Residents Discuss School Closings, Red Line & TIFs At Englewood Meeting

Englewood residents are not yet sure what will become of their six neighborhood schools on Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) list to shut down or relocate in June.

But South Side community members at a Resident Association of Greater Englewood (R.A.G.E.) meeting Tuesday night said if the Chicago Board of Education approves CPS’ school action plan, they want all shuttered schools to become village centers for the neighborhood.

“We do not want any of our institutions closed in the community, but if they are going to close it, at least let it be reopened for something that can serve the community,” said community leader Aysha Butler with R.A.G.E.

The Chicago Board of Education votes today on a plan to close a total of 54 schools, consolidate 11 and turnaround another six in June. The district is reportedly removing four schools from the closure list as well as one turnaround and plans to phase in the closure of one school. The schools taken off the closure list include include Marcus Garvey Elementary SchoolMahalia Jackson Elementary SchoolLeif Ericson Elementary Scholastic Academy; and George Manierre Elementary School. Meanwhile, Clara Barton Elementary School is now supposedly off the turnaround list, and the closure of Miriam Canter Middle School would be phased in if the Chicago Board of Ed approves CPS' plans. 

In Englewood, Arna Wendell Bontemps Elementary, Elihu Yale Elementary and Granville T Woods Math & Science Academy are slated to close.

Benjamin E Mays Elementary Academy, Charles W Earle Elementary and Daniel S Wentworth Elementary are proposed to relocate to a new location.

Parents, school staff and other residents may not want to have a conversation right now about what will happen to the six schools slated for action, Butler said. But she explained that R.A.G.E. is trying to be forward thinking.

“We would be fighting to our death, or at least fight and die trying, to see the community have ownership of these institutions,” she said.

If the community pushes CPS, turning the vacant school buildings into village centers could become a district-wide initiative, Butler said. She added that this idea is not something new, and other school districts have worked with communities to repurpose and preserve school buildings.

“As always, Englewood is a model, or pilot or an example for something, so why not be an example for something good,” Butler said to the few dozen people at the meeting.

Butler envisions Englewood residents employed at the proposed village centers. R.A.G.E. is looking to hear from residents with skills, such as landscaping, that could be put to use at the proposed centers. The group wants to be armed with such information before it approaches CPS about the final proposal.

Another talking point at the meeting included the Red Line construction that began Sunday.

The southern branch of the Red Line from Cermak to 95th Street will be closed for five months in order to revamp old tracks. Commuters are being rerouted via free shuttle buses to the Green Line's Garfield Station, where all rides will be free during the construction. Other nearby bus routes also have discounted fare rates. When completed, the upgraded Red Line is expected to save commuters traveling from the 95th station to downtown 10 minutes on their typical 30- to 40- minute trip.

Englewood resident Lionel Nixon said in the long-term, the Red Line construction is a positive project. But he added that there has to be adequate backup transportation for the citizens of Englewood.

He also emphasized the need to bring back the closed Loomis and Racine Green Line stations, which served Englewood commuters. The Loomis stop closed in 1969, and the Racine station was shuttered in 1994.

Nixon said since the stops have closed, foot traffic near the stations has decreased. As a result, local businesses have taken a hit.

“The impact on the Englewood community when they took those ‘L’ stops out (was) extremely detrimental,” Nixon said. “So while we got our eyes on the Red Line, we need to be thinking about the fact that they took our stations, but up on the North Side of town, on the mayor’s side of town, all of those stations are intact.”

A handful of the Englewood residents at the meeting said they tried out the free shuttle buses and took the Green Line Monday, the first business day for commuters navigating the new changes.

Butler said it was convenient taking the Green Line into the city. On the way home however, there was an incident where a person was on the Green Line tracks, which caused delays and headaches for commuters.

“I thought it was interesting on the first day of all of this happening, [there was] a delay. Somebody was on the tracks,” Butler said.

Many local students typically get off at the 63rd Street station, Butler added, and she is not sure what route they are now taking. R.A.G.E plans to visit some of the nearby schools to get feedback on how the construction is impacting students.

The meeting also consisted of tax increment financing, or TIF, talk.

Earlier this month the CivicLab visited Englewood for a town hall meeting as part of the TIF Illumination Project.

The Englewood Neighborhood TIF District has extracted about $44 million from property tax payers in the area since it was created in 2001 through 2011, according to the CivicLab’s analysis.

Butler said community residents were fired up after attending the first meeting, and many have started further research on the program and various TIF projects in the neighborhood. R.A.G.E. plans to hold more focused meetings on TIFs to discuss how community members can be more involved in making economic development decisions for Englewood.  

Tom Tresser, co-founder of the CivicLab, attended the meeting and told the crowd that property tax bills for those living within the Englewood Neighborhood TIF District say no money was diverted into the district.

“Your property tax bill says zero,” Tresser said. “It’s lying to you.”

The TIF district extracts 68 percent of each resident's property taxes inside its boundaries.

So instead of the Chicago Board of Education receiving the typical 54 percent of an individual’s total property taxes, people living in the Englewood TIF actually give 17 percent to the board, Tresser said. Other units of government that rely on property taxes are also squeezed, he said.

The same process is happening across the city’s total 163 TIF districts, Tresser noted.

Overall, $454 million was extracted from Chicago’s property taxes and dumped into the TIF program in 2011, according to the CivicLab.

“Can you begin to see how the message that we are broke is suspect,” Tresser asked the crowd. “That the board of education is broke is suspect, because in this case all the property owners in Englewood are not giving 54 percent of your taxes to the board of ed, as you think you might be, you’re only giving 17 percent.”

The CivicLab has started an online petition to be sent to the Illinois General Assembly and Gov. Pat Quinn calling for all property taxes collected by TIF districts to be clearly labeled on tax bills.

The Rev. Robert Moore with United For Better Communities, Inc. said TIFs are a crucial economic development tool. Projects are in the pipeline for Englewood and surrounding communities, Moore said. Adding that, residents know very little about the details. The community needs to take action and be more informed on the matter in order to have a voice in the future plans for Englewood.

He advised residents to attend the State of Black Chicago Caucus panel discussion June 1 at Chicago State University and bring up TIFs.

“We have really got to get busy,” he said.

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