Logan Square parents, teachers and students rallied Tuesday morning to speak out against the deep spending cuts affecting local public schools. The group also demanded that tax increment financing (TIF) funds be used to restore school budgets.
Those who attended the rally, held at the Illinois Centennial Monument in Logan Square, said releasing TIF surplus dollars would be an immediate way to boost school budgets while city and school officials work toward identifying long-term fiscal solutions for the district.
Leaders with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, which organized the rally, said 10 of the group's partner public schools face a combined $4.7 million in budget cuts for the upcoming school year.
That includes cuts of nearly $1.7 million at Kelvyn Park High School, more than $970,000 at Carl Schurz High School, over $490,000 at James Monroe Elementary School and nearly $385,200 at Wolfgang A. Mozart Elementary School, to name a few examples.
CPS uses a per-student budgeting system, under which schools receive funding based on the size of their student population.
Rally-goers said the gentrification happening in Logan Square is driving declining enrollment at local public schools. In addition to demanding a TIF surplus for schools, the group called on the Chicago Housing Authority to use its cash reserves to invest in more affordable housing in the neighborhood to help prevent the displacement of low- and moderate-income residents.
"We're losing enrollment in our schools due to gentrification," explained Monica Soto Espinoza, who chairs Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School's Local School Council. "So losing kids means losing books, losing dollars. It's going to be a rough year for McAuliffe."
McAuliffe, which is projected to have 19 fewer students in the coming school year, is slated to lose more than $195,300. As a result, McAuliffe might be forced to cut as many as three positions, Espinoza said. Such a reduction in staff could impact class sizes at the school, which had an average of 32 students per class last year.
"I think 32 students is already a lot for us to lose a position," Espinoza said.
Another local neighborhood school, Charles R. Darwin Elementary, is expected to see three fewer students in the coming academic year. Darwin's budget is being slashed by $189,000, according to LSNA.
Jackie Charles, a 4th grade teacher at Darwin, said the funding cuts mean the school will have to reduce its classroom supplies budget from $40,000 to $3,000.
"That goes for construction paper to do classroom projects and dry erase markers, and just things that now parents or teachers are gonna have to buy because the school can't provide it," she said.
Public schools across Chicago are expected to see a net funding loss of $31 million in the coming school year. Neighborhood school budgets have been reduced by $60 million, while funding for charter and contract schools are getting a $30 million boost.
The funding difference is mostly due to enrollments that are projected to decline at neighborhood schools and increase at charter and contract schools.
The school budget cuts are part of the $200 million in spending reductions for the coming year, including 1,400 eliminated positions, recently outlined by the cash-strapped district. School officials announced those cuts after CPS made a $634 million state-mandated payment on June 30 to the Chicago Teachers' Pension Fund.
In the new school year starting in September, CPS faces a $1.1 billion budget deficit, driven by a $700 million pension payment that's coming due.
For the district's 2016 budget, CPS is depending on $500 million in pension reform savings from Springfield. If CPS doesn't get those pension reforms, school district officials have warned that more borrowing and additional cuts are likely to happen.
Chicago Alds. Milly Santiago (31st) and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) attended Tuesday's rally.
Santiago called the cuts to neighborhood public schools "completely unacceptable."
"If there's money for charter schools, there has to be money for our local schools," she said.
Here's more from Santiago as well as comments from Ramirez-Rosa, who said the neighborhood schools in his 35th Ward are slated to lose $1.5 million:
Tax increment financing, or TIF, is an economic development program that depends on property tax dollars. Back in November 2013, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel signed an executive order related to TIF surpluses. The order formally calls for an annual TIF surplus of no less than 25 percent of unencumbered TIF funds from eligible districts to be released to local taxing bodies, including the Chicago Public Schools.
When Emanuel announced earlier this month that he's phasing out seven downtown TIF districts, he also noted his desire to make the TIF surplus executive order permanent.
At the rally, Ramirez-Rosa said he was encouraged by Emanuel's recent actions on TIFs, but said there are likely more TIF funds that could be used to help school budgets.
"What the mayor did this month is a great start, but we need him to do more," the alderman said. "We need him to use every single TIF dollar that's there to go to our schools to plug those holes."
At the state-level, Ramirez-Rosa also said he will advocate for long-term, progressive revenue solutions like a graduated income tax and a financial transaction tax.
The alderman called on the mayor to also take action and "push for revenue solutions in Springfield."