One quarter of CPS's $423M capital budget to be spent at just 3 schools

Budget is 2.6 times larger than district had forecast.

May 2, 2014

(WBEZ/Bill Healy)

Chicago Public Schools is unveiling a $423 million capital budget today, and  nearly a quarter of it is going to just three schools.

In a system with hundreds of school buildings, the lucky three schools are all selective enrollment high schools on the North Side. They’re getting 23 percent of this year’s capital budget.

Construction of the new $60 million Obama College Prep High School, an addition at Walter Payton, and repairs at Lane Tech add up to $98 million. 

CPS spokesman Joel Hood says construction at Obama and Payton is only possible due to TIF funds. "We're maximizing dollars that have been available to us," Hood says. "That's why we actively go and seek outside revenue sources, to try and take care of all of our priorities."

And he says Lane is the district’s largest school, enrolling more than 4,100 students. “It’s a very old building, it’s a large building. The safety and structural needs there are great. This is certainly a project we’ve had on our radar for a number of years, and this was the year we could address it,” Hood said.

The capital budget is 2.6 times higher this year than officials had projected it would be. The district plans to issue $260 million in bonds to pay for it all. Officials say that will add $18 million annually to the cash-strapped district’s debt payments.

The district says $91.4 million in TIF funds, $23.1 million in state grants, and an $8.9 million noise abatement grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (to be used at Ebinger Elementary) round out the rest of the $423 million budget.

Three overcrowded schools—Edwards on the Southwest Side and Canty and Jamieson on the Northwest Side— are getting additions (that’s in addition to Wildwood, which had been previously announced).

Edwards is considered to be 70 percent over capacity.

District official Todd Babbitz says that has meant “classes in the school’s basement, the attic, in mobile units and off-site branches.”

Edwards parent Silvia Miranda says parents there feel  ”fabulous. We’re very excited with the news!”

At one point Miranda and other moms threatened to physically block CPS from adding more mobile units at Edwards. And she says she felt frustrated by having to watch as more politically connected schools with less severe overcrowding got their additions first.

“Now I can’t wait to see them breaking the grounds (at Edwards)!” Miranda said.

Other expenses in the capital budget include:

• $20 million—4.7 percent of the capital budget— for air conditioning in 57 schools;

• $18 million on buildings involved in controversial school changes, including three  “turnaround” schools where all staff was fired last month and schools that will take in students from Ames Middle School, which is converting to a military high school;

• $29 million to move central office information technology to the school district’s new, smaller headquarters several blocks away.