More officials call for use of TIF funds to stop school cuts

State reps, local leaders say surplus should be used to avert crisis

July 2, 2013

By Patrick Smith

A group of local and state lawmakers has joined the chorus of public officials, parents and advocates calling for the city to use Tax Increment Financing funds to plug the Chicago Public Schools’ budget gap.

Speaking at a press conference today, 47th Ward Ald. Ameya Pawar said the city needs to declare a TIF surplus and transfer money from the economic development fund to local schools.

“We are asking that the city ... declare a TIF surplus and get dollars back into our classrooms, while simultaneously addressing structural issues in Springfield.”

“We are here to discuss a crisis that is about to hit the classrooms in about 10 weeks,” Pawar said.

Pawar was joined by state Reps. Ann Williams (D-Chicago) and Greg Harris (D-Chicago), Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey (D-12th) and about a dozen Chicago parents.

The lawmakers called for using TIF funds in response to cuts to local school budgets across the city.

“Over the past couple weeks I have heard from more than 100 parents about the significant and devastating cuts to our neighborhood schools,” Williams said.

The school district says it is facing a $1 billion budget deficit, and the parent group Raise Your Hand says it has tallied more than $80 million in cuts at about 100 local schools.

In an emailed statement to WBEZ, CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll wrote that the use of TIF funds is a “one-time fix” that can’t address a structural financial deficit.

“We have made more than $600 million in cuts to the central office while doing everything we can to protect critical classroom investments. Now it’s time for Springfield to pass meaningful pension reform as a way to help balance our budget, protect the classroom, and ensure a better education and brighter future for our students,” Carroll wrote.

Pawar called using a TIF surplus “a one-time fix,” that needs to be done.

“We are asking that the city ... declare a TIF surplus and get dollars back into our classrooms, while simultaneously addressing structural issues in Springfield,” he said.

In her email Carroll wrote that the city has been sharing TIF surpluses with the school district since 2009 and plans to do so again this year, to the tune of about $18 million.

And she said the district could be in line for another $10 million in TIF surpluses, and amount she termed “a drop in the bucket compared to the $1 [billion] structural gap.”

Almost every parent standing behind the officials at the press conference said they had considered moving out of Chicago because of the budget cuts.

Lakeview resident Amy Shulman said she is worried about cuts to physical education, language classes and arts education at Burley Elementary where her daughter is about to enter second grade.

“This weekend I struggled …. We need to potentially leave the city given the situation,” Shulman said.

Shulman said it would be bad for the city if parents like her felt they had to leave because of school cuts.

“If we don’t stay, if our families don’t stay in the city it won’t be a world-class city anymore,” Shulman said.

What seemed to most upset the parents at the event was the combination of the longer school day which went into effect last year, with less funding for arts and other classes.

“Having a full day of school while cutting back core classes is like inviting someone over for a buffet and there’s no food on the table,” Fritchey said.

Pawar said the group is calling for a two-pronged approach to school deficits, the first is the use of a TIF surplus as a temporary fix and the second is a call to legislators to fix pensions and to increase state funding for education.

The use of economic development funds as an emergency stopgap for CPS was the only specific solution the group agreed on.

Fritchey called for a permanent change to TIFs that would exempt CPS funds from the tax program.

Harris said the state needs to switch to a graduated income tax to raise more revenue for schools.

For her part, Williams said she was optimistic that the legislature would resolve the pension issue, allowing for more state money for education.

Using TIF funds to address school budget cuts is not a new idea, and the Chicago City Council’s Progressive Reform Caucus called for a similar solution last week.

Patrick Smith is a WBEZ reporter. Follow him on twitter @pksmid.