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Chicago Will Short Teacher Pensions By $250 Million, Taxpayers To Pick Up Tab

The Chicago Public Schools is about to write the biggest check in the school district’s history. It owes the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund $715.9 million on June 30.

That looming pension payment has been a main driver of the money problems the school district has been grappling with all year. You’ve almost certainly heard about them.

There’s been budget cut after budget cut. There have been threats of ending school early. There was an unsuccessful lawsuit. There’s still a $129 million hole in the budget. And the state is months behind in paying the school district hundreds of millions of dollars.

The rhetoric continues to heat up in a last-minute scramble for money.

One thing is clear: the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund won’t be getting the full $715.9 million owed to it on June 30. CPS plans to subtract $250 million from that total.

That’s because a new property tax levy will send $250 million straight to the pension fund. But the actual cash won’t come in until July or August, when Chicagoans pay their property taxes. So that’s when the pension fund will get its money.

“Are we OK with that? The statute says the payment’s due June 30,” said Chuck Burbridge, director of the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund. “So, I can’t tell you that I’m OK with it. I understand it. To say it’s OK is a little too much.”

He said CPS has tried to persuade the pension fund that delaying receipt of $250 million is actually a very good deal.

“What CPS is saying is, ‘Look — the money is good. It’s gonna go directly to you. Therefore, do not be too upset with us, with the fact that it’s gonna come in after June 30. This will work out. That’s a permanent property tax revenue stream,’” Burbridge said CPS has told him.

With tax money flowing directly into its coffers, the pension fund will get money twice a year, and not on the last day of the fiscal year, the way CPS currently pays. The set-up holds benefits for CPS too, because the district won’t have to raid classrooms as dramatically as it’s had to in the past to pay its pension bills.

It remains to be seen how taxpayers will feel.

And CPS still needs to write that check to the pension fund for the bulk of the bill.

Beyond the delayed $250 million, Burbridge said the pension fund has no plans to issue any more IOUs. 

“The amount that we expect them to pay on June 30 will be $465.9 million,” Burbridge said.

Linda Lutton reports on education for WBEZ. Follow her at @WBEZeducation.

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