Emanuel Touts Classroom Air Conditioning, Pushes New School Construction Plan

Emanuel Touts Classroom Air Conditioning, Pushes New School Construction Plan

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel is asking the school board this week to authorize nearly a billion dollars in borrowing for new school construction. Part of that will go toward finishing the installation of air conditioners in every classroom in Chicago. 

Later this week the Chicago Board of Education is set to approve a $6.3 billion spending plan that includes about $337 million in school construction and repairs. But officials intend to announce more projects throughout the fall. WBEZ has obtained a list of what is being considered. 

Last week, at public hearings, parents and teachers questioned why the cash-strapped school system is spending so much on construction and expressed frustration with the lack of transparency in the planning process.

“Look, there is more to do than we actually have resources,” Emanuel said Monday. 

The district’s bond rating is currently junk, but officials say the new projects would be paid using a tax levy passed by city council last year. That $45 million revenue stream was part of a record property tax increase now being felt by city homeowners. 

That dedicated revenue stream will help if and when the district issues bonds to pay for the school construction projects, said Adam Buchanan, a senior vice president at Ziegler. 

“I think if they do get a transaction done, the rate is better than where it was last time,” Buchanan said, referring to a February borrowing deal for which CPS is paying punishingly high-interest rates.

The district is asking the board to approve up to $945 million in borrowing over three years. Buchanan said it would be aggressive to borrow that large amount all at once and the district may decide to spread that amount over time. 

Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. Follow her at @wbezeducation.