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Brizard Defends Proposal To Raise Property Taxes For CPS

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Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard

Chicago Public Schools chief executive officer Jean-Claude Brizard welcomes students back to school at Harper High School. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 08/08/11 11:12 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Finances are on the mind of Chicago Public Schools chief executive officer Jean-Claude Brizard, on the first day of the new school year for some students.

As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, Brizard is defending a proposal to raise taxes in order to close a $712 million deficit.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Mary Frances Bragiel reports

He was open and candid with students about the recent budget proposal, emphasizing that he tried his best not to impact their education directly with any cuts.

But when Brizard addressed reporters about having to raise the property tax, he may have hinted that the mayor might have broken a promise.

Brizard rang the school bell and greeted hundreds of students at William Rainey Harper High School, 6520 S. Wood St. Harper is among about 25 percent of CPS students who started earlier than normal because they are on a year-round schedule.

“Good morning! You guys look fabulous!” he told the students.

On the budget, he told students: “We worked very hard to make sure we didn’t impact schools; impact classrooms as much as we could. We kept cuts as far away from you as we could – a very difficult decision; a very difficult process.

On Friday, CPS announced it would close its budget gap by cutting staff, salaries and services, and for the first time in three years, raising property-taxes. That would cost the average Chicago homeowner about $85 more.

The staffing cuts are of concern to students too.

“My favorite teacher got cut this year– my choir director – so that’s kind of hit real close to home,” said Harper senior Mayneatha Royal, 17.

But as for the tax hike, when asked about Mayor Emanuel’s involvement despite his repeated promise not to raise taxes, the new CEO said he it was only after finding $400 million in savings that he and the mayor discovered they would have to go back to taxpayers for the rest.

“We are not nickeling and diming anybody. We are looking to invest in the right places; again, we did our due diligence before we went to taxpayers for a dime,” he said. “You know, we’re engaging the mayor. We’re engaging the board of education throughout this process as we look; again, the bottom line is not looking impact homeowners. We stayed away from that as much as we could.”

Late last month, Emanuel said he was not looking at raising taxes because “the taxpayers, as we all know, feel nickeled and dimed as it relates to taxes.”

Brizard also addressed the longer school day and school year. He says he is working with the Chicago Teachers Union to find the best way to implement the changes, and he hopes to make them happen as quickly as possible.

Could the school day and year be lengthened during the current school year? Brizard said it depends on how negotiations go with the union, and he calls himself a total optimist.

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