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Chicago School Board OKs Property Tax Hike

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Members of the Chiacgo Board of Education met on Aug. 24, 2011, to vote on the budget for the 2011-2012 school year. (Credit: CBS)

Members of the Chiacgo Board of Education met on Aug. 24, 2011, to vote on the budget for the 2011-2012 school year. (Credit: CBS)

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Updated 08/24/11 – 9:08 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – The Chicago Board of Education has approved a plan to raise property taxes in Chicago to help eliminate a $712 million budget hole.

On average we’re looking at a relatively small estimate – a little more than $80 a year more in property taxes for the average homeowner – but in these tough times, every little bit matters.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Lisa Fielding reports

As CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole reports, the board had a huge hole to fill and members filled it with a combination of cuts and tax increases.

But no one is breathing a sigh of relieve because right behind it is another deficit totaling hundreds of millions of dollars that no one seems to have.

To finance the nation’s third largest school district next school year, administrators proposed a $5.9 billion budget for the Chicago Public Schools for next year.

To get there, Chicago taxpayers will be paying more – homeowners will see a 2.4 percent hike in their property tax bills. That comes to $84 more a year in property taxes for the owner of a $250,000 home.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel defended the tax increase, calling it a way to increase options for parents and keep from increasing the number of kids per classroom.

The district faced a $712 million budget gap and made $400 million in cuts, which included the elimination or central office jobs and the cancellation of 4 percent negotiated raises for teachers.

“The next two years the picture is even more grim,” Tim Cawley, CPS Chief Operating Officer told the school board on Wednesday.

But headaches continue. The district now faces an $860 million deficit adding up over the next two years.

It’s happening at a time when local state and federal revenues for education are declining – this year, in total, they dropped by $256 million for the district.

“I am tired and embarrassed of responding to questions on this by saying ‘I don’t know how … we’re going to close that $860 million dollar gap two years from now,” Cawley said.

CPS officials said that in the months ahead, the district will begin evaluating the closure of underutilized facilities and the way employees are compensated. It will also lobby Springfield to rethink a failing formula that’s supposed to help fund public schools.

“We cannot save our way to success or to fiscal health. We need fundamental restructuring of how we do business,” Brizard said.

The board is faced with even tougher decisions in the months ahead. School officials said to expect significant changes to the way some contracts are awardedm for example.

But these are difficult times for everyone. You would think public officials, after voting to raise our taxes, would be willing to step up to the dozen reporters from the city’s major media outlets to defend their decision, but no one would after Wednesday’s vote.

The vote came a day after Brizard went on TV to announce he had offered 2 percent raises to CPS elementary school teachers if the district implemented a longer school day and a longer school year right away, rather than waiting until the 2012-2013 school year. The move angered the Chicago Teachers Union, which was not told of the offer before Brizard announced it on WTTW-TV’s “Chicago Tonight” program.

–CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine contributed to this report.

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