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School Budget Would Raise Property Taxes, Empty Reserve Fund

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Chicago Public Schools

(Credit: CBS)

dellimore250 Craig Dellimore
Craig Dellimore, political editor for WBBM, joined the station in 1983...
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CHICAGO (CBS) – Chicago Public School officials have unveiled their budget plan for next school year, seeking to fill a $665 million deficit with a property tax hike, personnel cuts and some one-time revenue.

WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports the spending plan tops out at about $5.2 billion.

CPS Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley said the plan would maintain existing class sizes, and allow principals to decide how to use their additional funds.

“I think the biggest thing about this budget is that it in times of fiscal crisis, with declining revenues two years in a row, we’ve managed to be able to continue to invest in things that we think are going to improve student outcomes,” Cawley said.

It includes a $62 million property tax hike and $144 million in administrative cuts.

The plan also raised some eyebrows, by seeking to drain the district’s entire $432 million in reserve funds.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports

Cawley said school officials did not want to sacrifice academic programs, or increase class sizes, so they decided to deplete the system’s reserve fund.

“At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself what are your real priorities? In this budget, as in last year’s, we’ve said the priority is the students,” he said.

Civic Federation President Laurence Msall said the decision to use up all of the district’s reserve funds risky. He said he understands the reason for the move, but can’t accept it.

“It does not overcome the fiscal reality, and the math that they have a $665 million deficit that is not being addressed in a significant way,” Msall said.

Msall said next year’s budget problem likely will be even worse, and the district will no longer have a reserve fund to use.

“Next year, the financial crisis which the Chicago Public Schools are experiencing right now could blossom into a full-blown catastrophe, because the public schools will face a deficit of over $800 million if this proposed budget is passed,” Msall said.

But Cawley said the district can’t afford to sit on large reserve funds, and sacrifice educational programs for students who need them now.

“We don’t think students can wait for their good education. We think we have to invest in them now, rather than continue to sit on reserves,” Cawley said. “Critics may say using our reserves is not as forward-looking as we should be. We think the most forward-looking priority has to be what are we doing for kids to make things better for them today?”

That’s a message officials said they are bringing into contract negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union as well.

The budget plan includes money for a 2 percent pay hike for teachers, who have been seeking a much higher raise to pay for the longer school day and longer school year that will go into place.

The Chicago Teachers Union has already voted to authorize a strike, but teachers must wait until an independent fact-finding panel issues a report that could serve as the basis for a contract compromise before they may actually hold a strike, should contract talks break down at that point.

The Chicago Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the budget plan on July 25.

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