CHICAGO (CBS) — Parents and elected officials flocked to City Hall on Friday to call for the Emanuel administration to use so-called surplus TIF funds to avert a threatened teachers’ strike at the Chicago Public Schools.
Sarah Ma, a parent and local school council member at Alexander Graham Bell Elementary School, pleaded with the mayor’s office to support an ordinance that would require uncommitted tax increment financing money to go back to CPS in times of financial distress.
“The city is sitting on TIF dollars that were diverted from our schools, and should go back to the schools now,” she said.
Cook County Clerk David Orr, whose office regularly releases reports on how local governments spend TIF money, said the city has $89 million more in TIF funds this year than in last year.
TIF districts are designed to lure businesses and employers to distressed neighborhoods by setting aside a portion of the property taxes generated in them for development projects. However, some TIF districts develop surpluses of unused funds, and many critics have called them political slush funds for the mayor and aldermen.
“At some point, we have to stand up and say some of these TIFs may be nice, but they’re not as critical as saving our public schools. If we do that, I don’t have any doubt that there is money there that could avert this strike,” Orr said.
Several aldermen have backed an ordinance that would declare a surplus in citywide TIF funds, and send up to $200 million back to CPS.
Andrea Palafox, a parent at Burroughs Elementary School, hope the mayor and aldermen approve the plan.
“Our community schools are in very much need of this money, and I know that the kids will do great much more than they are performing right now,” she said.
The parents and elected officials acknowledged using surplus TIF money to help CPS would be a temporary fix, and the district needs long-term help, but they said the district needs financial help now.
“Right now we have a crisis of huge proportions in the city of Chicago,” Illinois State Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago) said.
With a possible strike looming next week, State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) said the time is now.
“If teachers go out on strike next Tuesday, it’s because this administration made a deliberate choice to leave funds in the slush funds for developers, rather than directing them to our public schools,” he said.
The Chicago Teachers Union has voted to approve a strike, and said teachers will walk out if they don’t reach a contract agreement with CPS by Tuesday.