Funds not assured past 1998-99

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A warning to schools with projects listed for next school year and beyond: Don’t count on anything yet.

The School Board’s capital improvement book lists about $1.64 billion worth of projects beyond 1998-99. For about $1.2 billion worth of them, it acknowledges that funding has not been lined up. However, for $444 million worth, it indicates the money is in sight.

As Catalyst goes to press, Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Gotch says that only an additional $200 million from the state is a sure thing. The state money is scheduled to trickle in over several years, but Gotch says the board may try to find a way to borrow against it next year so there is no lull in the construction work.

“This is an issue we’ll struggle with as we put the [next capital budget] book together,” says Dion Smith, chief of staff for the Operations Department. “We’ll look at the money we have available, what we think we can get from the state, as well as any bond issues that we anticipate. … I don’t want you to conclude … that we’re not going to be doing any work next year.”

Gotch doesn’t rule out more bond issues, but he says that the board hasn’t identified a funding source that would pay for service on new debt. Potential avenues for new capital funding include:

n More state aid. At the end of last year, the General Assembly approved spending $1.5 billion for school construction and repair over five years. Chicago has received $100 million and is slated to get another $200 million. While districts warmly welcomed the support, they’re still clamoring for more.

Federal aid. Senator Carol Moseley-Braun has been pushing since 1996 for federal support for school construction and repair. President Clinton carried the cause into deadline budget negotiations this year but came up empty. While there was still hope, Chicago officials had forecast their take at several hundred million dollars.

More borrowing. This likely would mean cutting further into operating funds, says Gotch, adding that the board would prefer to avoid that. Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas and Board President Gery Chico have said repeatedly that “it’s time for the state and federal governments to step up to the plate” and go to bat for school buildings.

Other sources. So far, the board has gotten about $20 million from the Federal Aviation Authority to soundproof schools near Midway and O’Hare airports. It has qualified for another $14 million in federal funds through the “Qualified Zone Academy” program; that money is paying for the renovation of the Bronzeville Armory. Locally, the board expects $37 million from tax increment financing (TIF) districts, mainly from the Near North Re- development District in and around Cabrini-Green. Also, the Chicago Park District and the City of Chicago are pitching in on campus parks; each agency is paying for about a third of the $25.5 million program.