Quinn budget would cover 10% of CPS deficit

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Pedro Martinez, chief financial officer for Chicago Public Schools, says Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget proposal would add about $50 million to the CPS operating budget.

But with the district facing a $475 million budget hole, officials simply want more.

It’s unclear how CPS would close the remaining $425 million deficit, should Quinn’s proposal survive the legislative process. Martinez would only add: “They’ve [increased funding by] at least $100 million in recent years. What we’re hoping we’re going to see is more money for education.”

 

Pedro Martinez, chief financial officer for Chicago Public Schools, says Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget proposal would add about $50 million to the CPS operating budget.

But with the district facing a $475 million budget hole, officials simply want more.

It’s unclear how CPS would close the remaining $425 million deficit, should Quinn’s proposal survive the legislative process. Martinez would only add: “They’ve [increased funding by] at least $100 million in recent years. What we’re hoping we’re going to see is more money for education.”

The federal stimulus bill sent Illinois nearly $2 billion in so-called “stabilization funds” to keep—first and foremost—education afloat in tough economic times. Quinn’s proposal would essentially shift $1.8 billion from the state’s education department to other priorities and use the federal money to backfill the hole; plus about $174 million in new money for schools. (States are required to spend more than 80 percent of the stabilization funds on education.)

The move would help the state pay down its massive $11.5 billion deficit. But it falls well short of education reformers’ expectations. They still want a mix of property tax relief and a far more substantial increase in general state aid.

State Sen. James Meeks said in an interview with Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown that the General Assembly may need to work out a compromise that lets the state skimp on education in the next two years—allowing for the debt to be paid down—but would force the bulk of new revenues to go into school budgets thereafter.

On the school construction front, Quinn’s plan would send nearly $300 million to Chicago during the next five years. To get the funds, Martinez says the district will need to match funding dollar-for-dollar.

“We’d have no problem matching,” he says, noting that the district typically borrows about $200 million a year for renovation projects and will be directing several million more through its Modern Schools initiative for new school construction.

Another sore spot with CPS: Quinn’s plan calls for changes to the state pension system but left CPS in the cold. Nearly $130 million of the district’s $475 million deficit projection stems from increased pension obligations. Chicago officials argue that the payment schedule is too difficult to meet, especially during tough economic times, and that the state should pay a much higher share of the pension costs.