Parents want more TIF cash, transparency

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Unimpressed with the announcement last week that Mayor Rahm Emanuel will declare a TIF surplus that will garner about $20 million more for CPS, two parent organizations said on Wednesday they want to know more about TIF spending and would ultimately like to see the district get more money.

Through an executive order, Emanuel is turning over 25 percent of the estimated $40 million to $50 million in unallocated tax-increment financing surplus funds in his 2014 budget to CPS.

Yet the Common Sense Coalition of LSCs and Raise Your Hand are wary of these numbers.

They want to see where $1.7 billion in TIF funds is being spent, and verify whether $1.2 billion is truly already committed to specific projects. The groups believe that if all uncommitted TIF money was declared a surplus, it would return more than $100 million to CPS. 

After a press conference in city hall on Wednesday, the groups submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to city departments and the mayor’s office.

The groups are especially upset that Emanuel is providing $55 million in TIF money to build a new stadium for DePaul University, while schools have had to deal with significant budget cuts this year.

Kate Bolduc, a representative from the Common Sense Coalition, said that often city and school officials point out that some TIF money is spent on renovating and building schools.

“But we’re talking about the difference between capital funds and operational funds,” she said. “These projects won’t last when you don’t even have operational funds for textbooks, teachers, smaller class sizes.”

At the press conference, several parents talked about how their schools are grappling with the budget cuts.

“We pay property taxes, and we need to see that money go to public schools, not private development,” said Brenda Delgado, a CPS parent with children at Salazar Elementary on the Near North Side.

This past year, Salazar was designated as a Level 1 school, the top rating given by CPS. Delgado noted the school’s accomplishment, given that 80 percent of students are from low-income families and 20 percent are in special education.

Part of that success came from having reading and math interventionists on staff to work with children—positions that were lost after this year’s budget cuts, Delgado said. 

“These types of results …require resources,” said Delgado. “We have 22 desktop computers for 400 students, and half of those are not working. Our formula works. We just need the funds.”

With $600,000 less to spend this year, Darwin Elementary School in Logan Square might have to do away with its social-emotional program, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS.

In a survey by the Common Sense Coalition of LSCs of 44 elementary and high schools, only two schools have raised enough money to cover their budget gap, even with groups ramping up parent fundraising and student fees.

“Parents are not able to close the gap this year, and they shouldn’t have to,” said Bolduc.