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CPS questioned on budget, tax hikes

About 200 teachers, parents and laid-off staff questioned Chicago Public Schools officials tonight about the district's plans to cut programs and increase property taxes this year.

"You're taking out the more experienced teachers, the National Board certified teachers, and putting them out in the street and replacing them with teachers who make $50,000," said Lois Jones, a math teacher at Schurz High School, during the meeting at Lane Tech High School. "What's that doing to the classroom?"

Wednesday’s meeting was the first public hearing on the budget for the coming academic year. Two additional hearings will be held this week before board members vote on the budget Aug. 24.

Tina Padilla, a teacher at Lane Tech High School, accused the district of filling its budget gap on the back of taxpayers who are losing jobs and can’t afford additional taxes.

"You mentioned shortfalls in your budget," Padilla said to CPS administrators at the hearing. "Don't you think the citizens of this city have shortfalls and you're asking them to pay more taxes?"

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said this week that he supports a property tax increase for CPS because it is being asked for while the district cuts its expenses.
 
Chicago Public Schools will be asking the average homeowner to pay an additional $84 in property tax each year. The district plans to add $150 million in revenue by raising property taxes by 2.4 percent and collecting more money from a buildings levy. It will be the first time in four years that CPS has raised taxes.

Officials have already cut $100 million out of the $712 million budget deficit by rescinding annual raises for all seven of the district’s unions. In the proposed budget, they hope to save more than $320 million by streamlining departments within the central office, cutting middle management positions, reducing supplemental teachers in turnaround schools and selective enrollment programs, scaling back police patrols on high school campuses and eliminating some popular programs for students.

The cuts, which CPS officials have described as painful, include eliminating as many as 300 teaching positions from under-enrolled schools. The district has also sent 1,000 pink slips to teachers this summer.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis criticized the district for having numerous errors in the budget document, including doubled enrollment numbers and faculty data for each school. Although the errors didn’t change the bottom line, it tainted the budget, Lewis said.

"It just means if there's errors there, there's errors in other places," she said.

The union is also disputing the district's statement that the rescinded raises would have cost the district an extra $100 million the next academic year.

The most provocative comment at the district's first budgetary hearing came from Sonia Kwan, a member of Raise Your Hands, a coalition of parents that pressed former Mayor Richard Daley to turn over surplus tax-increment financing funds last year back to city agencies. CPS ended up getting $140 million of those surplus funds last year.
 
This year, Kwan said, there's $867million in surplus funds that have not been allocated.

Chicago Teachers Union