Nothing But Net (Profits)
The city of Chicago has been good to Jerry Reinsdorf. Support from a large fan base has helped Reinsdorf transform the Bulls and White Sox into two of the most successful sports franchises in North America, with a combined value of $1.2 billion and over $70 million in total annual operating income as of 2012.1 According to the mainstream media, Reinsdorf has given back to Chicagoans by establishing himself as, in the words of the Tribune, one of the “leading philanthropists” in the professional sports business.2 Indeed, Reinsdorf has made several high- profile charitable contributions in recent decades. Perhaps most notably, he gave $4.5 million to help construct a new Boys & Girls Club on the Near West Side in 1995, and followed up in 1998 with a $3.5 million donation to after-school instruction programs run by Chicago Public Schools.3 More recently, Reinsdorf has directed his “philanthropic” efforts toward supporting the charter school movement in Chicago. In 2009, he donated $2 million to help launch Bulls College Prep, a Near West Side high school that belongs to the Noble Network of Chicago charter schools.4
Commendable? It may seem that way. But while these acts of unselfishness make for good public relations, they are an altruistic sleight of hand. What the mainstream media fails to mention is that Reinsdorf’s seemingly generous and very visible donations are a drop in the bucket compared to the tens of millions of dollars in property tax relief that he and fellow owners of the United Center have received since 1994. New data obtained by the Chicago Teachers Union from the Cook County Board of Review reveals that, based on special legislation passed in 1989 by the state of Illinois, Reinsdorf and the owners of the Chicago Blackhawks saved at least $30 million on property taxes for the United Center between 2002 and 2007 alone! At the same time that he makes relatively small contributions to a local charter school— one with a history of pushing out the most vulnerable students—Reinsdorf benefits from an unpublicized system of corporate welfare that shifts the burden of paying for public schools onto ordinary taxpayers and ultimately diverts resources away from the city’s most vulnerable students.5
By now, many Chicagoans are familiar with the anti-union tactics of charter school advocates like Penny Pritzker and Bruce Rauner. However, these high-profile union critics are part of a much larger network of real estate and private equity moguls who have created a toxic environment for public education.6 Less vocal members of this network, like Reinsdorf, also profit from lucrative kickbacks and political favors at the same time that they support a growing charter movement that threatens to privatize public education in Chicago under the guise of increasing “accountability.” This report offers a case study in why calls for increased accountability need to be directed at the corporate profiteers who make it impossible to equitably fund local public education, instead of at hard-working and dedicated teachers.