Black Students Return to School But Will the Funding

by

Maze Jackson

According to the Mayor and CPS officials, Chicago Public School students have made tremendous progress in spite of school closings and budget cuts. But as those students prepare to return to school on September 9th, they will feel the impact of the $500 million teacher pension crisis in the classroom. While most would agree schools are built for the children inside them, increasingly those children are losing to factors outside of the school. Combine that $500 million deficit with the gridlock in Springfield, and the trip back to school will be a difficult journey for Black Chicago Public School students and their parents.

To understand the impacts of a $500 million shortfall, it is important to understand how we got here. Currently, Chicago is the only school district in the state of Illinois that must fund its own teachers’ pensions.

“This budget reflects the reality of where we are today: facing a squeeze from both ends, in which CPS is receiving less state funding to pay our bills even as our pension obligations swell to nearly $700 million this year,” new CPS Chief Forrest Claypool stated. Claypool has asked the Illinois General Assembly to resolve that by having the state of Illinois cover Chicago teacher pension costs as well.

“We look forward to continuing to work with our leaders in Springfield to rank education funding reform and finally end the inequity that requires Chicago alone to take scarce dollars from the classroom to pay for teacher pensions,” Claypool said in a press release. Democrats have indicated that they are willing to aid CPS, but Republican Governor Bruce Rauner has made clear he will not support without passing his “Turnaround Agenda.”

“For Chicago to get what it wants, Illinois must get what it needs,” Rauner told a skeptical city council in a July address to the City’s governing body. With little to no progress in Springfield, and little expectation of any movement in the Rauner-Madigan face-off for the near future, it seems that CPS students will return to school with far fewer resources than last year, $68 million fewer to be exact. But what does that mean exactly for students?

It means 1500 layoffs district wide. Those layoffs will include 479 school teachers, 866 in-school support staff, and 146 citywide employees. According to CPS, those cuts will impact less than 2 percent of teachers citywide, including 204 high school teachers and 275 elementary school teachers. While that number may seem nominal, it means direct impact to the lives of students, particularly on the South and West Sides of Chicago. Not only does it mean increased classroom size, it also means less support for those teachers who will be operating with increased classrooms, which are predicted to grow to almost 40 students.

The impact of increased classroom size is compounded, when special needs are factored in. According to a Catalyst Chicago Report, “Specialty schools for high-needs students lost on average 16.8 percent of their staffing since the start of last school year — significantly higher than the average 1.6-percent staffing reduction that other district-run schools saw.”

Upon further analysis, Catalyst Chicago concludes, “Schools with high concentrations of African-American students and students in poverty make up many of the schools hardest hit by staffing loses, again reflecting enrollment trends. Among those same 75 schools, more than half were schools where 95 percent or more of the student population were black or low-income.” Essentially, as the city continues to grow, cuts to the budget are coming disproportionately out of Black schools that arguably need the most resources.

In addition to the fact that services cuts are disproportionately affecting Black and special needs students, the school day will shift anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour.  In the case of elementary schools, students may begin as early as 7:45am, and in the case of some high schools, start times will begin as late as 9:00am. According to CPS, the change in start times will save about $13.5 million annually. While the savings will be significant for CPS, they may be more expensive for the parents who will have to make childcare arrangements to accommodate the changes.

Elementary schools students will also take a blow as the 2015-2016 CPS budget removes funding for all elementary school sports programs. Unlike the cuts to special services, the removal of elementary school sports is not disproportionate to schools that are predominately Black, because they were removed from all elementary school programs. Like all cuts CPS maintains that they are fair and equitable across the board, which appears to be the case with elementary school sports. It is important to note that CPS did not ban elementary sports totally, but required the schools to do their own fundraising to support their teams.

Critics point to the fact that the more affluent CPS schools on the North and Southwest Sides have greater fundraising ability to support their athletic programs, while predominately Black schools struggle to find the more resources like basic supplies and school books. Additionally, with cuts to music and arts programs as well, many are Blacks are concerned that Black children will be left without the necessary programs to keep students engaged and well-rounded.

The 2015-2016 school year for CPS is shaping up to be one of the most challenging years ever. With a $1.1 billion structural deficit and no relief from Springfield anticipated in the near future, the back to school season is going to be a costly issue for parents and students alike. For parents it will be everything from adjusting work schedules, paying for after-school activities, and the massive property tax hike which appears inevitable. For kids it will be adjusting to larger classrooms with fewer teachers, resources, and extracurricular activities. Next week will definitely be back to school week, but with all the cuts, there will be a lot fewer familiar faces and activities for Black students.

 

 

 

 

 

Chicago Budget Fix Relies on Dysfunctional Springfield

(as published in the October 7-13 Chicago Defender)

by

Maze Jackson

Illinois legislative leaders Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton (photo courtesy of The Daily Herald)
Illinois legislative leaders Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton (photo courtesy of The Daily Herald)

When Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he would be proposing over a $588 million property tax increase in the city of Chicago, a collective groan was heard across the neighborhoods. While many knew that the day of pension reckoning was finally upon us, the shock of actually hearing Emanuel deliver the message was palpable. While he discussed a wide range of services savings and cuts, most Chicagoans fixated on the $500 million property tax increase.

 (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A $588 million increase that equates to an approximate 58.1% increase over what Chicagoans had been paying. That increased property tax assessment could potentially have a dire effect on the Black community whose property values are rapidly increasing, while their incomes are not. Combine that with the fact that the Black community has not fully recovered as quickly as others from the recession, while struggling to hold on to their homes. At the same time, White developers are buying every bit of property they can get their hands in anticipation of the Obama library on the South Side, and Silicon Valley 2.0 which is being built on the near West Side.

In an effort to provide some relief from the enormous tax increase, and prevent some of those things from happening, Mayor Emmanuel proposed an exemption for homes that are valued under $250,000. The move was hailed as an attempt to ensure that the cities most vulnerable homeowners would be spared the massive increase that would eventually drive them from their homes and communities, a fact that members of the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus applaud.

“I believe it will encourage investment, while lessening the impact on people with less income,” said 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr. who represents a portion of the West Side and West Loop, where high-income development is booming.

(photo courtesy of Chicago Reader)
27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr. (photo courtesy of Chicago Reader)

But to get the necessary relief, the mayor’s budget relies on approval from a dysfunctional Springfield that has not been able to pass its own budget. As a matter of fact the state of Illinois has been operating without a budget for the past five months with no solution in the foreseeable future. In spite of that, Burnett remains optimistic that “Governor Rauner will do the right thing, help the city of Chicago, and low income residents.”

While all parties would agree that the city of Chicago is on the brink of financial peril all parties do not agree on the solution, the most important of which is Governor Rauner, who has called for a statewide property tax freeze. Combine that with the fact that when Governor Rauner addressed the Chicago City Council back in July, he made it perfectly clear that if Chicago expected to get any relief from the state he expected that they would make concessions in Springfield. Regardless of Rauner’s ominous statements, Springfield insiders remain optimistic that they will be able to pass the property tax exemption and get Governor Rauner to sign it.

(photo courtesy of the Daily Herald)
Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner (photo courtesy of the Daily Herald)

Assistant Majority Leader Art Turner, Jr. (D-Chicago) is one of those insiders. “Most of the constituents I represent would benefit from the exemption and I am for it. It’s progressive which is something that we should look at on the state level as well. Those who can pay more should,” Turner states.

 

(photo courtesy of Jewish United Fund)
Assistant Majority Leader Arthur Turner, Jr. (photo courtesy of Jewish United Fund)

“The City of Chicago is the largest economic engine in the state, and while I think it will be tougher to get through Springfield, I am confident that the Governor understands how important Chicago is to the rest of the state. Mayor Emanuel has taken the first step in fixing the situation, but because he and the Governor have a working relationship and talk regularly, I think we will get a bill passed and signed,” Turner explained.

Turner’s optimism is based on Emanuel and Rauner’s relationship, because Rauner’s relationship with Democratic leaders in Springfield is tense to say the least. Governor Rauner and Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan are currently locked in a budget fight to the death over who will control Springfield, and neither seems willing to compromise. But if the city of Chicago hopes to plug its budget holes and pension problems, it must rely upon cooperation with legislators, leaders and the Governor to get it done. But so far no party has shown any willingness to give, which is what makes Emanuel’s role in the situation so crucial.

Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan (photo courtesy of Chicago Now)
Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan (photo courtesy of Chicago Now)

Mayor Emanuel has stated, we must fix the “structural deficit” and we cannot “kick the can down the road any longer” as he has so often accused the previous administration of. And, while he is careful not to blame the Daley administration by name, one only need listen to Emanuel talk about the city’s financial situation to know that he will not wear the jacket for the massive property tax increase alone.

One thing is clear, if the City of Chicago wants to keep growing, it must tackle the financial woes created by years of underfunding police and fire pensions. The intentional underfunding of police and fire pensions have reduced Chicago’s bond ratings to junk status, driving the cost of borrowing money to unmanageable levels. But with the property tax increase, Emanuel and the Chicago City Council still have to convince voters why they should accept such a large property tax with very few to no new services.

To combat the perception, Emanuel has also proposed using a rare state law that allows the city to levy a $45 million school improvement tax to ease the tensions associated with such a large increase. Emanuel has also tried to make the increase more palatable by phasing it in over 3 years, with increases being $318 million in 2015, $109 million in 2016, $53 million in 2017, and $63 million in 2018.

But none of that will make a difference if he can’t get Springfield to work together, something they have been unable to do for the last five months. Emanuel needs them to if he hopes to save Chicago from being devoured by its pension obligation.

Cook County Goes Back to the Future

by

Maze Jackson

 

As Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle prepares to raise the Cook County sales tax by one penny, she should consider that it was that same penny that got her predecessor “lynched in the media.”

On December 4, 2006, Todd Stroger was sworn in as Cook County Board President. He replaced the interim Board President Bobbie Steele, who had only been in office since August 4th of that same year, completing the term of Stroger’s father. John Stroger had been County Board President until he was incapacitated with a stroke.

New County Board County Board President Stroger only had three months to craft an $3.1 billion budget that had a $500 million deficit . “The apparatus was in place to put a budget together, but no one took responsibility during the interim presidency,” Stroger said during an interview.

Stroger consulted his advisers, who all agreed that county government needed to be reformed. Stroger mandated across-the-board cuts of 21% for all 28 departments under his control. He requested the same from the other county officers, who all generally complied, with the exception of the Sheriff’s and State’s Attorney’s Offices.

Was former Cook Count Board President Todd Stroger right all along? Will it lead to a political comeback? (photo courtesy of ABC7 Chicago)

When Stroger directed the hospital system to make “$90 million” in cuts, they recommended closing Provident and Oak Forest Hospitals.   “Oak Forest was in the South Suburbs, and our flagship hospital, the County Hospital is 45 minutes away from Robbins. Our (Black) people needed that hospital, especially with so many Blacks moving to the South Suburbs,” Stroger stated.

“And when you look at Provident, that hospital was the biggest economic engine in that community, plus Michael Reese (hospital) was going to close. It was just too important to close, so we went back to every department and scraped together every bit of money we could, and we kept those hospitals open and balanced the budget in our first year.”

In Stroger’s 2nd year, Cook County found itself $238 million in the hole again because “the union agreement increased every year. We had to solve the problem.” So Stroger along with Ralph Martire and the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability came up with a plan that “paid the bills without taking it out on the employees or over burdening the taxpayers, but we knew we needed revenue.”

In 2007, after trimming as much waste as possible, making almost every reform suggested by advisers and critics alike, and even voluntarily signing on to the Shakman decree, President Todd Stroger passed a balanced budget that included a one penny sales tax increase.

“Not only was the budget balanced, it addressed the structural deficit created by the labor agreements that continue to increase every year, “ Stroger said. “When President Preckwinkle came in she basically replicated my plan, but when she cut the sales tax, she found herself back at square one.”

As Preckwinkle seeks to pass the same one-penny sales tax that many say was the deathblow to the Stroger Presidency, she is finding unlikely opposition.

“The sales tax may be the easiest for the County Board to pass, but it will be hardest on the working families when everyday purchases  – diapers, toothpaste, kid’s clothes – get more expensive. And it will be hardest on businesses who risk losing customers to Indiana or Will County. Cook County needs revenue to provide quality health services and a just criminal justice system, but a tax that hits the hardest on the hardest hit is not the way to go,” County Commissioner Bridgette Gainer (D-10) emphasized.

Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer opposes the “Toni Tax”

The “Toni Tax” as it is being called will likely pass, but no politician ever wants their name directly associated with a tax. Just ask Stroger.

“The newspaper and media made my name and tax synonymous. Say tax and people said Stroger. Water, property…any tax was The Stroger Tax, and I only asked for one penny,” Stroger finished. “At least I kept the hospitals open for that penny.”