Thursday, June 13, 2013

Millions for DePaul, budget cuts for public schools

Posted By on 06.13.13 at 04:32 PM

Mayor Rahm during a press conference at McCormick Place, May 16, 2013
As Mayor Emanuel took another bold step toward spending $55 million for a DePaul basketball arena and a hotel, public school principals throughout the system were telling their staff what to expect in next year's budgets.

As in—cuts, cuts, and more cuts.

I like to joke that we must be a really rich city if we can afford to continually waste so many property-tax dollars on things like basketball arenas for private universities that charge around $30,000 a year in tuition.

But apparently we're not that wealthy after all. At least, we're being asked to choose one thing over another.

Guess which option heads the list?

Apparently, the central office has delivered the budget-cutting warning to principals who, in turn, are starting to tell their teachers.

A PowerPoint presentation I saw from a principal of a southwest-side high school is most revealing. "Everything means everything," the principal warns. Counselors, supplies, paper for the copy machine, teachers—he'll have to cut whatever it takes to slice $2 million from his $15 million budget.

It's a theme echoed by other principals. The word of the day is that cuts are coming if the mayor can't get more aid from the state.

Yes, I want the state and feds to spend more money on education. But I have a hard time stomaching the fact that we continue to waste so much of the education money we have on TIF deals.

As I see it, the mayor's looking to get more money from Springfield to help supplement the millions in property tax dollars he's wasting on things like the basketball arena/hotel, which is on the fast track to approval.

On Tuesday, the Community Development Commission—a rubber-stamp board of mayoral appointees—began the official process to approve the hotel/basketball arena deal.

In this case, that meant voting to "request authority to acquire the property" on South Indiana and Michigan avenues where the hotel/arena will go.

At the moment, this property's privately owned. Last year the owner paid about $40,000 a year in property taxes, which would go up as development in the area heats up. But once the city buys the land, it will generate nothing in property taxes, because publicly owned land is tax exempt.

We're spending $55 million to lose at least $40,000 a year—forever!

OK, so in the total scheme of things forty grand a year's not a whole lot of money. But it's better than the nothing we're spending $55 million to get. If you get what I mean.

The presentation points out that Chicago spends less per pupil than nearby southwest-suburban high school systems including Lemont, Argo, and Lyons.

I submit that those suburban systems have more money to spend on their high schoolers because they're not spending $55 million of it on hotels and basketball arenas for DePaul.

Just so you know, the aldermen near that southwest-side high school are: Matthew O'Shea (19th), Marty Quinn (13th), and Michael Zalewski (23rd).

Since day one, they've been among Mayor Emanuel's most dependable supporters—they even went along on the parking meter deal.

From time to time I get calls and e-mails from southwest-siders complaining about higher taxes. Well, everybody, here's your chance to let your aldermen know how you feel about the $55 million going out the window.

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