By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
Elected officials, the Chicago Teachers Union, community groups and parents of CPS students conveyed a strong message to Mayor Emanuel April 18th: keep the schools open until the end of the school year. During a protest outside City Hall, proponents of education said the city’s plan to end the school year early will cause potential safety problems, and believe the Mayor should use Tax Increment Financing funds to plug a budget gap in order to keep schools open.
“When CPS says the date that school will end is going to be three weeks earlier, that’s not just about our kids not getting the full year of education. That’s about public safety,” said Alderman John Arenas at a hearing on the matter April 18 at City Hall.
His colleague on the council, Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd), was even more vocal, saying the deteriorating situation was “getting ridiculous.” He said his office is fielding calls from parents who are seeking answers and he cannot give them any. He is calling for CPS CEO Forrest Claypool to give the council answers as to what exactly is going on with CPS.
“It’s just getting to the point of insanity where there is zero leadership from the people who are supposed to exhibit that leadership,” Waguespack said.
Last month Claypool announced that schools could close as early as June 1, which means they would close three weeks earlier than scheduled. It would also mean teachers could lose up to three weeks of pay. Claypool said the move is needed because the state General Assembly has continued to under-fund the Chicago school district.
But demonstrators say the Mayor has the ability to end all of the rhetoric by just using the TIF funds. Emanuel used TIF funds to finance a new teachers’ contract last year to avoid a strike. He has been mum on if he is willing to dip into the TIF coffers yet again.
“CPS parents know that closing the schools on June 1st will result in more violence and less support for their childrens’ education. This is unacceptable in the face of hundreds of millions of dollars in TIF funds going to millionaires downtown,” said Marcos Ceniceros, from the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, just one of the groups that were protesting.
But inside the Finance Committee chaired by Alderman Ed Burke (14), the committee took no action on the TIF issue. Burke said he recognizes the CPS dilemma but would not move the issue forward to the full council.