As expected, Chicago Public Schools pushed the button on its controversial $6.8 billion budget for 2015 amid criticism over slashing public school money, diverting more dollars into charters and falling back on another one-time fix to plug a massive $880 million deficit hole.
In a maneuver of accounting, CPS will transfer an extra $650 million in property tax revenue from fiscal 2016 through expanding its "revenue recognition period" another two months. That's a risky move since those millions won't be available to balance next year's budget.
It's also irresponsible, implied CPS board member Henry Bienen at Wednesday's Board of Education meeting. He was quoted in the Chicago Tribune as saying: "It's a budget which could very possibly lead to a downgrading of bonds in the future, which would mean higher cost of financing on the interest rate."
But the district maintained it had no other option, pointing fingers at the state government for stalling on pension reform and skimping on school funding. Meanwhile, spending grew three percent, an increase of $400 million, from last year's budget despite the deficit problem.
A majority expense is going to teacher salaries and benefits, including a record $634 million earmarked for pension payments.
"While there is no doubt that the State has played a significant role in creating this fiscal crisis, the District bears ultimate responsibility because it has a duty to plan for the long-term impacts of the budget decisions it makes annually," said the Civic Foundation, which monitors Illinois' fiscal sustainability (or lack thereof), slapping CPS on the wrist in a stern statement.
Over teachers' objections, CPS said declining student enrollment in neighborhood schools factored into its decision to slash funding and pour an extra $72 million into charter schools and privately-operated public institutions under contract with the district.
CPS laid off 550 teachers in May, and last summer incited outrage when it shuttered close to 50 schools, many in low-income, working-class areas.
Homeowners won't be happy, either, thanks to CPS raising property taxes to the max -- by an extra $34 -- on houses worth $250,000.