CHICAGO – Chicago Public Schools was forced to shelve a proposed Barack Obama Preparatory High School aimed at honoring the 44th president after a new contract with the Chicago Teachers Union depleted needed funds.
About $60 million in tax increment financing money slated for the controversial school was diverted to help pay for raises and other perks included in a new teachers contract with the Chicago Teachers Union reached hours before a planned teachers strike Tuesday, the Chicago Tribune reports.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced grandiose plans for the school in 2014 to honor his political benefactor in Obama’s hometown, but it has faced criticism since because Emanuel wants to place the selective enrollment school in the affluent Near North Side, rather than on the South Side where Obama worked as a community organizer.
Alderman Walter Burnett Jr. told the Tribune Emanuel asked him and other aldermen to give up $175 million in surplus TIF funds – including the $60 million for the Obama school – to use toward costs associated with the new CTU contract.
“We’re still talking about it,” Burnett said of the school. “It’s not indefinitely, there’s a timeline, but it’s postponed right now. I don’t know (what the timeline is), but it’s postponed like it’s been postponed for how long?”
Burnett said the 27th Ward he represents did not go away empty-handed from the agreement to postpone the school and divert the TIF funds, but would not discuss what his ward received in exchange.
“We’re being asked to give up a lot of money. … Several aldermen are giving up a lot of things to help with this situation because folks want the children and the parents to be whole so they don’t have to lose their jobs, take off work—all of those things,” Burnett told the Chicago Sun-Times. “It was about the kids.”
Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools avoided a threatened teachers strike early Tuesday morning in a last-minute agreement after nearly two years of contract negotiations.
The four year pact, which awaits approval from Chicago Teachers Union delegates, is retroactive to the 2015-16 school year and continues the district’s tradition of paying for most of the union members’ retirement costs, a heavy expense the Emanuel administration had sought to eliminate.
The contract tasks current employees with contributing 2 percent of their salary toward the teachers retirement system, while the district will contribute 7 percent, DNAinfo reports.
The new contract will require new employees to pay 9.4 percent of their salaries toward retirement, but also awards those employees with two 3.5 percent raises, in January and July of next year. The contract keeps the union’s automatic annual step and lane raises in place, as well, and will award employees cost of living raises in year three and four, according to the site.
CTU negotiators agreed to increase employee contributions for health insurance by .8 percent, while CPS officials agreed to set aside $7 million to hire more teachers to keep kindergarten through second grade classrooms at a stipulated cap of 32 students.
The contract also comes with a retirement bonus of $1,500 per year of service in the district for educators who retire early at the end of the current school year, tasks CPS with gaining union approval for privatizing nursing positions, and gives teachers more time off to prep for classes, DNAinfo reports.
CPS officials confirmed that the planned Obama school is now on hold because of increased costs associated with the union contract, and blamed the decision to delay the school on Burnett.
“With the magnitude of issues facing Chicago Public Schools, Alderman Burnett stepped up to lead in the effort to provide additional resources by delaying the construction of a high school on the Near North Side,” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said.