Mayor brags about providing CPS with $100M TIF surplus that she promptly grabs back for pension payments City should be paying, cops in schools for which City previously paid.
CHICAGO—The TIF slush funds that the mayor giveth, the mayor also taketh away. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has claimed she’s providing over $100 million from her TIF slush fund to CPS—but will immediately grab those funds back to cover city expenses instead. The mayor is forcing CPS to shoulder pension costs that by law the City is required to pay, and bankroll police in schools that the City previously paid for, despite serious issues related to their training and oversight and a growing call to end their presence in schools.
“This mayor stood in front of the people of this city and claimed she was giving CPS over $100 million in TIF surplus funds from her slush fund—and promptly clawed back those dollars in violation of the law and past practices,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey.
“This is literally worse than what Rahm did to our students and our schools,” said Sharkey. “Our school communities need those funds and are owed those funds. These public dollars could end a strike for equity and educational justice for our schools. To give with one hand and grab back with another is the kind of despicable shell game that hurts students and deceives this city’s residents.”
For years, the City of Chicago has picked up the costs of payments to the Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago—the public pension fund for CPS’ low-wage teaching assistants, school clerks and other paraprofessionals, or PSRPs. That’s documented in CPS’ online budgets going back to at least 2007.
CPS’ 2008 budget explicitly describes why: because the pension code compels the City of Chicago, by law, to make these payments—not CPS. The City’s own website states that City makes contributions to the Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund—the MEABF—which covers most civil servant employees of the City, as well as non-teacher employees of the Board of Education. It makes NO reference to CPS paying a penny into the MEABF.
Not this year, according to a line buried deep in the mayor’s budget summary. Instead, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is ignoring the pension code, past practices and the law. That move will cost CPS $60 million this year, more than enough to settle the funding amount that separates CPS and the CTU from landing a tentative agreement at the bargaining table.
Lightfoot also saddled CPS with an additional expense, this year—$33 million to cover the cost of posting Chicago police officers to schools, even though the program has drawn fire from the City’s Inspector General for failures in oversight and training. In a shocking revelation, the police department has often been unable to even list the officers working as school resource officers in schools. CPS also hires school security guards who handle similar responsibilities at a much lower cost per employee. Those workers are represented by SEIU Local 73, which has vowed to honor the CTU’s picket lines even as they consider a tentative agreement.
The total of those claw backs by Lightfoot? Almost $100 million—more than enough to settle the $38 million that currently separates CPS and CTU at the table, and enough to land the $100 million annual cost Lightfoot claims but cannot document as the dollar amount that has prevented CPS and the CTU from landing a tentative agreement.
Lightfoot’s chief financial officer, Jennie Huang Bennett, has defended the clawbacks. Bennet previously worked for six years as CPS CFO and treasurer. That included employment as a CPS executive under the regimes of convicted felon Barbara Byrd Bennett, ousted in the wake of a contracting kickback scandal, and disgraced former CEO Forrest Claypool, who drew fire for stripping $29 million in special education funds from CPS’ most vulnerable learners and resigned in the wake of an ethics scandal.