The Chicago Board of Education unanimously approved a property tax hike and its new budget on Wednesday, and despite a huge drop in revenue, the budget expands kindergarten and Pre-K programs, and spends more on charter schools.
The budget also takes several other steps Mayor Emanuel said he would try to avoid: it spends $241 million more than the system will take in (closing the gap by using one-time reserves) and it raises property taxes $153 million, the maximum allowed by state law.
At a forum sponsored by Chicago Public Radio, one of the first questions the mayor faced was submitted by a listener "disappointed" by that property tax increase.
The mayor responded that the new tax money might pay for a two percent raise that would go to elementary school teachers in January, if they agree to a 90-minute longer school day and an additional two more weeks in the school year. The mayor also argued that his school team is using its money wisely, despite taxpayer pushback.
Chicago Teaches Union President Karen Lewis said the $153 million from that property tax increase was far too small. She said the union would soon unveil a plan to raise taxes on businesses, something the Board of Ed won't be able to do by itself. Any plan like that would likely would need approval from the General Assembly in Springfield.
"My biggest problem with the budget is that there's no work toward increasing revenues. Because that's what it's going to take, not just taking things away from people that are working in the system," Lewis said.
Gerald Roper of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce dismissed the idea.
"Businesses here pay the highest real estate taxes, the highest sales taxes and the highest income taxes in the country. Pay more? Not when so many companies are struggling to survive," Roper said.