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Chicago Passes $5.4 Billion Budget, But Still Needs State Assistance

The Chicago school board approved a $5.4 billion operating budget for the new school year on Wednesday, but, just like last year, the financially beleaguered school district is pinning its hopes on the state coming through with millions of dollars.

The spending plan, approved amid complaints from parents, teachers, and education advocates, relies on property tax increases and $215 million in pledged aid from the state to help with the district's teachers' pension obligation.

Chicago taxpayers will also be contributing an additional $250 million in property taxes this year, according to the district. 

Last year, the district passed a budget while dependent upon $480 million from the state. That money never materialized, and the district was forced to make drastic mid-year cuts.

CEO Forrest Claypool remained optimistic that the state will come through with the money this time around. But if that doesn't happen, the district will have to make cuts that will affect classrooms, Claypool said, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The board also approved borrowing $945 million for construction projects and about $1.5 billion to cover expenses this year, the Tribune reported.

Given all of this, district officials say the school system is in a firmer financial position because of steps taken last school year to put the district on the road to financial stability.

This year's operating budget itself is $232 million less than last year's.

"The Board's priorities for this budget were to protect our classrooms, reduce our administrative footprint, and make sure that our students can continue their solid progress—and while this budget isn't perfect, it does represent an important step forward for the district, the state and most importantly, our students,"  Frank Clark, the board's president, said. "Chicago taxpayers and leaders in Springfield have taken significant steps this year to provide city schools with additional funding to protect crucial investments and programs, and we are energized to begin a new year with the resources and stability our schools need to reach even greater heights of academic achievement."

The Civic Federation was among two civic groups that said they did not support the budget. The organization was concerned about the heavy reliance on borrowing and state aid.  According to the Chicago Tribune, Access Living, a disability rights advocacy group, also had concerns about how the district was distributing special education funds.

Another issue with the budget is that it assumes that the teachers' union will agree to the terms of a proposed contract that the union's Big Bargaining Team has already rejected.

The union has been assailing the budget since it was proposed earlier this month, with Union President Karen Lewis saying that the union will not go the entire school year without a contract. Those frustrations were on display at the budget hearing Wednesday, with teachers, parents, and others registering their objections to the spending plan, according to WBEZ.

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