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CPS Adding $600 Million in Supplemental Capital Plans

(Chicago Tonight)

Chicago Public Schools says it plans to add $600 million in projects to its capital improvement budget for the upcoming year, but how much money the district will actually spend remains to be seen as it waits to gauge “market conditions and community feedback.”

The district on Friday released its supplemental capital plan for 2017, using bonds the city’s Capital Improvement Tax to increase its maximum possible FY17 capital budget up to nearly $940 million.

CIT bonds, approved last year by the City Council, do not impact the district’s operating budget. CPS says it plans to pay for these projects by issuing one or more series of bonds, but notes “the timing of the financing will depend on market conditions and the construction schedule.”

Because of the cash-strapped district’s financial issues, CPS says many of its schools’ most pressing needs have gone unmet in recent years. But using the Capital Improvement Tax, the district plans to address facility repairs ranging from overcrowding and air conditioning issues to replacing mechanical systems and leaky roofs.

That $600 million includes: $93 million in overcrowding relief; $36 million in program investments at a half dozen schools; $28 million in facility site improvements; and $150 million for the construction of two new schools, one on the Northwest Side and another on the South Side.

These proposals come in addition to $338 million in capital school repairs and modifications CPS announced earlier this fall.

In a statement Friday, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said his district will “continue to work to make critically needed improvements to school buildings in the most financially responsible way possible, without affecting our operating budget.”

At a press conference a day earlier, Claypool told media he didn’t believe Gov. Bruce Rauner’s decision to veto $215 million in state funding that had been promised to CPS to help fund its pensions would affect the district’s borrowing ability.

But he did blame Springfield for the district’s junk bond rating, saying Rauner has prevented progress by “standing in the schoolhouse door.”

“That’s what’s so disappointing,” Claypool said Thursday. “This summer in a bipartisan agreement, legislators and the governor came together and said we’re going to fund all schools and we’re going to take steps forwards to fund them equitably … and the governor, with the stroke of a pen, is trying to erase all that progress.”

CPS published a list of potential projects online so the public can review each item. The district has scheduled three public meetings on Monday to gather the stakeholder on the capital plan, which it says will be used when determining which projects will move forward.

Those meetings will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at: Bridge Elementary School, 3800 N. New England Ave.; Kennedy High School, 6325 W. 56th St.; and the National Teachers Academy, 55 W. Cermak Road. Speaker registration will begin at 5 p.m.

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