New Chicago school budget relies on state pension relief: officials

Reuters News
|
Posted: Jul 13, 2015 1:41 PM

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The upcoming budget for the Chicago Public Schools will rely on $500 million in yet-to-be-enacted pension savings by Illinois, school officials said on Monday.

The third-largest U.S. public school system is projecting a $1.1 billion deficit in its fiscal 2016 budget, largely because of an approximately $675 million pension payment. If the $500 million in pension relief does not materialize, officials said, the school district would turn to "unsustainable borrowing and additional cuts" to balance the budget nearly halfway through the fiscal year.

"The fact is much of the pain in this year's budget is due to a broken pension system that forces CPS to choose between making pension payments and investing in our classrooms," interim Chief Executive Officer Jesse Ruiz told reporters.

He said while the district continues to work with state lawmakers on pension reform, it was sending budgets out to individual schools on Monday. A complete fiscal 2016 budget, which will include a $61 million property tax increase and must be in place by the end of August, will be released later this summer.

The school system tapped borrowed money to make a $634 million, state-mandated fiscal 2015 payment to the Chicago Teachers' Pension Fund by a June 30 deadline. It also announced $200 million in spending cuts last month that include the elimination of 1,400 jobs.

On Friday, talks with the retirement fund over giving the district a $500 million break on its fiscal 2016 pension payment ended without a deal. [IDnL1N0ZQ28J]

Earlier this month, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who controls the district, called on the state legislature to either create a uniform pension system for all Illinois teachers or pay a bigger chunk of the city's teacher pensions.

The Chicago Teachers' Pension Fund said it received just $62.1 million in fiscal 2015 state appropriations, compared with $3.5 billion for the statewide Teachers Retirement System.

District officials said the upcoming budget would incorporate a $106 million cut in state funding. Still, per-pupil funding will remain at current amounts of $4,390 to $5,444, depending on the grade level.

(Reporting by Karen Pierog; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)