In the last week’s Hunger Games-style competition for survival, it was developers one, kids with special needs nothing.
That is, several operators unveiled development deals that will undoubtedly require big-time subsidies at roughly the same time the Illinois Board of Education was chastising the Chicago Public Schools for being tightfisted in funding special education.
You know it’s bad when appointees of Governor Bruce Rauner—Mr. School Bankruptcy himself—are chiding CPS for shortchanging the kids.
The developments in question have to do with two prominent Rs—Ricketts and Rezko. The latter is the huge plot of land along the Chicago River just south of Clark and Roosevelt.
I call it Rezko Field cause it was once owned by Tony Rezko, the notorious wheeler-dealer who wound up doing prison time on corruption charges.
The latest owner—Related Midwest—wants to building a sprawling 62-acre development of condos, retail, a high-rise, and restaurants on the site.
As for Ricketts, that’s Tom, owner of the Cubs, who’s eyeing a plan to redevelop the old vehicle fleet yard at Wabansia, just across the street from the Hideout.
Last week Ricketts announced he cut a deal with Sterling Bay, the land’s owner, to bring a soccer team to town and build a soccer stadium with a retractable roof. The Chicago Fire now play in Bridgeview, although the team recently opened a soccer center in North Center.
If you recall, Mayor Emanuel moved the motor vehicle facility to Englewood. So the south side gets the garbage trucks and the north side gets the shiny new soccer stadium.
In the case of Rezko and Ricketts fields, the city or developers have neglected to say how much public subsidies will be required. Be warned, Chicago, both projects are in tax increment financing districts, so it’s just a matter of time before you get stuck with a bill.
Perhaps Mayor Rahm’s holding off on breaking that news until after the 2019 mayoral election.
“My family is very excited at the prospect of bringing professional soccer to Chicago at this terrific new development,” Ricketts said in a press release.
The developers of Rezko Field are also excited. They even have a name for the plan—”the 78th,” on the grounds that it would be the newest community area to be added to the 77 Chicago already has.
Meanwhile, the Illinois Board of Education rebuked the mayor and CPS for “delaying and denying” special education students of crucial services. The state’s even threatening to bring in a monitor to oversee the program.
I say no new communities until you take care of the ones you already have.
Money for schools and developer subsidies comes from the same source. The TIF money that subsidizes development deals is diverted from the property taxes you think you’re paying to CPS.
The neglect in special education goes back to the reign of Forrest Claypool—Emanuel’s last school CEO—who spent about $14 million on fees to consultants. Apparently, their job was to devise ways to keep special education students from getting the attention they needed.
That way CPS could avoid spending money on teachers’ salaries.
For the last few years, there’s been a movement on the part of CPS parents and teachers to force the mayor to spend more money on special education.
In 2017, state rep Sonya Harper of Englewood introduced HB 3720, a bill intended to force the mayor to spend surplus TIF dollars on special education programs.
During house debate, CPS lobbyists pleaded with the reps not to pass the bill.
Instead of working with Harper to bring more money to schoolchildren, CPS fought her every step of the way.
“Their argument was basically: ‘Don’t tell us to spend it, trust us to spend it,'” says Harper.
If ever there was an argument for an elected school board, this was it.
The bill passed the house. But it died in the state senate, a common fate for school bills that Mayor Emanuel opposes.
The city says it will be making decisions on the Rezko and Ricketts developments deals over the next few months.
As long as everyone’s making plans, I suggest special education students and their parents make their own plans to move out of town. Clearly, you’re not welcome in Chicago anymore.