At the risk of sounding overly optimistic, let me start by pointing out the good news in the Board of Education’s recent four-to-three vote to keep cops in schools.
It was a small step by the board toward democracy and away from mayoral rubberstampocracy.
Now let’s get down to business.
The recent vote is less about what goes on in a classroom and more about mayoral budget games. Or, specifically, who will pay for the 200 or so police officers assigned to the public schools—Chicago Public Schools or the Chicago Police Department?
I say the police department should pay. As the schools, always on the edge of bankruptcy, need every nickel they can get for classroom expenses. And, besides, until now, it was a slam dunk to get the City Council to approve more money for police.
Well, as we learned long ago, our mayors—Daley, Rahm, and Lightfoot—rarely agree with me. On this, or anything.
And so, since 2010, the Board of Education has agreed to send roughly $105 million of its desperately needed funding to the police department to pay for cops in schools, whose students and teachers may not have wanted them in the first place.
How is it that the fiduciary overseers of a broke-ass school system would agree to give all that money to the police department?
The answer is the same for why they agree to give hundreds of millions of property tax dollars to the mayoral TIF slush fund every year.
They do it cause the mayor tells them to do it. Mayoral obedience traditionally being the common denominator for any school-board appointee.
Until now, apparently. Again—thank you, three dissenting board members. Oh, I might as well name them: Elizabeth Todd-Breland, Luisiana Melendez, and Amy Rome.
Back to the budget.
When it comes to finances in Chicago, the budget is like a gargantuan pot filled by taxes, fines, fees, federal and state aid, etc.
The mayor controls pretty much all of it. That’s why so many people want to be mayor. Money is power.
Sometimes the mayor takes from Peter to pay Paul, as they say. The worst case being the aforementioned tax increment financing program. Man, if the Black Lives Matter activists ever discover TIFs? It’s over!
But I digress . . .
As I said, since 2010, CPS has sent the police department about $105 million. I say “about” because I pieced together a summary based on searching through various intergovernmental agreements.
What? You think the mayor—whoever he or she may be—is going to make this easy to follow?
Basically, you paid your taxes to the schools in the name of education. And the schools sent $105 million to the police department.
The money transfer is arranged through intergovernmental agreements that are “negotiated” between CPS and the police department.
I use quotes because this is not a traditional negotiation where two independent parties cut a deal.
Oh, no, the chief executive officer of CPS and the superintendent of police are mayoral appointees. As such, they do what the mayor tells them to do.
And for much of the last decade, the mayor has told CPS to send that money to the police department. And CPS officials have said—yes, boss. As they generally do when the mayor makes a demand.
This money transfer started with Daley and was continued by Mayor Rahm until November of 2015 when Forrest Claypool, Rahm’s handpicked school CEO, announced that from here on out, the cops would pick up the tab.
This policy change occurred at around the time that a Cook County judge ordered Mayor Rahm to release a video showing police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald.
My guess is that even Mayor Rahm figured—you know, it might not be a good idea to take money from the schools to pay for the cops. What with protesters in the streets and all.
In 2019 the school board, filled with Lightfoot appointees, went back to the old ways and “negotiated” a deal to send $33 million to the police for the school year.
That’s where things stood until Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd, and the world exploded.
A few weeks ago, Todd-Breland proposed to terminate the intergovernmental agreement (she’d been the only board member to vote against it last August) and effectively remove cops from schools.
Mayor Lightfoot immediately objected.
Well, the mayor said it’s because Local School Councils—boards of parents, teachers, and community representatives at each school—had wanted the police.
In reality, the LSCs didn’t have much of a choice. It’s not like the mayor said—you can keep the cops or take the money it costs to pay their salaries and spend it on something else. Like a nurse, or a social worker, or a Spanish teacher, or whatever you want.
No, it was either keep the cops—or lose the cops.
My theory as to why the mayor objected to Todd-Breland’s proposal? She wasn’t about to have a mayoral appointee tell her how to spend city money. It’s sort of why the mayor sent city lawyers to court to fight a suit by activists to torpedo the Lincoln Yards TIF deal.
Like I said—money is power. Start giving that up and a mayor’s not much more than a glorified alderman.
In a couple of months, the board will reconsider the issue. The intergovernmental agreement expires in August.
Here’s my suggestion: if an LSC wants cops in its school, let them have them. But make the police department pick up the costs.
If they don’t want the cops, give them the authority to spend the money saved on salaries on something or someone they do want.
It really would be good news if, for once, the schools weren’t pawns in the mayor’s budget games. v