TIF to provide $50 million for South Loop School
June 4, 2017

City tax increment financing money will provide $50 million to construct a new South Loop Elementary School building. (Graphic Courtesy City of Chicago)

South Loop Elementary School will receive approximately $50 million in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds from the City for construction of a new school building at 16th and Dearborn Streets—an increase from the initial $9 million it was slated to receive.

In April, the City Council approved a construction budget of $62 million for the new building. Some parents of students from neighboring National Teachers Academy (NTA) at 55 W. Cermak Road have expressed concerns at community meetings that the focus on South Loop Elementary may jeopardize the future of NTA. In a letter to NTA parents from Forrest Claypool, CEO, and Janice Jackson, chief education officer of the Chicago Public Schools, the CPS announced that there would be community meetings concerning the future of the school, with conversion to a high school as one possibility. Another possibility, according to the letter, is a change in boundaries that would result in many NTA students attending South Loop School.

The meetings will all be from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 6, Second Presbyterian Church, 1936 S. Michigan Ave.; Tuesday, June 20, South Loop School, 1212 S. Plymouth Ct.; and Wednesday, June 25, NTA, 55 W. Cermak Rd The decision to increase funds for South Loop Elementary comes from concerns that the school is overcrowded. The TIF funds would help the school expand to meet the needs of its growing student body.

The school was built for 690 students, but 835 students are currently enrolled. Emily Bittner, a CPS spokesperson, said that CPS made the decision after talking with the community to make sure that whatever route is taken is the correct one.

“CPS is talking to the community about a comprehensive approach to meet all of the educational needs in the South Loop and surrounding area,” Bittner said.

“We want to make sure that a diverse group of neighborhood residents and children can attend South Loop, and we will also work on a plan to strengthen NTA so that it continues to effectively serve the community.”

The use of TIF funds has been controversial in the city. The money, which is generated by growth in the Equalized Assessed Valuation (EAV) of properties within a designated district, acts as a special funding tool used by the City to promote public and private investment across Chicago, according to the City. According to the CPS, it has received more than $1 billion in TIF funds for capital investments in schools throughout the city over the past decade, with the money distributed by need.

Pat Dowell, Alderman of the 3rd Ward where both South Loop and National Teachers Academy are located, said that she supports the decision. “The funding being used to create this new school comes directly and exclusively from TIFs in and around the South Loop area,” Dowell said. “That is the purpose of TIFs, to create projects to benefit the residents of the TIF area. Just as I returned millions of dollars to Bronzeville schools at the beginning of this academic year by surplusing area TIFs, this project is for the benefit of the residents who live in the South Loop area and have paid into this TIF.”

Tom Tresser, civic educator and editor of the book Chicago Is Not Broke: Funding the City We Deserve, disagreed.

“The fact that the mayor reached into the TIF piggy bank for $50 million proves that Tax Increment Financing in Chicago is a giant slush fund totally at Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s disposal,” Tresser said. “The TIF Illumination Project has documented $1.4 billion of property taxes sitting in TIF accounts. We ask that all that money be released immediately.”

The principals and presidents of the local school councils of both schools were not available for comment.

— Rachel Hinton