Chicago, IL

Chicago Finance Committee Considers $5,740,000 Request From Board of Educ for Aquaponics Classroom & Plumbing Repair

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

After contentious Chicago City Council meeting last week regarding Board of Education and CPS leaders failure to attend council meetings, request by the Board of Education for almost $5.75 million for an aquaponics classroom in one school and plumbing repairs in another, may create further debate regarding transparency and accountability
Carl Schurz High School where Chicago Board of Edu is requesting $740k TIF assistance for new aquaponics classroomTeemu008/flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The agenda for the coming Finance Committee meeting to be held Monday, November 14th, includes two items related to the Chicago Board of Education. The first item recommends using Tax Increment Financing assistance in the amount of $740,000 to create a new aquaponics classroom at Carl Schurz High School (45th Ward). Aquaponics is combining fish and plant production with hydroponics or growing plants without soil.  The second item recommends using Tax Increment Financing assistance in the amount of $5,000,000 to install a new plumbing system at Marie Sklodowska Curie Metropolitan High School.

These items are coming on the heels of City Council Meeting held last Wednesday, which was convened to consider whether funding should be withheld from the Board of Education and CPS if the CEO of CPS and the President of the Board of Education failed to show up for quarterly meetings to testify about what the money allocated to them was used for. At several points this meeting became contentious.

At the beginning when the committee chair, Ald. Sofia King first disagreed with the way the assistant to the CPS CEO went to represent the school system portrayed the course of events in holding a meeting. She added that a hearing was supposed to be held during that meeting (Nov. 14th), but again the two officials asked to come testify, did not show up. Later a lawyer for the Chicago Board of Education said that the council had no power over the school board and couldn't make any demands, suggesting that attempting to do so could become a concerning legal matter.

While the majority of the Council members were in favor of Ald. Kings ordinance, after allies of the mayor and legal representatives of the school district threatened that the ordinance could cause school improvement projects across Chicago to come to a halt, enough members facing re-election in February voted against the ordinance for it to result in a tie, which defeater the measure. Some of the aldermen were clearly reluctant to vote against the ordinance, acknowledging that financial consequences was the only leverage the City Council had over the school board.

Ald. King has remarked that she feels this isn't right, because the council are responsible for at least knowing what all the money given to the school system is being used for, and that it is being used properly.

On the other side of argument, every year since Mayor Lightfoot has been in office she has placed responsibility on CPS for funding millions of dollars in education related costs that had always been part of the city budget. This will be the first year that the financial burden on the school system will not be fully funded through other types of financial support from other departments in the city.

Some have said that this move by Mayor Lightfoot was in retaliation for the decision to shift to ah elected school board as opposed to having all members chosen by the mayor. Lightfoot did refence this move in explanation of taking funding from the school system, saying now that CPS will be completely independent from City Hall it is no longer a responsibility of the mayor’s office. The concern is that the school system has no long term financial plan in place.

The Chicago Committee on Finance meeting will be held Monday, November 14, 2022 at 121 N LaSalle St Chicago, IL 60602.

Watch a short video about an aquaponics classroom at CCA Academy, a Chicago Alternative School:

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