Chicago Codes
Alderman Blocks New School

In Chicago's rapidly growing Northwest side, one alderman's reluctance to move forward plans to build a new school is puzzling. Alderman Ray Suarez, of the 31st ward, is using his position as chairman of the Belmont Cragin committee to block efforts to build a new school in the 30th ward where schools are suffering from widespread overcrowding.

Last September, the school board and Mayor Daley voted to build a new grammar school at 5200 West Belmont, land currently occupied by a vacant Jewel. The school is expected to help alleviate school overcrowding not only in the 30th ward, but the 31st and 38th wards as well. After a unanimous vote to begin negotiations on the property, Suarez has kept the matter in committee, blocking it from proceeding to a vote in the full council. Suarez has refused comment on his opposition, and his motives for blocking the school remain unclear.

School board officials suggest his hesitation may be motivated by the proposed use of Tax Increment Financing or TIFs to fund the project. TIFs are accounts created by siphoning off growth in income taxes over a 23-year period. The biggest recipient of income taxes is the school system, and in Chicago's 130 TIF districts, the rates of funds coming into the system are frozen, impeding growth and forcing higher taxes. TIF accounts were designed to boost development in economically distressed areas, but alderman have come to see TIFs as their private slush funds to allocate as they see fit. The estimated $36 million dollar school would exhaust the area's three TIF accounts. Suarez may be blocking the school to keep the school board out of the TIF money.

Based on a story that appeared in the Chicago Reader: