Broken bonds: The school edition
As enrollment plunged, spending soared
You couldn't ask for a better — or more infuriating — explanation for the financial implosion of Chicago Public Schools than Sunday's installment of the Tribune's "Broken Bonds" series.
To sum up: Chicago Public Schools officials were warned more than a decade ago that demographic trends showed some neighborhoods would see big drops in the number of students who live there. There wouldn't be enough children to sustain all the schools. What did CPS officials do? They issued billions of dollars in bonds to repair, expand or replace the vast majority of the district's schools regardless of future needs and without voter input, an investigation by reporters Jason Grotto, Alex Richards and Heather Gillers found.
CPS officials over the years have piled up construction debt, shortchanged the teachers' pension funds and committed money from tax increment financing districts to pay down debt, all to support a budget and real estate footprint that is unsustainable.
The Tribune investigation found:
• Officials poured $1.5 billion into schools that today are less than 60 percent full. One example: More than $100 million was funneled into 12 schools in East Garfield Park, West Garfield Park and Humboldt Park, communities that, combined, experienced a nearly 50 percent decline in births between 1990 and 2009.
• Overall, CPS invested a staggering $100 million in underutilized schools that were closed this year. About half of that spending happened after districtwide enrollment drops were