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An overhaul of the district’s career education programs seeks to make classes more challenging and put career-track students on the path to higher ed, but many schools have lost programs, and fewer students are participating overall.

State task force to ask for school closing moratorium

State legislative task force members Thursday night accused CPS leaders of “playing games” and being disingenuous in engaging parents and community members as they move to close and turnaround schools.

 Especially upsetting to members was the fact that throngs of people were paid and bused into community hearings last week to speak in favor of closings, and that the principal of a school slated for closing tried to force students to transfer over Christmas break.

“We want to play nice,” said State Senator Iris Martinez. “But what we have seen is not nice.”

The Illinois Educational Facilities Task Force approved a resolution that CPS was out of compliance with House Bill 630—a bill passed last year that requires the school district to be transparent and follow clear procedures when leaders make facility changes. The only member who did not vote in favor of the resolution was Michael Rendina, who works for CPS as the director of Intergovernmental Affairs

In itself, the resolution does not carry with it much weight. But State Rep. Cynthia Soto, who serves as chairwoman of the task force, said it will be included in a report the task force must submit to legislators. Also, Soto and Martinez said they are going to prepare a bill calling for a one-year moratorium on school closings.

“We just need them to slow down,” she said. Soto noted CPS leadership is new and many of them are not knowledgeable enough about Chicago to make such substantial changes.

In 2009, Soto introduced a similar moratorium. It passed the House of Representatives but an amended bill that withdrew the moratorium and created the facilities task force was eventually signed into law. The task force then crafted and won approval of House Bill 630.

Task force members also demanded that CPS leaders make changes to the community and public hearings. The first round of hearings were last Friday in various venues, but not in the schools that stand to be affected by the actions. At the same locations, a second round of hearings are set to take place next Friday.

Blocks Together co-director Cecile Carroll told Rendina that she wants that changed so that hearings take place in the schools. She also said she would like people with alternative plans to have an opportunity to present them outside of the hearings, where those who sign up to talk have time limits.

As he did for most of the meeting, Rendina took notes, but did not provide any definitive answers or agree to make any changes. On Dec. 1, the task force invited CEO Jean-Claude Brizard to a meeting, but that has yet to be scheduled.

Rendina also attempted to explain why some 80 students at Guggenheim School had transfer notices delivered to their homes over Christmas break.

Guggenheim teacher Kimberly Walls said none of these children or parents asked to be transferred to another school and were called several times by school staff insisting they take the transfer. Transfer papers were slipped under doors or taped on them.

The parents reached out to teachers and staff, who contacted the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless for legal help. Most of them came back to Guggenheim on Monday. But the students were dropped from the school's computer system, creating a range of issues such as them not being registered for after-school programs, said school staff.

Rendina said that a few parents, though admittedly not as many as were handed transfers, talked about leaving the school at a parents' meeting in December. He said the principal, who is new to Guggenheim, thought he would help them along by providing them transfer notices and point them to better options.

“I think he had good intentions,” he said.

Many of these students had addresses outside Guggenheim’s attendance boundary, but were classified as homeless and therefore have the right to stay in the school.

Martinez seemed incredulous that a principal would take these steps. “You mean while the school closing is just a proposal, in the meantime, the principal is transferring students.”

Martinez also was not happy with the attendance of outsiders at the community hearings.

State Representative Esther Golar said she was at the meeting about Reed School in Englewood, which is set to receive Guggenheim students, and saw people arrive on a bus.  She said she talked to them and discovered they were from a halfway house and were paid $25 to come to the meeting.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

8 comments

Matt Farmer wrote 2 years 14 weeks ago

Task Force Meeting

Thank you, Sarah, for getting to the meeting early, staying late, and -- most important -- providing an accurate summary of last night's events.

Maria Guerrero wrote 2 years 14 weeks ago

Task Force

The Task Force was in disbelief at the tactics that CPS has employed against its parents and staff , and their anger was equal to that of the audience that came from a great variety of schools. The very obvious way that CPS has worked against schools with minority children was even highlighted by speakers from north side schools, who spoke of the advantages their neighborhood schools enjoy, and how unfair that was to the children of the south and west side. The Task Force did not ask for anything that did not make sense - except for CPS , of course, which always has its own unique and "Brizard" way of doing things !

Anonymous wrote 2 years 14 weeks ago

HB 630 a bad idea to begin with

Every other school district in the state is able to decide when to close schools due to underenrollment or academic failure. Why is Chicago singled out for special legislation that ties the hands of the managers who administer the schools?

It is not in taxpayers' best interest to throw good money after bad in these small under-enrolled and failing schools. And it certainly is not in the interest of the students stuck in these horrible places.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 14 weeks ago

The state also singled out...

The teacher's in Chicago setting a higher threshold to strike b/c they said it would effect so many. Same goes with this law. Smaller districts know what's going on in their communities. I doubt Rahm and his team know much of anything that goes on in these schools other than the numbers they see. They ignore the fact that other schools here have been shut down and staff turned around in the past with no increase in scores, only to shut down the schools they sent these kids to.

xian barrett wrote 2 years 14 weeks ago

Why SB630?

SB630 aims to address a long lack of transparency, accountability, community voice, scientific backing and equity in school facilities decisions in Chicago. Elsewhere in the state, district must clearly account for their facilities spending. On in Chicago does an unelected board simply take off their share of the facilities funding and do with it as they please.

This has resulted in frequent corruption and rash decisions that negatively impact students. For example, in past school closings, students ended up the same or even lower performing schools. Furthermore, students are often thrown into more chaotic situations with the high transiency. So the net impact on students was negative.

The poster 2 above is asking us to continue the practice of giving massive improvements to politically connected cronies while our students suffer in unmaintained classrooms and schools. This is unconscionable.

Thanks to Senators Martinez and Steans and Representatives Soto and Golar for all of their work on the task force and successful passage of the law. Now we must implement it to the benefit of our students.

Laurene Heybach wrote 2 years 14 weeks ago

Task Force Findings

Sara - The Task Force (of which I am a member) adopted specific findings consistent with our duty to review CPS compliance with the new law. However, you refer to it as a "resolution" and go on to state: "In itself, the resolution does not carry with it much weight. " I am not sure what you mean. Have you examined the 4 pages of factual findings? They are quite significant. I wonder if you couldn't report on those? For example, a chief purpose of the law was to have school action decisions explained through a clear system-wide criteria so people know why their school is picked and not another. But here we are after 10 years of confusion about why one school is closed and not another. This lack of clarity is a fundamental violation of the law.

Jeremy Peters wrote 2 years 13 weeks ago

RE: HB 630 a bad idea to begin with

Nor is it in "tax payers best interest to throw good money after bad" on impetuous and destructive reform efforts that end up either being reversed later and/or causing MORE harm in the long run? Unfortunately this has been the nature of leadership at CPS since 1995. This moratorium is an essential first step towards taking a deep look at the heavy-handed top-down strategy of school reform being pushed by CPS and the Mayor.

Alka wrote 1 year 28 weeks ago

dDOWcJFQvs

Nom 56Well planned nomuopnds may work great, but if you look at places like Argentina, the wealthy gathered in enclaves in urban areas. Those who stayed in the countryside were at high risk of organized home invasion unless they could afford a private army. Even then, once the locals learned the routines, the kidnappings started when traveling into or out of their rural compounds.

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