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The race for City Hall

Jobs and schools promise to be top issues in next year’s city elections. The mayor’s education agenda faces its toughest test in the African-American communities that gave him strong support in 2011.

Aldermen take CPS to task over school closings

New CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has said that she wants to separate the discussion on closing under-utilized schools from the discussion about opening charter schools, but at a City Council committee hearing Tuesday it was clear that Byrd-Bennett is unlikely to get her wish.

CPS officials have said that they plan to close as many as 100 schools this year in order to deal with an overcapacity issue of more than 100,000 seats. The situation is a “crisis” because the district is facing a deficit next year of $1 billion, said Todd Babbitz, CPS chief transformation officer.

 “For years we have made ends meet, but we are out of options,” he told aldermen at the hearing.

CPS officials said they will save between $500,000 and $800,000 a year per closed school, which, at best, will take care of 8 percent of the projected deficit. Babbitz admitted Tuesday that consolidating schools is “only one piece of the puzzle,” but said it will allow CPS to provide remaining schools with better facilities, including libraries, playgrounds and air conditioning.

The Education and Child Development Committee hearing was on a resolution that calls for CPS officials to tell aldermen which schools they plan to close, how they chose those schools and why they plan to open more charter schools when the district already has excess capacity.

Committee Chairwoman Latasha Thomas (17th Ward) did not sign onto the resolution, but said she always holds hearings on school closings. She also said this is the first of several hearings that she plans to hold.

Aldermen in year’s past have had hearings on school closings and debated calling for a moratorium (but have never approved such a resolution). Because Chicago has mayoral control over the schools, aldermen have no power in realm of school district business.

At one point, Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd Ward) asked CPS officials if they would commit to putting off the opening of charter schools for at least a year, as they try to “right-size” the district.

Babbitz said he was not in a position to make that promise. CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett was not in attendance at the hearing.

Frank Clark, former Com Ed chairman who was recently appointed by Byrd-Bennett to serve on a school closing commission, also did not speak about charter schools. He said his commission was charged solely with looking at utilization and to come up with a list of schools to be closed. The commission will consider such factors as safety, transportation and the value a school has to the community.

Clark said he was not anti-charter schools, but that charter schools were not within the purview of the commission.

To that, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward) said that the commission has too narrow a focus. “Charter schools are part of the bigger picture,” he said.

Babbitz said CPS has already committed to opening up 9 charter schools next school year.

And there could be more could be approved soon. CPS put out a request for proposals for new schools in August and, through that, got 13 applications.

Charter advocates say they have been told that CPS officials will make their recommendations on new schools to the Board of Education as soon as at the December board meeting. Babbitz also said the charter operators whose proposals that are not recommended could appeal the decision to the state.

On top of that, The Chicago Tribune reported in May that CPS jointly submitted a grant proposal to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation promising to open 60 more charter schools over the next five years.   

Testifying at the hearing, Chicago Teachers Union Organizer Joseph McDermott summed up the question that seemed to linger over the hearing, and perhaps the entire school closing situation.

“If we are to believe that we are closing schools for austerity and there is to be 50,000 charter seats added, are we going to be facing the same fiscal cliff in five years?” he said. “This seems like a zero-sum game.” 

The hearing comes less than a week before the state legislature’s veto session at which lawmakers are expected to vote on an amendment allowing CPS officials to extend the deadline on announcing proposed school closings from Dec. 1 to March 31. Once the school action proposals are announced, CPS still will have to hold official community hearings.

Babbitz said the details haven’t been worked out, but recommendations likely won't make it to the CPS Board of Education agenda until the May board meeting—making it the latest such moves have been made.

Several aldermen and representatives from the CTU said they think that CPS should just wait until next year.

Fioretti said he has had schools in his ward close late in the school year and that parents were left in a bad situation. By then, deadlines to apply for magnet, selective enrollment and many charter schools will have passed.

Byrd-Bennett has said she plans to make sure that parents of targeted schools can still apply to these options. But she and district officials have yet to announce how that would work, especially given that acceptances to such schools will already be in place.

Ald. John Arena (45th Ward) pointed out that state law also calls for CPS to develop a master facilities plan, which isn’t set to be finalized until July. “I think you are putting the cart in front of the horse,” he said.

Arena and other aldermen pushed Clark and Babbitz about the timeline for things to happen, should the deadline be extended. For example, Clark said the commission will review utilization standards and hold community hearings in each neighborhood. The commission's first official meeting is next Tuesday.

Clark said he doesn’t know when different elements of the commission’s work will take place and even suggested it could go beyond the March 31st deadline.

“I think we can do what we have to do before March 31st, but I am not sure,” he said.


This story has been corrected.


Anonymous wrote 2 years 7 weeks ago

It is truely right & just to put off opening any more charters

for a year, until the district can get their act togther and “right-size” themelves and utilization list. The Il Leg shoud'nt extend the date unless CPS agrees to this in writng and at the December Board meeting.

Sick of it wrote 2 years 7 weeks ago

CPS should stop closings or announce them ASAP

76% of CPS schools have classrooms that are over the limit for class size.

Maybe we could be utilizing schools more efficiently and effectively if our typical class size was 24 rather than 32 students.

CPS's decision to close neighborhood schools (that have union teachers who are fighting for lower class sizes) and open charter schools (that have non-CTU teachers who can be fired if they fight for lower class sizes) is not surprising.

CPS should put a moratorium on school closings and charter openings for two years while they come up with a workable plan for the district. If they aren't willing to do that (which they aren't) they should announce their intended school closings ASAP so communities can give input and families and employees can start planning.

It seems that CPS uses chaos as a management tool... this is no different.

George N. Schmidt wrote 2 years 7 weeks ago

Weak reporting. Aldermen, CTU flayed CPS FNGs

Once again, corporate Chicago is well served by incomplete and dishonest reporting here. But in addition to my reporting and the astute aldermen who were paying very close attention to the nonsense from CPS, there were, by my count, more than 100 people from across the city listening yesterday. Together, I'm confident that once again the people will put together what official print deliberately distorts.

I'm looking forward to going back and forth about the versions of what took place yesterday (November 19) at the City Council hearings. The hearings lasted more than two hours, and were a follow up to others in past years that have given more and more of our aldermen experience in exposing CPS lies.

A complete report will be at, as the 100 community leaders who attended can attest. Ten aldermen made strong statements and asked pointed questions to the latest group of CPS officials who were there to engage in the usual doubletalk and fatuous talking points. But the signal fact about the hearings was that not one of the CPS officials who spoke (or the guy from the "Commission") except the aggressive Ms. Little (whose latest title is something like "Chief Network Chief Chief...") has been with CPS for more than two years -- and every alderman there knew it!

CPS has been churning its top administrators like a buttermaker for the past several years, but when Todd failed to answer one specific question, it was clear that CPS was out of its league in the face of local elected officials who actually knew what they were talking about. Every alderman who asked a pointed question -- and there were dozens -- was coming from experience in the actual schools of the real Chicago.

In response they got repeated talking points from CPS officials, and some fatuous assurances from Mr. Clark, who should never have agreed to serve as the fig leaf for Barbara Byrd Bennett's attack on the law.

Ironically, CPS hid the one man at the meeting who actually knows intimately the history of every school closing hearing -- and every facility reality -- for the past decade or more. Jim Dispensa, who until recently was the CPS demographer, was seated behind a pillar in the back. Dispensa can forget more in a day about the realities of CPS facilities than the complete army of FNG administrators could learn in a month from their rehearsals with Becky Carroll and Robyn Ziegler on the latest simplistic talking points.

Of course, the fact that four people with a lifetime's experience in the public schools spoke on behalf of the CTU and the principals was largely ignored in this version of reality Catalyst puts on the record. There were four people who spoke at the hearing's end, each with precision that CPS is incapable of: Joey McDermott, Kurt Hilgendorf, and Brandon Johnson of the CTU and Clarice Berry of the Chicago Principals Association.

At least Catalyst should have reported that Kurt Hilgendorf, who on behalf of CTU has studied every CPS budget for the past ten years, caught and outed CPS in the Biggest Lie. The Big Lie, this and in past years, is the "deficit." Kurt pointed out, on the record, that the last time CPS (back when a guy named Ron Huberman was CEO) claimed it was facing a "deficit" of ONE BILLION DOLLARS!!! at the beginning of a fiscal year, by the end of that same fiscal year (FY 2011), the system wound up with a surplus of more than $300 million. Of course, the majority of corporate hacks who report on CPS ignored the annual CAFR, which exposed that particular lie. And so it wasn't reported from yesterday's testimony.

The FY 2012 CAFR will be provided to the Board of Education, as usual, at the December meeting. It will, again, show how big the lie was told in March, April, May and June 20111, when the FY 2012 budget was being talked about. The same pattern of lies will be exposed, and the same ignorance will be shown by my brothers and sisters in Chicago's corporate media.

And then, in December 2013, we will get the FY 2013 CAFR and learn that as we speak today, CPS was, once again, lying about that current "deficit." And that crazy claim, that went as far as Moody's, that CPS had "drained the reserves" in order to balance this coming year's budget. Of course, history is never news, and a talking point is as good as any other quote when fictional "news" is being reported, as this is today.

How could Todd Babbitz know anything about CPS? As he testified under questioning from the aldermen, he's only been at CPS a few months, had no previous educational experience, and, adding insult to injury, had been badly rehearsed in his handful of poor talking points by another department of mercenaries -- the CPS "Office of Communications" under Becky Carroll and the newly crowned Robyn Ziegler.

Go Family wrote 2 years 7 weeks ago

Knowledge is Power

George, we should elect you as the next CEO of CPS. Thank you for your insight and update for those of us that were clueless. I assumed you are against closing schools. But, keep in mind something needs to be done now on CPS expenses. CPS is spending $10 vs $5 which is all it has in the purse. They are in the red. How do you propose to resolve this issue? We need solutions now! The tax payers are sick of bad teachers and principals in our system. The city needs to fix this once and for all. I think the new mayor is trying to do his best to do exactly that. In the following year, we will see the results of his fruits. I moved my son to one of these schools that had the principal and some of the staff replaced. I can say that alot of positive changes has taken placed at our school. It takes good leadership skills and guts to do the right things for our kids. Engaging parents to be involved with their children's education. There are parents that make alot of noise, as a front to distract from the real issues in need to be resolve. Part of the problem is that some of the parents do not see themselves as the problem and do not accept the fact that their child needs help to deal with their issues. So they blame the education system. They feel the education system can fix their children's problems. Well, that is not true. The education system can only identify there is a problem and the parents has to take the child to be evaluated by a specialist. For some reason our educators do not want to make that suggestion to the parents and continue to allow the child to continue in school with the learning or behavior issues. No one benefits from this by looking the other way. Educators are frustrated and tired. Hope this help others to understand my point of view as a parent, mentor and educator.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 7 weeks ago

Kurt Hilgendorf, a CTU

Kurt Hilgendorf, a CTU researcher and legislative activities staffer, spoke yesterday, November 20, 2012, at the Chicago City Council Education Committee Hearings on School Closings.

Kurt Hilgendorf taught history, economics and psychology at John Hope HS in Englewood and Von Steuben HS in Albany Park. Below is an edited version of his comments.

Executive Summary

"School closings are wrenching and demand careful decision-making. The district needs additional time to chose the schools it will close. But it must also ask for a delay in implementation of the closings. That crucial step cannot be rushed.

For that reason, we recommend that CPS take no school actions until at least December 1, 2013. The law does not require school closures, and the public is solidly opposed to them. It would be far better for CPS to take a year to develop a stable utilization plan before destroying school communities.

We are concerned that CPS has created a new commission to solicit input from the community on the closings. The existing Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force (CEFTF) was created by state statute in 2010. CEFTF represents the community and is made up of a representative range of stakeholders: legislators, CPS officials, CTU members, local school council members, community organizations, and community members

The new CPS commission, however, is a confusing duplication of effort with a focus that is much too narrow. It will avoid discussion of charter school openings on CPS utilization rates. Ordinary common sense dictates that the CPs commission must develop a plan that includes the new charters it plan to open. Also it is not possible for the community to provide the new CPS commission with useful input if the commission will not say which schools CPS will close.


There are three reasons for a hold on school actions until December 1, 2013.

First, CPS -- with more than 600 facilities -- has no master plan on how to use them. It will not have a plan in place at the end of March 2013, when CPS plans to close up to 100 schools. Without proper planning, if the district closes 60 neighborhood schools but adds 60 charters in the next few years, it will end up with the same problem it has today -- continued underutilization.

Second, CPS’ projected cost savings is minimal. Even at the inflated number of $500,000 to $800,000 per building -- savings could at most reach $80 million. That is only 1.5% of the district’s operating budget; a small gain for the large amount of distress closing 100 schools will cause.

Third, CPS created the utilization problem by aggressively expanding charter schools. Over the past 10 years, CPS added 50,000 charter seats, while Chicago lost 8% of its population. Opening charters causes underfunded neighborhood schools to lose students, and the vast majority of underutilized neighborhood schools are near charters. Even some charters are underutilized, according to CPS’s formula.

The fourth and final reason we oppose the district’s proposal is that a legislative amendment is unnecessary. School actions are not required by law. Rather than change the rules in the middle of the game, the district should take the time to do the process effectively.

It is useful to remember the following examples of problems with earlier CPS closings.

CPS has not tracked the 7,700 students who were
part of last year’s school actions. The district has little information about these students, even though state law required tracking and support. Of those 7,700 students, almost 1,000 were homeless.

School actions have been concentrated on the South and West sides of the city, and African American students make up 88% of those children affected by school actions. Remember, school actions destroy stability in school communities, and the district has targeted only certain communities.

Students displaced by school closings, especially those tied to performance, have ended up at schools that perform no better than the schools they left. The district’s actions have failed the “educationally sound” test that the facilities law established.

Truancy is a more pressing issue than school closings. During the period that CPS undertook school actions, it went without truant officers. As a recent Tribune series outlined, chronically truant students are a significant problem for the city, both in terms of worse student outcomes and the loss of millions in state funding. CPS has not proposed a reinstatement of truant officers.

CPS is asking teachers to create new curricula aligned to new tests that students must master at the same time it proposes major facility reorganization. Any of these initiatives would individually require several years to analyze the process and assess. When these initiatives are combined, the district is creating a logistical nightmare.

Despite the complexity of these actions, there is little evidence to suggest that the current leadership has the capacity to simultaneously complete a master plan, work with schools to combine instructional staffs and merge organizational cultures, develop a safety and security approach, organize new transportation schedules and routes, and solicit input from community members."

Valerie F. Leonard wrote 2 years 7 weeks ago

Parents, Community Groups & Rank and File Citizens Were Muzzled

I thank Catalyst for the article, and George Schmidt for providing additional insights.

I am a North Lawndale resident and Co-Founder of the Lawndale Alliance. I attended the hearing, along with over 100 activists from around the City. We were very disappointed that there was no public participation. A number of people took off work so that they could provide anecdotal evidence from the perspectives of communities that are most likely to be impacted. I am sharing the comments I would have made if I were given the opportunity at the hearing.

Disengenuous Alderman wrote 2 years 7 weeks ago

Aldermen take CPS to task over school closings

How can an alderman take CPS to task on school closings, especially the certain slumlords who stack in as many CHA residents as they can into an already struggling community. The alderman know for sure that when these low income families take the major standardized exam like ISAT, it will force an already struggling school into academic probation. I prefer non-charter schools and hate to see a community school shuttered, but it is also not fair for an alderman to attack CPS, if they destroy communities themselves by using CHA families to saturate a community to create a voting block for their aldermanic elections.

If poverty really does cause low performance for many low income families and the community schools are hanging by a thread in terms of academic probation, then why would an aderman usher in even more CHA to a community that already has the homeowners outnumbered and complain about schools being closed!! This seems so hypocritical to me. How can you point your finger at someone when you are a big part of the problem yourself??

First set a good example of building economically thriving coomunities that have a strong tax base of working residents who have a vested interest in their children's education. A community satured with failing low income CHA residents equals failing schools or are you too uncaring to realize this because you're busy creating your voting block for the 2015 aldermanic election.

Asinine Decision Makers wrote 2 years 7 weeks ago

Aldermen take CPS to task over school closings

So what you seem to be saying is certain aldermen make their own fair share of asinine decisions that impact the community, so why should they place CPS in the hot seat on school decisions when they are an equal partner in shuttering thriving communities; the slumlord one's. (LOL)

Anonymous wrote 2 years 7 weeks ago

The many aldermen who questioned CPS were very well informed,

on education. They were impressive: Fioretti, Arena, Wguespak, ODowell, Cochran, etc. It was clear that they had done considerable reading on a many topics, among them:
that CPS has no master plan on how to best utilize its schools;
that CPS had created the under utilization problem by opening charters that drew students from neighborhood schools;
that CPS underfunds neighborhood schools for 5 to 10 years ifit wants to close them;
that CPS wants to keep secret the schools it will close until March 31, 2013, but CPS will go full speed ahead with actual school closings;
that CPS has created a commission that will ask the community for input on closings, but the commission will not tell the community which schools it will close, making it impossible for the community to have real input; and that all this is really just a way to privatize our public schools ... to set up corporations to profit fro Chicagoans tax dollars ... since charters are not out performing CPS schools.

By contrast, the CPS staff who came said nothing of value.

George N. Schmidt wrote 2 years 7 weeks ago

Rose, Cawley, Sicat among the 'disappeared'?

One of the rule of reporting we try to follow at Substance when we do analytical reporting is "cite source and context." Another is that you don't know what you're seeing until you've looked at it again.

Reviewing both my notes and my 150 photographs from the City Council hearing, it was clear, rather quickly, that CPS has had -- yawn... -- another purge. It wasn't only Jean-Claude Brizard and Becky Carroll (Robyn Ziegler is the new Becky Carroll, for those who've been following the quotes from on high) who were being disappeared. Six months ago, the people giving Power Point included Oliver Sicat and Tim Cawley. A year ago those of us at the school closing hearings witnessed Sicat joined by Jamiko Rose (long since disappeared) giving Power Point at Westinghouse and Simeon.

The story I hope we can pursue next week, in addition to the fun in Springfield, will be to talk to Iris, Cynthia and Howard about how they were convinced to allow CPS to get away with this illegal attack on SB 630 -- and the work of four years. The secret establishment of the "Commission" (which somehow becomes better than the old Task Force) will really be a story worth telling and thinking about.

Of course, the official nonsense pouring from the various ministries of propaganda at both City Hall and Clark Street will include distractors. David Vitale's home during the strike. Poor Penny Pritzker's Romneyesque tax dodges being exposed and protested against. (Bit of history: A. N. invented most of those dodges that the Romneys of the USA are using to burnish their reputation as traitors, but that's a much longer story; at least A.N. appreciated public schools and thanked the one that helped him...).

'Tis the season to be optimistic. And with the recent Tribune return to reporting (and investigations) with the truancy stories, I'm guarded. Catalyst can continue to replicate nonsense like that "gazillion dollar" deficit (even during the month the CAFR comes out). But as more and more intelligent citizens -- and aldermen -- ask the relevant questions, we don't need to rely on the paid propagandists of the plutocracy to proffer their punditry as fact. This is the post Romney era, and at least for a time Karl Rove's prognostications are no longer pouring sludgelike off the Wall Street Journal's Op Ed pages. Perhaps, after a couple of decades of slavish nonsense, Chicago's "independent" journalists will also find their way back to fact, history, and context.

Happy holidays.

Melanie Wojtulewicz wrote 2 years 6 weeks ago

Is Under-utilized the same as small?

Several years ago it was very fashionable when Bill Gates was running things in Chicago to have "small" schools. Now "small" schools are called under-utilized. My little brain has a hard time comprehending all of this.

George N. Schmidt wrote 2 years 6 weeks ago

Small schools is so last decade...

Bill Gates put his money where his mouth is and pushed "small schools" on Chicago (and elsewhere) for several years, beginning in the late 1990s and continuing through the early Duncan years. The pseudo-intellectual underpinnings of that racist nonsense were, as is often the case, provided by the savants at my Alma Mater, the University of Chicago. For a time, they talked about something called "personal press" as the secret to bringing what they called "achievement" (viz. higher test scores, even for schools without library, art, music, sports, etc., etc.) to the black and brown children of our ghettos and barrios. "Personal Press" and the other small schools stuff was going to do the job. The "secret sauce," so to speak (using the cliche Rahm likes to use about the Noble Network of charter frauds and hoaxes...).

Millions of CPS and Gates (and other) dollars went into pushing "small schools" -- for the black and brown children of urban America. When I was on the leadership team at Bowen High School, we were being pressured by none other than Martin Koldyke, the millionaire Venture Capitalist and AUSL big shot, to dissolve Bowen into small schoolsy thingies. At a meeting, I demanded to know why if "Small Schools" were so really good for high schools Koldyke and his ilk were not exporting it to the wealthy suburbs (such as New Trier, where Koldyke and his family lived), Glenbard, Stevenson, Glenbrook, etc. Where all the rich white kids were going to public schools that had everything (I had been studying them even then). Why did our kids at Bowen get "small schools" and the kids in Winnetka, Lincolnshire, Glen Ellyn, and Northbrook get really big high schools that had everything (enough to make a grown man cry going up there from Bowen...). Why not just play suburb and give our kids big high schools with all the smaller class sizes, clinicians, sports, extra curricular activities, etc., etc. etc.

"I WILL NOT BE CALLED A RACIST BY THE LIKES OF YOU!" the capitalist thundered in reply and then went on, for five minutes, to list all the anti-racist stuff he and his family were doing.

Actually, I hadn't said that he was a racist, since it's obvious he's not. He's just promoting another example of white supremacist ruling class nonsense, which is different. Arne Duncan's not a racist, either, but his Race To The Top is as great a white supremacist attack on black people as anything since Jim Crow and the Klan.

Anyway, for a decade, small schools were profitable to a lot of university types. A couple of guys at the University of Illinois got more than a million bucks out of CPS over about eight years doing small schools on places like Bowen. Some of them even exported their talent to other cities. Castlemont High School in Oakland, for example, was small schoolsed into ruin by the former principal of CVS, who was hailed by the Clinton administration for her greatness. The joke in Oakland was that the Castlemont scam paid for her Florida house.

Then, one day, Gates changed his mind and began shoveling the dollars into "turnaround." I reported that the day it was announced for Chicago at They held a press conference at Sherman "School of Excellence" that morning, Duncan, Daley, Koldyke, and that year's local version of the Gates team to announce that "turnaround" was the thing and "small schools" was no longer the thing. By that time, Duncan had already announced that Orr High School (the Orrs, we called it, during its small schoolsy days) was going to get turnarounded in June.

So in 2008 "small schools" ended abruptly because the rich guys (in our case, Gates and Koldyke) changed their minds.

When I asked at that press conference to Daley whether he was going to apologize to the teachers at Orr, who had done all that hard work on their "small schools," Jackie Heard, Daley's press flack, immediately ended the press conference. No answer. Daley had been "Principal for a Day" year after year during Orr's small schoolsy days, and had personally shaken hands with the peasants on many the occasion.

In June 2008, more than 90 percent of the Orr teachers were abruptly dumped -- "turnaround" was the new thing. Just ask Arne and the U.S. Department of Education.

One nice touch about the Orr atrocity (and hypocrisy) came that same time. The "Phoenix Military Academy" was silently transferred out of the Orrs just before the rest of the small schools at Orr were turnarounded. Phoenix rose from its own ashes over at the old Grant Elementary School, which currently jointly hosts Phoenix (U.S. Army) and the Marine Military Academy (soon to be relocated to Ames if the tyrant has his way)...

But that's another story for another time.

The histories of all this stuff are stubborn, but have a way of staying with us even as the narrators of the other realities preach on and on and on. Just as the KOCO people have kept track of the attacks on the Bronzeville schools since the ruling class launched the "Mid-South Plan" a decade ago, and the Lawndale people have walked block by block to challenge the white supremacist version of reality that says that charters and turnarounds are the salvation of their children, so the truth comes out, eventually, about this other stuff, including the Small Schools Scam.

And as I write this, I wonder whatever happened to "personal press."

I bet there was more than one PhD or EdD in that silliness before it got dumped like a trucker's bomb on the side of the road. After all, if you can't make a buck out of the eternal "crisis" in urban public schools, what good are they to the professors?

Anonymous wrote 2 years 6 weeks ago

No small and underutilized

No small and underutilized are not the same. George explained small schools, a theory / practice used in some high schools.

Underutilized means that schools have too few students enrolled. There is a state facilities task force (CEFTF for short) that has looked at the CPS method for setting utilization rates. It found that CPS overstates the number of schools are an underutilized. Raise Your Hand Illinois also researched utilization rates recently. It found that 76% of CPS schools had at least some classrooms that were overcrowded.

Google CEFTF and RYH for more info.

Rod Estvan wrote 2 years 6 weeks ago

Access Living's position on CPS definition of underutilized

Access Living formally submitted this statement to CPS:

Comments on CPS 2012-2013 Draft School Action Guidelines

By Rodney D. Estvan M.Ed.
Education Policy Analyst
November 13, 2012

We would begin our commentary on the proposed school action guidelines by stating we believe it was a positive development that CPS provided the public and organizations like Access Living that work in the public interest with a commentary period for these guidelines. As the Chicago Public Schools are aware Access Living's primary mission is to increase the ability of people with disabilities to be full participants in society and the education of children and young adults with disabilities plays a foundational role in our mission.

Because the CPS draft school action guidelines are predicated on the Space Utilization Standards we are required to restate Access Living's objections to those standards prior to addressing issues relating directly to the guidelines themselves.

Problems with the existing CPS Space Utilization Standards:

Access Living has long objected to what the utilization standards call "ancillary classrooms." In prior versions of CPS utilization standards these rooms were called "BA" rooms, meaning below average sized classrooms. While "A," sized classrooms, were defined by CPS as "measuring 600 square feet or more," the square footage of ancillary or BA classrooms were never defined by CPS. CPS has claimed for years that spaces not designed as classrooms, such as offices, lunchrooms, or storage rooms, and used as teaching stations were excluded from capacity calculations. But our experience has been that if a space has historically been used as a classroom for students with disabilities CPS has rarely done deep research to determine the design intent of such spaces. Access Living has found windowless rooms at schools designated as self contained classrooms for severely disabled students.

It is Access Living's position that each CPS student disabled or not disabled should be provided with adequate space to learn in. Based on standards used in Washington DC, we believe CPS should define an adequate space to learn in as being about 150 square feet (sf) per student in grades k-5; 170 sf per student in grades 6-8; and 180 sf per student in high schools. Using this standard a CPS self-contained classroom for eight severely disabled students at the primary level would have to be at least the size of a standard sized classroom.

The next major objection Access Living has with the CPS 2011 utilization standards is the concept of "maximum capacity." It is the same for every full sized classroom at the elementary school level and it is 30 students. But a classroom that is designated for special education students placed legally by the school district in separate settings can under no condition even have as many as 30 students and in some cases under State law can be required to have as few as 8 students. The effect of this concept is to make almost all non- ancillary classrooms used for students with disabilities placed in self-contained settings effectively underutilized classrooms.

Access Living believes that this is profoundly wrong because it has the effect of causing schools to avoiding putting self-contained classes in full sized rooms to keep from having the classrooms designated as being underutilized. A standard sized classroom used for self-contained classes with a legally required lower teacher to student ratio needs to have a different utilization standard than the same room being used for a regular class with a much higher teacher to student ratio.

The problems with the draft guidelines for school actions 2012-2013 school year:

Aside from the major fact that the major defining aspect of the draft guidelines themselves, the utilization standards are in our opinion at best problematic and at worst inconsistent with State administrative regulations, we find other problems with the draft guidelines themselves.

In a subsection titled "Additional Information to Consider" we read:

"In determining whether to propose a closure, consolidation, reassignment boundary change, or phase-out, the CEO may consider other information including, but not limited to: safety and security, school culture and climate, school leadership, quality of the school facility, school type and programming, family and community feedback received throughout the school year independent from the process described below, analysis of transition planning costs, neighborhood development plans, whether the school has recently been affected by any school actions, changes in academic focus or actions taken pursuant to 105 ILCS 5/34-8.3, or proximity, capacity and performance of other schools in the community."

Access Living believes that far greater definition of these various considerations need to be made. For example, the idea of the quality of the school facility. A building could be considered to be in good condition and have had thousands of dollars of work done on it over the years and be completely non-accessible based on modern ADA standards. Conversely a building could have been made accessible by CPS at great cost but could be underutilized. What then? Does CPS close an underutilized school that is ADA compliant and transfer students to a large building with space that is in good condition, but is totally non-accessible? These are clear problems we want to see defined and addressed in a straight forward manner. It is Access Living's position that CPS should prohibit the closing of any school that has been made largely ADA compliant if that school's population, both students with and without disabilities, cannot be placed in an equally accessible facility. CPS has made get progress in making more schools accessible, but currently only about half of CPS schools are accessible, so those schools that are accessible need to be preserved.

Another significant problem with this passage is its vague reference to "programming" of a school CPS is considering action for. Clearly, if a school designated as underutilized has five self contained classrooms for students with significant forms of autism, cognitive disabilities, or multiple disabilities, that should be additional information to be considered. Moreover, because most non-cross categorical self contained programs have students coming from different areas the geographical location of the program itself is a critical consideration in closing such a school and relocating self-contained special education programs. A failure in the analysis of these factors can result in CPS losing more money by closing a school than keeping it open.

These issues need to be fully discussed in the Action Guidelines.

Notice and school transition plans:

We reserve comment on this section until Access Living actually sees a transition plan for a school that is proposed to be closed that has a significant special education population. In the past the "supports for students with disabilities," being moved as part of a school action were at best pro forma and we hope for better in the future.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 6 weeks ago

CPS properties

What about the CPS rentals such as Elizabeth street and the building on Austin. CPS rents that space. I believe those buildings are in a blind trust. Does CPS need to rent buildings and parking spaces when we have " under utilized school buildings?

Anonymous wrote 2 years 6 weeks ago

In a blind trust? So who is

In a blind trust? So who is getting the rent?

helenkeller wrote 2 years 6 weeks ago

Special Education Teachers

At my school we have a closet (the building plans list it as supply closet) which is 20 feet by 8 feet without a window. The previous principal had seven children with disabilities, one teacher and two SECAs housed in this room. One of the children was in a wheelchair. Central office staff and the regional staff did not address this situation even though they were aware of it. The teacher, unfortunately, was too afraid of the principal to file a grievance, the case manager quite simply did the principal's bidding and the SECAS had no job protection. It was a horrible situation. Thankfully, the new principal knows that it was a fire trap. Yes, we did have fire drills-CFD never caught it.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 6 weeks ago

Helen K., Raise Your Hand is

Helen K., Raise Your Hand is looking for examples like yours, to clarify CPS' facilities utilization study. You might re-post there.

George N. Schmidt wrote 2 years 6 weeks ago

More CPS lies... Charters' getting leases for $1 per year

This morning's news claims from Becky Carroll are, as usual, ridiculous. First, the claim that CPS is facing that billion dollar "deficit" for FY 2014 has been refuted time and again. The most recent refutation came from the CTU's Kurt Hilgendorf during his testimony at City Council on November 20. He reminded the aldermen that the last time CPS claimed is was facing a "billion dollar deficit" as before the FY 2011 budget was put through by Ron Huberman -- and yet CPS ended FY 2011 with a surplus of more than $300 million! Huberman had been lying with his Chicken Little claims to Senator Cullerton to get that billion dollar ripoff of the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund, and it worked. Had that $1.2 billion been invested by the pension fund during those years, the fund, given its returns since 2010, would have brought in around $200 million. Instead, CPS lied and robbed the pension fund.

Another "Manufactured Crisis" as our friend David Berliner wrote in his book 20 years ago, followed by some Shock Doctrine nonsense, as our friend Naomi Klein wrote in her book five years ago.

These liars never change.

The second bit of nonsense this morning comes from the resurrected Becky Carroll. In addition to peddling the "deficit" lie, Becky is also lying about the supposed "savings" CPS will get by closing schools.

Actually, the majority of closings in the past decade (since the "renaissance" began under Arne Duncan) are costing CPS a fortune. Here's how.

CPS rehabs the school building, as a cost of anywhere from $5 or $10 million (Bunche and Morse, to take two) to $20 to $30 million (Austin and Calumet) and then closes the school as a CPS school. The reasons shift like some shape shifting zombie show.

Then CPS leases the building, freshly painted and rehabbed, to a charter schools (Polaris got Morse; St. Mel's got Bunche; a couple of strange charter thingies got Austin; Perspectives got Calumet) for


But that's not all.

Buried deep in the fine print, CPS is also providing the charter school that's in that building with various services, from watchman to psychologists and social workers.

Nice scam.

But Becky Carroll is, as usual, lying when she claims CPS is going to "save" a penny on the closings.

CPS is going to waste a fortune transferring these properties into the charter schools' "portfolios." Just as CPS had been doing for ten years.

And that's why Frank Clark and Barbara Byrd Bennett are going around prattling about how the charter piece is not part of the conversation about the closing and consolidation piece. Of course not.

First they will close these real public schools, screwing more communities.

And a few months later, the predatory charter operators will get another sweetheart deal on a perfectly good, recently rehabbed public building...


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