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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.

CPS: School closures could halt after this round

If CPS gets extra time to plan this year's round of school closures, district leadership is pledging to stop closing schools for the following 5 years. That announcement made by CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett Monday provided one of the backdrops for the first Commission on School Utilization meeting. Another backdrop was a state legislative hearing set for Tuesday, when lawmakers will consider a bill to extend the deadline to announce school closings from Dec. 1 to March 31.

If CPS doesn’t get the extension, the district may not move forward with the closings this year. “As Barbara has said, we cannot close schools without engaging the community,” CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said before Byrd-Bennett’s Monday afternoon talk at the City Club of Chicago.

The bill is being sponsored by State Sen. Iris Martinez, who is a co-chair of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, a body that has in the past been critical of the way CPS carried out school actions. Martinez is also on the closings commission.

Martinez said State Rep. Cynthia Soto is co-sponsoring the bill with her. But Soto did not return calls confirming the sponsorship. Some grassroots activists and the Chicago Teachers Union said they were unaware that Soto was sponsoring the bill.

If the extension bill gets the support of Martinez and Soto, it likely it will be approved. However, Martinez said that there will probably be many amendments to the bill that put more stipulations on CPS, such as requiring that students in targeted schools get to apply to magnet, selective enrollments and charter schools once the decisions are announced.

At a speech at the City Club on Monday, Byrd-Bennett said that if CPS doesn’t close schools this year, the results will be dire.

“We are facing a daunting fiscal future,” Byrd-Bennett said in the speech, which also noted the district’s ballooning pension obligations. Byrd-Bennett said that the district’s fiscal crisis “will threaten everything.”

Byrd-Bennett said the district has seats for 500,000 students, but just over 400,000 children are enrolled.

CPS leaders could be gearing up to close as many as 100 schools, though Byrd-Bennett insisted “there is no number” that district officials are now aiming for The main criterion they are looking at this year is school utilization, and as many as 140 schools are considered underutilized.

Taking questions from reporters after her speech, Byrd-Bennett conceded that the utilization formula may not be accurate for some schools – such as those with special education students who require smaller classes. She said the district is currently analyzing which schools might be exceptions to the formula.

She also said the plan to stop closings after this year was a product of conversations with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and argued that it could actually create richer, better-resourced neighborhood schools in the long run. When asked if the plan would tie the hands of future CEOs, Byrd-Bennett replied: “I’m going to be here for those five years.”

Plan faces union opposition

CTU President Karen Lewis says the union is lobbying legislators to tell them teachers oppose the extension. Among other issues, CTU leaders have said the district leadership is in disarray and that closings will not result in substantial savings.

Rather than announce a moratorium after this round, CTU leaders would like a moratorium to start now – and include a halt to school turnarounds and phase-outs. Vice President Jesse Sharkey says the union wants more information about how CPS will ensure student safety and give neighborhood schools enough resources, as well as what charter schools the district plans to open.

“It’s not just a school closing policy, it’s a school opening policy,” Sharkey says. He adds: “There are reasons behind the December 1 deadline,” like allowing families to plan which schools their children will attend.

Byrd-Bennett says community members, too, distrust the district. In her meetings with the community, “the resounding refrain was, ‘We don’t trust you. We don’t believe you. You have been doing things to us,’” she said.

At the commission hearing, the first of at least six that will take place, Northeastern University professor Robert Starks also issued a warning. He said that community groups are gearing up for a fight against school closings that “will make the strike look like child’s play.”

He presented the commission with a laundry list of questions they need to be able to answer, and said commission members need to deal with the issue of charter schools and the privatization of public education. Also, they need to address safety and transportation issues.

“This is to [former police superintendent] Terry Hillard, under your administration when schools were closed or consolidated didn’t violence escalate?” he asked. Hillard is on the commission.

Commission Chairman Frank Clark reiterated that the commission is charged with looking at school utilization and was not to consider what, if anything, will open in their place. But other commission members seemed interested in the question.

Ald. Howard Brookins (21st Ward), who is on the commission, asked CPS Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley how much of the district’s money is spent on charter schools.

At first, Cawley said that charter schools are public schools and so they are not considered a separate entity. Then, he explained that 12 percent of the district’s students have their education contracted out to either charter schools or private schools for special education students, but that only 9 percent of the district’s budget is spent on these students. However, he stopped short of saying the district saves money by sending students to charters or other contract schools.

Class size and utilization

Another question that was brought up at the commission meeting is whether class sizes and structure should be considered in looking at utilization. Several people have brought up why there are overcrowded classes in under-utilized schools.

“This raises eyebrows,” said the CTU’s Brandon Johnson. “You have classes with 38 kids split between kindergarten and 1st grade. My son turns five today. Owen deserves better than that.”

Small schools without enough students in a grade (CPS allocates one regular classroom teacher for every 28 students) often have to combine grades or pay for an extra teacher out of discretionary money.

DePaul University education professor Barbara Radner told the commission that splitting classes is detrimental to students, especially those in the younger grades. In high school, she said small schools mean that teachers often have to teach several subjects, including those they aren’t certified to teach.

“What we have is an educational shrinkage,” she said.

Yet Radner did not necessarily advocate the closings of schools. Rather than look at efficiency, she asked the commission to look at efficacy or what is best for students. She said they need to think about using empty school space for health care clinics or for community colleges classes.

Radner also suggested looking at having a primary center in one building and a middle school in another. This way each would draw more students of the same grade from a wider geographic area.

“We need to think outside the box,” she said.


Sure! wrote 2 years 7 weeks ago

Are You New to Chicago?

Oh, raise your hand if you believe anything that comes out of 125 S. Clark!

Anonymous wrote 2 years 7 weeks ago

If CPS gets its way there will be no more schools to close after

this extension--CPS will close so many schools to NOT have to close schools for 5 years! They must think the Il Leg and the public are dumb.
How many charters will CPS close? Watch--none, no matter how poorly charters do or underutilized charters are.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 7 weeks ago

are they nuts?

CPS is not to be trusted....they will just come up with a new excuse...when did this law get passed...why didnt they start their House OF Freaks Circus Tour of chicago then??Set up their snake show and smoke and mirrors

Anonymous wrote 2 years 7 weeks ago

Lake Forest , Hinsdale, Naperville CALLING IFT

If these suburbs used CPS utilizations standards, they two would close half their schools and cram all the kids into like 5 buildings.....then give all the harrassed teachers not a pink slip....but a black slip which would prevent them from ever working in education again....COME ON IFT ...where is your support ....PUBLIC SUPPORT....put a full page in the tribune or suntimes...this will affect like 1/4 of your members. You already sold us down the river on SB7 which is going to destroy many of these future displaced teachers!!!! please help

Anonymous wrote 2 years 7 weeks ago

Day before Senate Decision LOOK AT IFT

HERE ARE IFT's "hot topics' on the eve of CPS getting their way with the State Legislature!!


What’s a PSRP?
IFT President Dan Montgomery reflects on his experiences with PSRPs throughout his career in education.
Read Full Article

Governor Should Apologize for "Insensitive, Offensive" Remarks on Slavery
The We Are One Illinois coalition issued the following statement regarding Governor Quinn's recent comments to the Associated Press that compared his efforts to enact unconstitutional pension legislation to the struggle to abolish slavery.
Read Full Article

Stand With Walmart Workers on Black Friday
Join Walmart workers this Friday to make Black Friday the most memorable Walmart holiday on record.
Read Full Article

IFT PSRPs share personal stories of why they are

Grandma wrote 2 years 7 weeks ago

CPS: School closures could halt after this round

Didn't BBB also say that if CPS was granted an extension to plan school closures then "closed schools would not be given to charters schools?" Does this mean that closed schools would then be sold to charter schools??

Valerie F.Leonard wrote 2 years 7 weeks ago

Link to Lawndale Alliance's Letter to Legislature

Here is a link to the Lawndale Alliance' letter to the Legislature urging a "No" vote on CPS' request for an extension.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 7 weeks ago

The facilities law is designed to protect us from instability of

CPS upper management, not enable it. Legislators should ask BBB to name even ten schools she's in charge of and then laugh her out of the room, politely. It should be clear from the start that if she's going to be the person in charge, she needs to resist these mafia-esque maneuvers that only have come from one man, ultimately.
I hope all the kids in Chicago lobby for four month extensions of any homework that's due , as well as waivers from the rules. It would be authentic evidence of learning the CPS way.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 7 weeks ago

When Springfield passes this

When Springfield passes this amendment -- a real mistake -- then the privatizers will have a field day in Chicago. Here is a conference for investors to learn the opportunities that await them. This part of the story of the privatization of CPS is never broached by Chicago media.

The Go Family wrote 2 years 7 weeks ago

School Closing

Let's do it folks. Some action from CPS would be good. We are members of a Community Action Committee and have been working hard to see this day come. No more talk, just action please. Results will be measure from this action. Then we can all decide if this was a good idea or not. But until then, let's quit talking what could had been vs what is going to be. The battle is finished as far as I can see. The Mayor got what he wanted. Trying to balance the city and CPS budget. Let's rock folks.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 6 weeks ago

No go

You don't recommend looking before you leap? Just leap and then figure it out on the way down?

Isn't it better to plan something that affects thousands of underprivileged kids, Go? CPS doesn't have the basic data right, according to the CEFTF. They have to get that right before they can figure out which schools to close.

Valerie F.Leonard wrote 2 years 6 weeks ago

Unplanned Action for the Sake of Action is Worse Than No Action

I'm with you on this, Anonymous. CPS does not have their arms around the full magnitude of the utilization problem. From what I heard of their testimony during yesterday's hearing, it doesn't sound like they will have a draft master facilities plan in place on time. For a Mayor and CEO who say they don't want to operate in piecemeal fashion, they are sure doing this in piecemeal fashion. There's another term that is more accurate, but not appropriate to print. At any rate, a more efficient way to do this is to get a handle on the problem, get behind the numbers and develop a master facilities plan within the context of an overarching education plan first, and then prioritize the closing of schools with a transition plan. If the folks making these plans had to live in the communities that are subject to this madness, I guarantee you, the plans would be more orderly. I live in North Lawndale, which is ground zero for every experiment CPS has tried with regard to school reform. I see the impact, and it ain't pretty. To put an accelerator on stuff that hasn't worked is negligent at best.

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