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Lawmakers vote to give CPS more time to decide school closings

SPRINGFIELD - Despite a last-minute wave of angry opposition, the Illinois House Executive Committee voted unanimously, 11-0, on Tuesday to give the Chicago Public Schools until March 31 to "announce all proposed school actions to be taken at the close of the current academic year," as provided in a House amendment to Senate Bill 547

Under current law, the deadline for that announcement is Saturday, Dec. 1. SB 547, now sponsored by state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) was moved immediately to a second reading and can be put to a final House floor vote Wednesday. If that passes, and if the Senate concurs with the House amendment, Gov. Pat Quinn will sign the bill into law and the deadline will be extended to March 31.

In approving the amendment, the committee spurned the wishes of a roomful of angry Chicago residents who had traveled to Springfield to oppose what they see as the latest move on the part of the CPS to clear the way for a massive school closure action--some activists fear up to 100 or more schools could be shut down, while CPS insists it does not have a number in mind--by the start of the 2013-2014 school year. The crowd packed the hearing room, standing in the aisles and along the walls.

At one point, Capitol security officers blocked the hearing door, not allowing anyone else to enter until someone already inside the room (with a capacity of maybe 200 people) left and indicated no desire to return.

The task fell to CPS CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett, who has been in her job just a few weeks, to explain why the deadline extension is needed. The district faces a $1 billion deficit this year, she said, while schools throughout Chicago are "under-utilized."

The district has 500,000 classroom seats for only 400,000 students, she said. About 140 schools have been identified as being at less than 50% occupied. Closing one school would save the district $500,000 to $800,000 per year--not enough, even if all 140 schools were shut down, to make a significant dent in the estimated deficit. 

SB 547 is apparently on the fast track: The House Executive Committee is the committee of choice (as opposed to the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, for example) when a bill has been “greased” by House leadership.

Uproar against CPS

While the crowd listened with only minimal reaction to Byrd-Bennett's explanation, they exploded in uproar when state Rep. Dan Burke (D-Chicago), who chairs the committee, began a roll call of the votes of committee members without having called any witnesses in opposition.

From chaotic, uncoordinated shouting, the noise from the audience quickly congealed into a boisterous chant: "No vote! No vote! No vote! Nooooo Voooottteee!"

Burke, a stickler for order and decorum, quickly threatened to "close this hearing" if the crowd did not "discontinue this behavior." Then he asked, "Who is here to oppose this motion?"

Hands were raised throughout the hearing room. Opponents began to move to the aisle leading to the witness table at the front of the room.

In a departure from House committee procedure - unprecedented in recent history - Burke let the Chicago citizens testify against SB 547, one after another, without having signed official witness slips. Eventually, about 15 of them were given two minutes each to have their say.

Most attended in a somewhat official capacity, as members of local school councils, as teachers and as representatives of the Chicago Teachers Union. Some represented community organizations not directly related to the public schools - such as a group that cares about homeless children, for example - and some were just concerned parents.

Generally, opposition was based on arguments that massive school closures planned by CPS will harm the neighborhoods and the children, and that the task is so massive that it cannot be accomplished in a thoughtful way in so little time. "Follow the law. Give it a year and do it right," one woman admonished Byrd-Bennett. Applause erupted in the room.

Another theme that consistently evoked applause was that the CPS board and administration can't be trusted. Many witnesses cited instances in which the district had said one thing and done another. Even Currie had indicated an expectation that distrust would be voiced.

Several opposing witnesses expressed concerns about racial motivations on the part of the district, or that CPS would close schools and cause disruption in poorer neighborhoods while leaving schools in more affluent areas alone.

Responding to a committee member's question, Byrd-Bennett clarified that there will be a list of school closings announced, extension or no extension. Without the amendment, by Saturday CPS will make public a list of schools to be closed by the end of the school year - but it will be a hastily drawn document, one drafted without the benefit of much community input.

Byrd-Bennett noted that she has appointed a CPS school facilities task force for the purpose of holding meetings in all affected neighborhoods to gather input from parents, LSC members and others who would be affected by a school closure. 

The law being amended, however, already provided for a task force--one that has been critical of how CPS handled school actions and has even called for a moratorium on closings

But that group apparently was left out of the loop. A couple of individuals who lined up to testify in opposition to SB 547 identified themselves as members of that task force.

By the end of the day Thursday, the bill will likely have passed the House, the Senate will concur and Gov. Quinn will sign it into law.

9 comments

Anonymous wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

Union victory

Great!
Our leaders/ lobbyists are very effective.
By the way ,who supported the SB7?
Do you remember what Karen did it the past?
Keep smiling,you are taken care of.You paid more than $1000 a year in union dues.Is it true?

Ed Dziedzic wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

You are not serious.

The CPS and Emanuel ram this through, and you blame the union? I guess you'll take any opportunity to bash the CTU.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

Good question: Who are teh

Good question: Who are teh CTU lobbyists? Who is its pr firm?

Grandma wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

Predatory Charters should be part of the school closing dialog!!

In the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday, November 27, 2012 our school Pershing West Magnet (4th-8th) at 3200 S. Calumet is listed as having a utilization rate of 70%. This means that CPS sees our school as operating at 30% capacity. However Pershing East (K-3rd) is not listed as an under-utilized school. In the past, Arne Duncan put our school's in two separate buildings to expand enrollment to two grade levels each. However one school is in a large building (Pershing West) and one is in a small one. There is room in the largest building to merge the schools back together. My interest is in how the situation will be handled.
Will our under-utilized school be closed or consolidated? I'm curious because an Alternative School called Prologue is trying to set up shop in a closed funeral home building, directly across from Pershing West Elementary. Are they planning for our school to be closed so they can impact our community with more at risk kids by also occupying the Pershing West building?? My son was robbed at gunpoint by at risk youth on his way home from school. My neighbor had an risk youth come and sit on her porch to smoke. Another had some climb into her backyard and she had to call the police. Sometimes the cut class and hang in front of our homes smoking marijuana. Our community is a homeowner community with an average income of over $100,000 and we lack high quality options and have pleaded with CPS for challenging options to address the needs of our own children. We also have made our safety concerns known to CPS and yet they are considering yet another school for at risk student up to age 24. Our community as a whole has only about 700 high school age students with a population of 18,238 residents, but over 6,000 high school students come to our area already for school. Our immediate neighborhood (Gapco) has only 198 students age 5 - 17 and many of them travel outside the area for school. Our neighborhood is tier 4 according to CPS and we do not understand why CPS is willing to fund another Citywide Alternative High School in our community. The current alternative high school called Youth Connection Alternative H. S. is a partner to Prologue and it seems as if CPS wants to swallow up our community in at risk youth. We simply are sick of the violence and public nuisance activity that comes with this population of students. We current have about 5 or 6 Charter high schools in our community right now and we do not have the demand for them. All of these citywide Charter schools are draining our resources from our neighborhood schools. So I fail to understand why CPS is willing to fund another charter in our communty. Who is coming up with these ideas? Why are they trying to destroy our community with blight?? Why is Prologue going to a City of Chicago Zoning hearing on December 21, 2012 at 2:oo p.m. to change our histroic landmark boundaries to include an alternative high school. This school would be 2 blocks away from the notorious Dunbar High School and most of their students about 1,400 come from the far southside as well.

The community believes that CPS and the City of Chicago are forcing our community into the same dynamic as many other african communites: shooting 24/7. CPS has brought so many at risk youth to our community who littler, loiter, trepass on private propertt, deface city property, upset business owners, rob our children ...etc and still they bring us more perpetuators of blight. Youth that are predators, in and out of the criminal justice sytem; who have benn kicked out of other alternative schools, should not be placed directly across the street from elementary school children. CPS has the power to stop this nonsense; to say we will not be funding any more Charters in Gapco neighborhood or Douglas at large because they already have too many Charters. The already existing Youth Connection Charter Alternative High School could give local enrollment preference if need be. Another school is not needed. Please stop taking our neighborhood through hell! We've had enough of the crime that you are frocing on our community. Oh I forgot, this school also intends to have a community center in our neighborhood for their at risk youth, so they can linger even longer in our community. So again, I am very concerned with the utilization rate of Pershing West because we also have a another charter alternative high school who is standing by to vamp on our community with more at risk youth even though our community organization, Pershing East & Pershing West School Parents and all three aldermen are against them coming to our community.

Charters need to be a part of this conversation because they are very aggressive in getting into desirable communities who do not want them in order to recruit citywide at risk youth

Anonymous wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

The at-risk youth rarely have

The at-risk youth rarely have parents who are looking out for them and challenging CPS "remedies," as you are doing. That is why they are the first market for these charters.

1. In your opinion, who are the key players (influential or wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

I honestly believe that at

I honestly believe that at risk alternative high schools should be in industrial areas, not in communities.

Gompers wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

For the union basher

If you want to trash CTU there is a specific blog site for this: District 299 with Alex "the anti-union/teacher guy" Russo. He has launched a perpetual assault against teachers and their union.

Also, congratulations to all those who just achieved National Board status. (A remarkable program that Russo never acknowledges)

Rene Heybach wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

School closings

The group addressing homelessness which you indicated was "not related to the public schools" is the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Catalyst used to be very familiar with our work as we have specifically served homeless families and students to secure educational access and rights; sued CPS for its failure to do so and been long time opponents of the school closings. We used Catalyst's work in the mid-80s reporting on David Kerbow's mobility studies to advance our work.

northside wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

ctu

We can question our union, its our right. If we dont it isnt a union, its a monarchy. Also, its great to get national board but we also need to congratulate teachers who get masters in chemistry, languages etc. Not much mention of them, and they work just as hard as nbct

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