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Parents, teachers and activists argue against school closings

Updated with pictures from Saturday's summit against school closings.

The announcement that CPS leaders are recommending the Board of Education at their December meeting approve five new charter schools fueled a heated Commission on School Utilization hearing Friday night.

Opponents of school closings, including community groups and Chicago Teachers Union members, gathered Saturday at Marshall High School for a summit. Photos by Jonathan Gibby

Chairman Frank Clark said the charter proposals had been solicited by the district long before the school utilization commission was created. An audience member accused Clark of holding a pro-charter bias. Clark replied that the work of the commission does not include charter school considerations.

About 80 people attended the hearing, which was held on the southwest side at a park district building. 

The hearing was the second of six the commission will host this month before it publishes its recommendations to CPS. School action guidelines call for the closure of underutilized schools. According to the way CPS calculates school utilization, 330 schools are under capacity and 136 are half empty.

But district leaders have refused to say how many schools they want to target.

The role of the commission remains unclear. Clark repeated Friday night that the commission will not create a list of schools to be closed, only recommendations on criteria CPS should consider for closing underutilized schools, like safety, transportation and high-performance.

But CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said she expects a list and Board of Education Vice President Jesse Ruiz said he wants “actionable items” from the commission.

Clark, responding to a question about buildings left vacant from school closures, said the buildings would not be given to charter schools to use, a major concern for members of the audience.

Teachers present at the hearing were asked whether their schools were full. One issue that has repeatedly come up at these hearings is that many underutilized schools have classrooms with more than 28 students--the number established as a limit in the Chicago Teacher Union contract. 

 Some teachers in the audience said they had as many as 36.

Commission Member Pastor John Hannah said, “We agree 36 is too many in a classroom.”

Of particular contention among the audience was a comment Clark made after a commenter requested that transcripts of a non-public commission meeting be made public. Clark said that because Byrd-Bennett appointed the commission, it was not subject to transparency mandates listed in the Open Meeting Act. Still, Clark added he felt much of their work needed to be made public, and that recordings of all the commission’s public meetings are available at schoolutilization.com

Closing underutilized schools will not close the $1 billion budget deficit Chicago Public Schools faces,Clark acknowledged, but he added "hard decisions have to be made."

18 comments

Grandma wrote 1 year 45 weeks ago

Parents, teachers and activists argue against school closings

"Clark, responding to a question about buildings left vacant from school closures, said the buildings would not be given to charter schools to use, a major concern for members of the audience."

Maybe CPS will give allow Charter's to purchase vacant school building. Then they would not be giving it away! Prologue Alternative High School bought the building and land at 3232 S. King Drive up front before approval to move into our community. We when complained to CPS, the comment was made that they (CPS) has no control over where a charter locates. I guess CPS found a loophole to force them into communities by making a seeminly powerless excuse. However we know full well that CPS can easily state that they will not fund any more Charter startups in Douglas Commumity because we already have about 6 citywide charters in our community and one is currently an alternative high school! So I am suspicious of CPS comment about not giving charters any buildings from the closures or conslidations. Will CPS be selling the vacant building's to Charters that are vacant from a closure or consolidation??? If so, then Charters will still end up where they are not wanted.

Veteran wrote 1 year 45 weeks ago

Everyone Knows the Game

The above poster has quickly listed two of the many maneuvers that CPS probably has up its sleeve. Make no mistake, empty buildings are never going to be left empty when there are so many crony Charter operators waiting to swoop in. Always follow the money.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 45 weeks ago

We must attend the meetings!

Parents, teachers, students, and community members must commit to attending these meetings. It is unacceptable for us to not participate in processes that affect us. If you not comfortable speaking, fine, just be in the number. This fight is not over. I am not even sure if it is going to be just about school actions. This fight is also about a history and culture of disrespect regarding the treatment black, brown, and poor people . If you feel that this behavior or these actions don't directly affect you, hold on, they will come for you next. The citizens of Chicago are fed up, and are not going to shut up on this one. The March 31, 2013 deadline extension is going to end up being the worst thing that CPS could have ever wished for!!!

Say Goodbye wrote 1 year 45 weeks ago

The Die Has Been Cast

CPS decisions and policies are always good for a belly laugh. Frank Clark chairing public-school-closing community meeting: fox-henhouse. Snort.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 45 weeks ago
Anonymous wrote 1 year 45 weeks ago

Turnarounds

So when do we find out if our schools are going to be GIVEN to ASUL? I was amazed at the money flow to them to try and run schools. Will we be able to follow our kids like the contract says or do we start looking for new jobs in April? Will the 5 year ban on closing effect turnarounds also?

Anonymous wrote 1 year 45 weeks ago

Wouldn't it be great to know

Wouldn't it be great to know how much CPS gives to charters and how much it gives to AUSL?

Could Catalyst look at this?

Anonymous wrote 1 year 45 weeks ago

Some schools should be closed

Some schools should be closed because they are dangerous environments!! Some of the parents are monsters and are never involved with their childs education. The law should mandate parent involvement or go to jail.
The students who want to learn lose out.

Michael R Butz wrote 1 year 45 weeks ago

Then what to do...?

Here is a very simple question for those opposed to school closures: What should be done with schools that have too few students to be cost effective in the system? Should we just leave them operating half full? Should CPS continue to waste money which could be so much better spent in other areas?

What should we do since we cannot import more bodies into the seats.
Instead of complaining and fear mongering about school actions (which have not yet even been announced) let's hear some suggestions if not closures.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 45 weeks ago

Learn the lesson.... Wait it has to be taught?

Right, we cannot import more bodies into the seats, however we can convert certain areas of these under-utilized schools into parent resource centers (it would be nice if those who financially support Charter schools would solely do that for parent centers). This way parents have a place to ask questions about their child's IEP, response to intervention or how to be able to help your child succeed. We all know that children don't show up with a hand booklet, and oftentimes we overlook the fact that many parents don't know what questions to ask. CPS Schools do not come equipped with a parent or student helpdesk, but why not? Some children need early intervention services but oftentimes that goes unrecognized. We need to assist parents from birth to age three, ages 4 to 7, 8 to 12 and on through high school. Parent resource centers could make a world of difference in our schools and communities. We need to be about educating and supporting the WHOLE CHILD.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 45 weeks ago

Suggestions? Here are a few

Suggestions? Here are a few that should have been done to set the stage for serious work and to create trust.

First, get the CEFTF and new BBB commission working together as equal partners, sharing all documents and holding open meetings around the city to form a plan.
Second, the new hybrid commission needs to look at CPS methodology to determine actual utilization. Is 31 to 36 students in a classroom truly "efficient?"
Third, analyze methodology behind new school report cards, to verify whether recent sudden shifts are accurate.
Fourth, and most important, include current and prospective charter and contract schools in the analysis of district utilization. Define and publish both performance and utilization criteria for closing any school, so the public can see that the same measures are applied fairly to all schools. Define which charters, contract and neighborhood schools may need to close b/c of utilization and which b/c of performance and why.
Fifth, define CPS' plans for the closed schools. How much will CPS spend to raze the schools that it closes? Will it sell some of the buildings?
To whom and for what amount?
With some basic information, CPS and Deloitte can do a cost/benefit analysis. We question the rationale for closing a lot of schools as he way to spread thin resources without having done the figures. Earlier this year $550 mln was taken from the capital improvement budget -- leaving only $150 mlm. But the budget deficit didn't go down. So we are skeptical of any promises of future cost savings.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

Via Wendy Katten, who posted

Via Wendy Katten, who posted in RAISE YOUR HAND - CPS Parents for Fair Funding -- 11:08am Dec 12

CPS says there are 136 schools that are 50% or below underutilized this year and we say the number is 74 (per JMO's work). Our numbers are based on having a maximum of 30 kids in a classroom. That utilization number would go down even more if we had a more reasonable class size maximum and it also doesn't take into account schools that have high numbers of sped classrooms, etc.

Michael R Butz wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

Well your heart is in the

Well your heart is in the right place Anonymous I, but there is no money for such programs nor is that a good use of the massive amount of free space in CPS buildings. I totally agree that more parent involvement/education would be helpful but that is not the mission of CPS and with limited dollars they need to stick to their mission, which is educating children, not adults. There are other societal mechanisms for that and I agree with you it's crucial. But it's not an answer for what to do with nearly empty school houses, IMO.

Michael R Butz wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

Anonymous II - I agree all

Anonymous II - I agree all stakeholders should have the most accurate information on utilization and school performance. But even if the numbers are not entirely accurate one way or the other there is no disputing we have huge overcapacity system-wide, with pockets of under-capacity here and there.

I agree 100% that charter schools (any CPS school) need to be included in this mix and that they must be judged the same way and held to the very same standards as any other CPS school. No exceptions, otherwise it is a disservice to charter students, parents, teachers and administrators everywhere.

Also agree with your skepticism about numbers and money and all that. We do live in Chicago, after all.

Still, I have not seen any ideas other than closing a fairly large quantity of schools here...

Anonymous wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

Call me the master of the

Call me the master of the obvious, but we need to know details like maximum class size, adding in charters and contract schools, and figuring costs of razing buildings or profits from selling buildings.
what kind of cost savings will ultimately be feasible.

I have to think CPS has the numbers for a few different scenarios, don't you?

Mrs Harris wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

This is what we should do

CPS has lost trust with the communities. Individuals have invested time and sweat into developing plans for communities all over the city. Community Action Council are made up of intellegent, well educated people of integrity. We believe that some schools need to be closed or consolidated. Does anyone trust CPS to decide what is best for our children? NO! They have left communities in turmoil, especially Bronzeville, from their last set of closings. Work with the ones that committed to you from the beginning. Don't go get a new set of ears to listen to the same voice.

Jay Rehak wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

More Charter also means fewer contributors to Pension Fund

An additional factor not being openly discussed in the Charter School debate is the continued erosion of participants to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund (CTPF). Each time a charter school is opened, the CTPF loses contributors and the pension fund "base" is eroded. A Recent internal report by the CTPF auditor also indicates a number of irregularities and late payments to the Pension Fund by Charter School operators. Before more charters are granted, a full audit needs to be done or Chicago taxpayers will risk losing even more money. The continued opening of charter schools is the slow parking meterization of our educational system. The very simple solution is to do a full audit all existing charters before opening even more. Anything less is irresponsible.

Jay Rehak wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

Audit the Current Charter Schools Before Opening More

Another issue to consider before opening more charter schools is the problem of a lack of financial auditing of these entities. A recent preliminary audit by the internal auditor of the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund indicates irregularities and late payments by Charter Schools into the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund. These irregularities could lead to large losses to Chicago taxpayers. Until full audits are done on current charter schools, no more should be approved for opening. At this point, opening additional charter schools is akin to the "parking meterization" of our educational system.

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