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Commission: Closing high schools is too dangerous

UPDATE: CPS announced Friday that it will put out a more specific list of schools "still on the table" for closure before the end of the month and will host a community engagement process around those schools.

Two meetings will be held in every network in the month of February so that people can make their case for specific schools.

“We recognize the need for a more granular level of community engagement – it’s something we’ve heard loud and clear as part of the community meetings the Commission on School Utilization has hosted over the last several weeks,” said Byrd-Bennett in a press release. “It is critical that the community has the chance to give us their feedback on individual schools, and we want to provide them with that opportunity.”
CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett will produce the new, more finite list of schools based on the recommendations produced by the School Utilization Commission. Byrd-Bennett will decide what recommendations she will accept and consult the board before making the list public, according to the press release.

At the same time, the School Utilization Commission, appointed by Byrd-Bennett, will be holding meetings with Local School Councils and Community Action Councils, which are groups of stakeholders coming up with education plans. The eight-member commission plans to issue more recommendations and a final report after those meetings.

The recommendations call for only relatively-small, mostly low-performing elementary schools would be closed down.

On Thursday, the commission issued an interim report, suggesting, among other things, that Byrd-Bennett not touch high schools.Some 60 high schools are underutilized with about 20 more than half empty. Many of these half-empty schools are in big, old buildings and the cost to maintain and provide needed updates, according to CPS, is more than $265 million.

But commission chairman Frank Clark said members determined that closing down high schools creates too many safety issues. “With the older kids and the gang activity, it becomes a real problem,” he said.

“Threats to student safety by intermixing students from different neighborhoods are greatest for high school students, and the risk of a violent incident would be magnified,” the interim report issued by the commission reads.

Taking high schools off the list is the most far-reaching of the recommendations. Also, elementary schools with more than 600 students were recommended to not be closed. Commission members felt it would take too much to move large numbers of students into a new school, considering how much space they would need.

Schools that have recently experienced a school action would also be spared under the recommendations. However, Clark said commission members were mostly worried about students having to experience more than one closing and they were not necessarily referring to turnarounds, in which most or all of an entire staff has been replaced but students remain at the school.

 The other recommendations are more common sense, with the commission saying that high-performing schools, mid-rated schools where performance is on an upward trajectory or schools that are adding grades should all be spared.

Dozens of schools still could be shut down

According to district estimates, some 330 schools are underutilized. If the recommendations to remove high schools and those with more than 600 students were heeded, at least 180 schools would still be on the list.  (Some of the recommendations are vague, such as sparing schools close to efficient utilization, so it is impossible to come up with a specific list. See Excel file below.)

Clark said that the commission plans to continue holding community meetings and will issue a final report in the next six weeks.

Byrd-Bennett appointed the commission, which includes state lawmakers, a pastor and an alderman, and charged them with engaging the community and coming up with recommendations. The commission originally included a parent, but she couldn't attend meetings and didn't participate.

Byrd-Bennett has not promised to heed all their recommendations.

On Thursday, she issued a statement thanking them for the commission for their work, but not responding to any of their suggestions.

At first, Byrd-Bennett said she wanted the commission to offer up a list of schools they thought should be consolidated with other schools. But as the commission started holding public meetings, Clark announced that it will produce no specific list.

Instead, these recommendations are intended to help Byrd-Bennett narrow the entire list of underutilized schools.

CPS officials say the school district has space for 100,000 more students and must close schools to right-size the district. By shuttering them, they not only save some administrative staff, but they also won’t have to maintain the properties, which is expensive.

“CPS faces a daunting utilization and budget crisis as it faces a $1 billion deficit next fiscal year,” according to a CPS statement released Thursday.

Clark said Thursday he has heard that the district could save about $1 million for each school that it closes, but district officials have previously estimated a savings of $500,000 to $800,000 per school.

Closing schools will allow the district to use “scarce resources” more effectively, according to CPS officials.

underutilized_schools.xls79.5 KB


Rod Estvan wrote 2 years 5 days ago

initial recommendations to Catalyst on the report

My initial recommendations to Catalyst in relation to the interim report are: (1) That Catalyst provide a link to the actual report which is available at the School Utilization Commission's website. (2) That Catalyst provide to the public the names and employers of the staff the Commission used to produce the interim report, because most likely the members of this Commission did not type and produce this report or do the actual research themselves. None of the staff are listed in the report that I could see nor are they listed on the Commission's website.

Access Living is considering providing the Commission with written input on the interim report because we believe the Commission does not fully understand the difference between space allocated for special education pull out or resource classrooms and space allocated for self-contained or instructional classrooms. This we believe is a problem of significance.

Rod Estvan

Valerie F.Leonard wrote 2 years 5 days ago

This debacle could have been

This debacle could have been avoided with better planning. Unfortunately, school districts are being rewarded for mass school closings and rapid expansion of charter schools. Regardless of where you stand on closing schools and expanding charters, the implementation here in Chicago, and other cities around the nation is bad policy for everyone involved. Please sign our petition to the President asking him to stop promoting policies that encourage mass school closings at Also, sign onto our petition to create an Illinois Education Facilities Planning Board at (

close observer wrote 2 years 5 days ago

Perhaps we should be

Perhaps we should be concerned with 7th and 8th graders that would be transferred to schools in different gang territories. Perhaps we should be concerned that closing schools in disadvantaged areas where young people are especially vulnerable to disconnection should be considered.

Mom wrote 2 years 4 days ago


Does OSS or BBB understand "the difference between space allocated for special education pull out or resource classrooms and space allocated for self-contained or instructional classrooms"?

Northside wrote 2 years 4 days ago

to Mom

Even if they knew..I don't think they would care...they are too busy putting up advertisements for Charter schools on buses and billboards!

Rosita Chatonda wrote 2 years 3 days ago

The sad news about the entire

The sad news about the entire process of school closings, forced gentrification and forced under-utilization policies, is that there was no after thought and adequate planning given to this destruction of schools in minority communities ten years ago. The passing of the Amendatory act in the late 90's by the State Legislator ensured Mayoral control over Chicago Public schools. In an effort too gentrify communities and cleanse the county of African American voters, school reform was obviously a viable option that would have a resounding dominoes effect on minority communities.

The act of placing CEO's in positions of CPS instead of Superintendents, allowed the system to be controlled by inexperienced cronies of the mayor. Lacking in education expertise, these hatchet people had one goal, that was to dismantle public education in minority and specifically African American communities.

In an act of racial cleansing, In the late 90's schools in the AA community were targeted for Turn-Arounds, closures . All based upon the administration of high stakes testing which justified the closing of "NON PERFORMING" Schools. As propaganda emerged and students began to see themselves as failures, ( based on false criteria) it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Students began to give up. parents began to believe the institutional rhetoric or jargon.

The changing over of leadership every 17 months gave CPS the justification to engage in a kind of, "I didn't do it , they other guy did it" campaign. This gave justification for the undermining of SB 620-630 that was passed last year and legitimized CPS excuses to ask for more time. As indicated, in the case of Senate Bill 547, where CPS asked for additional time to give notice to parents, community and teachers in regards to closing schools.

To sum it up, someone at CPS should be held accountable for the lack of planning in regards to school closings. Underutilized schools are the result of a complete lack of care and considerations for families, parents and students living in targeted areas.

In addition, newcomers to Chicago, without historical perspective, can only give the rubber stamp to close schools ,gentrify communities and continue to under serve populations of school communities in targeted communities.

urbanteach wrote 2 years 2 days ago

great comments...

could not agree more, unfortunately, there is no one left there to hold accountable for their transgressions (the revolving door of Clark Street). Of course, we have the opportunity to hold Rham accountable in the next election.

Parental wrote 2 years 2 days ago


Do you think the Black voters in Chicago would re-elect Emanuel? Why or why not? (I hope they boot him out of office.)

Anonymous wrote 2 years 2 days ago

the only way Rham will lose is to have a strong person running

against him that does not divide the minority vote and attracks white voters. Who can that be now. Once Preckwinkle was possible, but she made negative comments about CTU teachers.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 11 hours ago

Crossing Gang Lines

High schools all over the city - private, public, and charter - attract students from great distances. Kids cross gang lines every day and attend school with kids from hostile neighborhoods. It works because, when they get to school, violence is not tolerated. I am not suggesting that there is never violence on the bus or train; we all know that happens occasionally. But most of the gang violence takes place in school or very close to school. Rather than give in to the idea that our teenagers will attack one another if we allow them to mix, we should look at how schools that draw students from a wide area, especially the magnet and charter schools located in gang-identified neighborhoods, handle the problem, and learn from them. It's short-sighted to give in to the tyranny of outlaws. Just when will it be safe for these kids to leave the neighborhood?

George N. Schmidt wrote 2 years 11 hours ago

Granularity, gangs, and other nonsense

While it's nice to know that the Commission at least has recommended against closing high schools because of the city's massive gang problems, the same "granularity" that CPS CEO 2.0 (Byrd Bennett, Rahm's second try at this robo-administrator) applies to the younger kids as well.

During my years as "security coordinator" at Bowen High School (1996 - 1999), we rarely met a serious gangster who began his (or her) career when entering high school. As anyone who has spent time at Juvey (1100 S. Hamilton) and every street cop knows, the "Shorties" are beginning their careers as young as six or seven, and getting their journeyman cards by seventh grade. Only Rahm's boys and girls can ignore this fact.

I learned the same thing during my years as Director of Security and Safety for the Chicago Teachers Union (2003 - 2004), during which time we organized the most serious anti-gang conference ever held for CPS people and law enforcement people (April 2004 at the union offices, including State's Attorney, CPD, and other agencies...).

In Chicago's ripe gang realities, many children are born into the gangs, and others begin their careers when they are still being tyrannized with DIBELS. It's a kind of mentoring process such as depicted in "The Wire," only Chicago's history and current reality is much more vast.

But when just about everyone in the CPS administration is from out of town (Byrd Bennett and the majority of people on her "team", which is sliding expensively in sideways with the Brizard "team") or disgracefully unqualified (boy, an MBA from the University of Chicago makes a person qualified to be "Chief Officer Security and Safety" this time around; this is the first one at CPS who had no street cred -- absolutely none!), it's going to get worse.

It's difficult enough for Chicagoans who didn't have to grow up in those areas soaked in gangs and gang violence to understand the extent of the "People" and "Folks" realities. (And the fact that for all the frationalizations, that is still the basic division of labor, both on the streets and in the prisons). Outsiders are clueless, which I guess is what the gangsters want.


If Byrd Bennett and her expensive "team" weren't so clueless, the good news for most schools on the Hit List would be that no schools will be closed this year.


Unless I'm reading that list of elementary schools wrong, the same "gang" realities that say don't close high schools say the same thing about the elementary schools that are on the list.

But that's been true since the MCs moved up State Street from the Hole to Dearborn Homes and had that shooting war with the GDs in 2001 and 2002 outside Williams. (Thereby lowering test scores; when kids are practicing "duck and cover" their bubble sheet acumen drops). And Arne Duncan was "clueless in Chicago..." and just ripped right ahead, closing dozens of schools and unleashing that gang predations (and the collateral damages they cost) across the West Side and South Side while preaching "Renaissance" while creating his own little Dark Ages.

One of my last jobs as Director of Security and Safety for the CTU (before Marilyn Stewart fired me and dissolved all that work) was to bring together our witnesses against the phasing out of Austin and Calumet high schools in June 2004. The main point of my testimony was that the gang problems would spill out across the city.

Which they did.

No problem for Perspectives Charter School (which got the Calumet building free of charge -- er. $1 per year) after Renaissance assassinated the real public school. No problem for that Michael Bakalis "entrepreneurial" thingy that squatted for years in the Austin building.

But for everyone else, bad times.

While it's good that someone on the "Commission" knew enough about the realities of Chicago to pay attention when the communities spoke at each of the hearings, the high schools are only a third of the problem with "gangs." The problems begin in the elementary schools, and that's because, like out of "The Wire," Chicago today (and for most of the past three decades) has had vast stretches of land where human children live which long ago lost the official "Race To The Top."

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