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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.

For the Record: Walton Foundation funds community engagement

District officials have said they don’t want to link the volatile issue of school closings with the equally volatile issue of charter school openings. But a major pro-charter foundation is providing financial backing for the current crop of school closing meetings taking place around the city this month.

The district is now engaged in a community engagement process intended to provide feedback to the district as it contemplates what schools to close. That process is being underwritten by the Walton Family Foundation (a foundation run by the founders of Wal-Mart). The Walton Foundation has fueled the expansion of charter schools across the country and, in January, announced that CPS was the largest recipient of charter school grants in the country.

The Walton Foundation agreed in November to provide CPS with a grant for the community engagement process around the “utilization crisis,” according to the CPS communications office. The foundation lists a $478,000 grant to the Children First Foundation, a not-for-profit set up by CPS (Spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler confirmed the $478,000 is likely the grant for the community engagement process.)

The district had not budgeted for a “rigorous community engagement effort” and therefore needed to reach out for funding, notes spokeswoman Becky Carroll. CPS is using the grant to pay for the “independent facilitators” from the Loran Marketing Group, which is running the breakout sessions at the community meetings.

The content of these breakout sessions is not clear. CPS has banned the media from attending them.

In addition, the money is paying for robo-calls to tell parents about the meetings, mailings to parents and “other engagement and communication platforms.” Carroll stresses that the community engagement process is happening, but “not at taxpayer expense.”  

“This grant is allowing us to initiate what is probably the most inclusive and rigorous outreach to parents CPS has done to include their voice at the front end of this process,” Carroll says.  

Other charter voices

Other ties have made it difficult for the district to quell suspicions among parents, grassroots activists and the Chicago Teachers Union that CPS plans to replace closed schools with new charters.

The School Utilization Commission that is advising the district on closings is staffed by the Civic Consulting Alliance, a not-for-profit that does business consulting for city government. The Civic Consulting Alliance is housed in the same office as New Schools for Chicago, an organization that funds and advocates for charter schools. New Schools for Chicago also received a $220,000 Walton Family Foundation Grant.

Civic Consulting Alliance CEO Brian Fabes says his organization is doing pro-bono work for the commission. He says that New Schools and the Civic Consulting Alliance are not connected, though they share several of the same board members. 

In the past, most of the closed schools have eventually become charter schools.

At community meetings that have already taken place, attendees have repeatedly accused CPS officials of wanting to close schools in order to make way for charter schools.

CPS officials, however, say that schools need to close in order to “right-size” a school district with shrinking enrollment. CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has promised not to allow any of the newly-closed schools to become charter schools, yet charter schools could still be located in the same communities as closed schools. 


Anonymous wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

Just when you think

CPS can't go any lower....

Andrew Wilson wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago


If a lot of Cps can't be closed; then they should be turned around. A turnaround is needed because as far as you can look on the school list; schools have been on probation and very low performing for a long time. These schools do not have; and do deserve better Principals and Assistant Principals. Poor leaders are not showing any
gain in their test scores. After all; that is what low performance is about.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

All of this information on

All of this information on what cps is doing has been a circus! To think that leaders in charge of leading of children (the future) would be so dishonest and ruthless really sickens me to the core. I am outraged and ashamed to be a part of a system that has no values. Be honest about whats happening and stop the madness. We have children to educate or did we forget that. CPS and the Mayor has to realize that the public isn't stupid. The dishonesty, manipulation and disregard is in plain view and has been for a long time. People are running around scared, stressed and burned out about possibly losing their jobs; thousands of people! Many of them are of high quality. Where is the plan? Bring out the list of school closings that has already been predetermined and talk to the public about those specific schools. Whatever the reason is to close the schools: rather its to start more charters, or to give affluent areas a neighborhood school, or for political reasons or to spend up gentrification or to staff principal candidates from Chicago Leadership Collaborative or to give more schools to AUSL, or to improve low performing schools or for underutilization, announce those targeted schools!!!! Why continue to have everyone in a frenzy?!!! This is sickening...

Anonymous wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

snobs taking over CPS

If you look at the new contract. Any teacher with a satisfactory rating in a closed school is pretty much at the end of their career. For those with 25 30 years, they can retire. The rest are pretty much going to be in a mess. The huge overstock of teachers will have no where to go. The suburbs have about 5 jobs in total. The charter schools will be tooo snobby to take them. It will be like when the unics were kicked out of the royal palace. It is so sad, the union, for good or bad, really got a bad deal on the contract for anyone who was in the disfavor of their principal, fault or no fault, will be out of a teaching job. The snobs that have taken over CPS, ISBE, and US Department of Education really don't want us anymore. This whole Walton this is just proof of the hypocricy. They probably have never stepped foot in a classroom other than a photo op! Yet they know are the experts of education. I would loved to know anyone's experience with the new Reach review, it's not a good thing...not AT ALLL..

Homes wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

Privatization in Illinois...

It's Chicago folks. Follow the money.

Morgan Johnson wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

Less Stress

The good thing about the teachers that will be out of jobs; they won't have to be bothered with the unnecessary stress. No lesson plans; no observations; no kids running around the classrooms; no Principals that don't know what they are doing; just in the job because of the top dollars. But the good thing about it; for all those Principals that were in the click downtown; BBB does not have your back like your friends did downtown. It is open season on you now. You will never make it; if you don't know what you are doing. And for all of these CPS to be on probation and low performing; that says those schools need new Principals and Assistant Principals. They have not been leading their schools correctly. Some Principals have been overriding their LSCs. Why didn't these LSCs know how bad of a shape these schools were in. Why didn't they report this to the Board? If BBB had never come to town and found out the truth; the Principals who have not been doing their jobs would have continued to draw a check. So now they will have to do more than just hire and fire veteran teachers. The young and middle age ones are a long way from retirement. The veteran ones will receive big monthly checks when they retire. For all the good work they did before an inexperienced Principal came in and caused them to lose their jobs. The Lord will make your enemy your footstool.

David Woods wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

School Closings

Teaching careers are not written in stone anymore. You work for a year; and if you have a Principal that doesn't like you; they will write you out of your job. But are people who are senseless. But who would cause a teacher to lose their job in this type of economy? For the few teachers that lost their jobs; seemed like they brought the schools down. But all the schools on probation were brought down by all the teachers at the schools. A lot of teachers should have been rated unsatisfactory years ago. They all brought the schools down. Not one or 2 teachers at a school. they all did. They are going to have to make a harsh adjustment in this rough economy of no jobs. Their lives will never be the same. But if some teachers and Principals at low performing schools are to blame; then all the people at the schools that are low performing are to blame. They all brought the school down. So a lot of these schools should be cleaned out and given a fresh start. For the children.

jmg wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

Follow the money... to the

Follow the money... to the suburbs. Families are voting with their feet and moving to the suburbs as soon as their kids hit preschool age rather than engage with Chicago schools.
Meanwhile families that do choose to stay in Chicago are faced with a constant battle to protect their kids from a union which prioritises protecting failing teachers over kids' education on the one hand and a mayor & school board who are intent on turning our kids' education over to corporate interests on the other.
Right now CPS is not a trusted partner in our kids' education. Elected school board and a voice for parents now. Dump Rahm.

Ed Dziedzic wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago


Hey jmg, it is the union that is backing the elected school board. Please stop attacking the union for trying to stand up for teachers and students. It is the Board that is generating this mess.

Rod Estvan wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

re: excellent article

Ms. Karp's article on the funding of the current round of CPS utilization meetings was excellent. While it is always possible that charters will continue to expand into closed buildings, it is also possible that they will be torn down.

As Ms. Karp and the Tribune have reported the math of school closings requires not leaving closed schools sitting around or they become yet another money pit. But destroying unused buildings also costs money. Putting a charter school in some of the unused buildings makes no sense because families are unlikely to want their children educated in some of the communities where these schools sit. Families are trying to get their children out not in lower income communities for the most part unless the option is really amazing.

The possible closures on the north side are different, CPS can get real money for this land and charter schools probably would work well in them. But charter schools do not effectively provide education to upper middle and higher income north side students. All charter school data reflects this and it would be very difficult for them to effectively market themselves to higher income families on the north side.

So charters opening in closed north side schools would have to import lower income children into them. In many areas like Uptown and Edgewater the number of lower income and minority students has dropped in a big way driven by conversion of rental properties to condos in good part. These units are being bought by individuals and families with fewer or no children. Private options for education are within the abilities of these families if they do stay in town and they are unwilling in many cases to have their children educated in local elementary schools that have majority low income enrollments.

Rod Estvan

Ed Dziedzic wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

Well said

Excellent point Rod.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

A grant is a grant

Given the cash strapped nature of our city and state - a grant to help conduct outreach seems like a good thing. I don't shop at Walmart, not a fan, but the Walton Family Foundation gives millions to environmental and education causes. I know this is hard for some people to believe, but the children of the owners giving their money away is different than the stores. Helping the district fund an outreach process is a good thing. That is, it would be a good thing if everyone who attended these meeting treated everyone with respect and didn't yell and scream. Tensions are high, everyone gets it. My child's schools is potentially on a 'list' that could be consolidated, but here's the rub - I want to go to these meetings and actually talk and have a dialog with my fellow Chicagoans and CPS - the one I attended turned into a screaming match where nothing was productive.

You attract more bees with honey than with vinegar....just sayin'.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

Thank you Sarah for your

Thank you Sarah for your excellent reporting. Walton funding represents a slight shift in CPS tactics. Remember when "ed reformer"Jonah Edelman bragged that his front group, Stand for Children, was going to make sure the mayor's approval ratings didn't decline while he pushed and pushed for a longer day?

Well, that hadn't worked out.

So now CPS decides to skip using front groups like SfC and DFER as proxies. It gets half a million dollars from Walton and hires Loran Marketing.

Walton's funding came with the intent to create more charters. No question.

Loran's job is to sell to parents CPS' closing of 100 or more schools --even though the repercussions will be disastrous for kids, teachers, neighborhoods, and the school budget.

CPS will fire huge numbers of teachers to pay for building new charter schools and for excessive testing. All this will create more chaos for kids in neighborhoods scarred by murder and other violence. Some neighborhoods will be permanently lost.

How will Loran do it? My guess is that Loran will try to find divisions among parents and teachers during the break-out sessions. CPS will then exploit them to give the mayor some cover. Btw, who owns Loran?

Chicago dad wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

The history of turn arounds....

Is an abject failure. Just look at Orr for example. They have been "turned around" and had other buzz word "cures" inflicted on them so many times I've lost count. The last time they were turned around, it was AUSL who got turned around after taking over from the previous folks who were an outside organization, not CPS. AUSL then got to try again. It's nice to have connections at city hall.

Ed Dziedzic wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago


Hey, Anonymous, a grant is a grant, but a conflict of interest is a problem. I don't care if Wal-mart gives money to anyone. I care that the Waltons are big time charter backers. Why are they in on this? And why don't they just get Board employees, who we already pay, to do this?

Chicago dad wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

Lorans main purpose here seems to be

Doing opposition research so that the mayor and CPS can tweak their messaging and trick desperate parents into supporting things not in their best interests. There are far easier, cheaper and more open ways to gather community input. before that, there should be no question at this point as to what the objections of the community are to CPS policy and methods. If CPS wants to build trust then they should direct Loran to publish the contract so all can see what CPS's goal for Loran's work is and what kinds of reports/information CPS expects to receive from them. For this type of project, there's little risk of Loran disclosing proprietary information that would disadvantage them in their field. If CPS use of Loran is legit, disclosure could build some of the trust they are desperate for from the community. Disclosure (or not) is a great litmus test for something to hide or not.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

Loran Marketing (Loran Consulting is

From the Loran Marketing Group website:

Loran Marketing Group is an integrated team of brand strategists and research professionals with backgrounds in advertising, account planning, client-side marketing, academia and new product development.

The Loran team brings an incredible wealth of experience and expertise to every project. We are seasoned marketers and researchers who “get it.” Our vast experience translates to a deep understanding of the marketing challenges clients face.

Our experience is literally soup (Campbell’s) to nuts (Planters) and cuts across hundreds of companies, product categories, brands and marketing activities.

Chicago dad wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

How nice of someone to

Post the link to Loran. All interested should read the rest of what they do on their site. The description in my post above of the likely reason Loran is involved is consistent with what other similar enterprises do. Since Loran is a small company I suspect they value their reputation all the more. It seems they worked hard and honorably to build it and their business. If I were them, I'd ask CPS for permission to make the contract public. It would be fine if the cost to CPS was withheld as part of any release since they are obviously entitled to set their own rates as the market dictates, and that info could conceivably be advantageous to competitors. Loran would be well advised to become aware of the story of Caveon, the high quality, high integrity company that Michelle Rhee hired as window dressing to white wash over the DCPS cheating scandal that is still unfolding. Instead of being allowed to use the many powerful analytic tools at their disposal, the terms of the contract prevented Caveon from doing anything of any value in uncovering the truth. Caveon was used and used badly to manufacture the illusion of innocence. It didn't work. The folks at Loran should avoid a similar fate if at all possible.

Observer wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago


Are such contract FOIA-able? Anyone know?

Observer wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

Rod Estvan says, "Families

Rod Estvan says, "Families are trying to get their children out not in lower income communities for the most part unless the option is really amazing." Would charter schools for drop outs be the kinds of charters that might use the old neighborhood school buildings?

Anonymous wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

Credit recovery is one good

Credit recovery is one good use of some schools. I would rather that it be a CPS -- not charter -- school for drop outs. It could use blended learning in credit recovery, but be supervised by CPS / CTU h.s. teachers, so that the common problems with online credit recovery could be prevented. We need the kids to actually learn the material, not simply run through a software program.

I'd like to see the mayor allow CPS/CTU teachers to innovate to meet these children's needs, and not keep them out of the solution for credit recovery.

I'd also like to see the city provide a comprehensive plan for jobs for lower income h.s. kids so they can afford to commute to a local college.

Tuition costs are incredibly high. How great it would be if companies like Target, Walmart, Groupon, and Costco offered college tuition reimbursement programs? We need to keep kids from drowning in debt.

And why not involve the unions' apprenticeship programs into the credit recovery schools? Give the kids an introduction to the kinds of jobs they might enjoy, a reason to stick to their studies.

Another good use for a community school is as a preschool for all three- and four-year-old disadvantaged children. Include a component to provide education for their parents, in order to help them become career ready, too.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

Loran should pay for this

Loran should pay for this advice.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

"the dangerous role that corporate money plays in education"

Jeb Bush's foundation has released thousands of emails which show the very close connection between his organization and for profit online companies that seek to turn a profit in the education market. For profit companies use his organization as a front.

There is little difference here, except that CPS has decided to do away with a front group, like Stand for Children.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

Walmart -- redemption without atonement

An interesting article on the public's reception of Walmart's offer to hire 100,000 vets over the next 5 years.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

“A public interest group has

“A public interest group has released the results of a multi-state Freedom of Information Act request concerning the lobbying efforts by the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), the nonprofit led by Jeb Bush. The e-mails confirm previous reporting showing that Bush’s policies are designed to benefit businesses seeking to privatize public education—particularly the companies that finance Bush's nonprofit.”

“What's new in this release, however, is the revelation that Bush could be using his education reform crusade for personal gain.”

Anonymous wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago


Teachers/Principals can only do so much with students, whose parents are not involved and to be quite honest don't care where their kids are. The same Teacher Teaching the same exact same curriculum in a middle class, high scoring school, grades were all above 90%, but in a low income school with the exact same curriculum, same teacher, the grades were failing....hmm. How is this a bad teacher? This is because if kids aren't doing their homework, have no support at home, no food at home, what the kids have at home makes a difference. To blame low scores on teachers and principals is a cop out, look at the home situation, what are the parents doing to provide a successful future for their children? That is what low scores are all about.

Mary Jones wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

School Closings

Yes; but at a school level in all states; the staff at the schools are to be held accountable for the students at the schools. The parents are not at the schools. The parents are held responsible for their children at home. Principals and teachers have to be held accountable. By schools being on probation as they are at Cps; something at the schools is going wrong. There has to be an attempt to correct it; even if it doesn't work. It couldn't be any worse than it already is. Those schools are not meeting or exceeding. Some have been on the ground level for years. It is time to rise. If other schools can be on Level 1 and Level 2; then more schools should be on level.

anonymous wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

FYI: It appears that you have

FYI: It appears that you have confused the comma key with the semi-colon key.

Ed Dziedzic wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

Ignore poverty, gangs, abuse, drugs...

Well Mary Jones, I guess it is all just that simple. The reason those schools have such low test scores is bad teachers, principals etc. Nothing to do with poverty, gangs, abuse, drugs, homeless students, transient students, English as a second language etc. etc. etc. Please show me one case where firing the staff resulted in sustained higher achievement, (and not Michelle Rhee cheating.)

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