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School Utilization Commission says CPS can handle closing 80 schools

In its final report released late Wednesday, the Commission on School Utilization found that the district  has the capacity to consolidate 80 schools and suggests CPS leaders think about shuttering schools over two years, rather than all this year.

Consolidating 80 schools, even over a two year period, would be huge. The district has never shuttered any more than 11 schools in one year.

Later in the report, it says that the school district should not impose any drastic school actions, whether they be closures or overhauls, on more than 80 schools. So far, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has not announced any overhauls, called turnarounds, in which a school's entire staff is replaced. 

Currently, CPS leaders have 129 schools that they are considering for closure and will announce their official recommendations by the end of the month.

The report's finding that CPS can handle closing 80 schools is in stark contrast to previous anonymously-sourced stories that indicated commission members believed CPS could not handle closing any more than 20 schools. It is unclear what influence CPS leaders have over the commission, which was appointed by CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and is supposed to be independent.

Byrd-Bennett originally wanted the commission to provide her a list of schools they thought should be closed. However, soon after they started meeting, commission members said they would not offer up a list. Instead, they agreed to provide criteria that they thought should take schools off the list of potential targets.

Byrd-Bennett then initiated a series of 28 community meetings in which her staff collected feedback from thousands of people, nearly all of whom argued against the closing of any school.

Since the community meetings began in early February, the commission seemed to fade into the background.  

 In the final report, commission members make four other suggestions, all of which are things that Byrd-Bennett or other officials have talked about doing.

They are:

Only close schools where students can be transferred safely to better-performing schools.

 Consider annex space, students with disabilities and their needs, pre-Kindergarten classrooms, Head Start placements, in addition to how the school fares in the official utilization formula. Also, if communities have developed plans, consider them.

Spend the money to do it right, so that students are moved safely and as effectively as possible into better schools and so that receiving schools have the infrastructure they need for all students to succeed.

Create community-based building committees to develop plans for vacated school buildings so that the facilities remain community assets rather than become eyesores, or worse.


FormerPAL wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

Make A Prediction

Having followed this closely, I'm was at first shocked there are still 80 schools at risk. At long last we have "the list" that CPS has spent the last six months telling us did not exist.

I'm interested to hear from Catalyst readers how many you think will end up closed. After considering the long game, the 80 figure makes more sense. Perhaps BBB suggested to the commission to put a higher number of schools on this list so that it will sound better if they settle on 20-25 schools.

I can't imagine they'd have the hubris to close any more than 30. Each additional school is several hundred other children needing transition plan, and potential families angered. The sheer logistics of generating transition plans for thousands of kids is staggering to consider.

Will CPS put its money where it's mouth is and blow everyone away with their commitment and thoughtfulness in April, May, and June when this work is most critical? It's BBB's chance to win a lot of support if they can pull it off. For the sake of us all, I really hope they make it happen.

skarp wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago


Are you suggesting that all these numbers being floated--some through official reports, some through anonymous sources--are just part of a mind game being played by CPS officials? First, a leaked report saying 100 schools will be closed. Then, an underutilization list of more than 300 schools. Then, "only" 129 left on the official list. Then, an "independent" commission is carefully considering the capacity CPS has and thinking (via anounymous sources) that maybe CPS only has the capacity for 20, but concludes the district could consolidate 80 schools. Then, CPS leaders announce they are only closing some number less than 80.

And everyone is oh so relieved. 

You aren't suggesting that, are you?

Anonymous wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago


I believe that about 80 schools were slated for possible actions initially and then the number kept changing. But I have a question? What does making a school a turnaround have to do with the school utilization crisis? A school that becomes a turnaround will use the same building and resources, saving he district no money. This should not be allowed because we were told that this wave of school closings, had nothing to do with school performance, but space utilization. There was a new policy drafted by CPS and it is on the CPS website (I think you have to put into the search quality schools cps) that states that explains the criteria for closing schools in the 2012-2013 school year! It also explains what actions can be taken, like closures, co-locations, and so forth, but turnaround is not on the policy as a possible action!!! The turnaround action is tied to student performance which we were told through the cps policy, would not be a part of the criteria for closing schools this year. All previous cps policy that suggests why schools are closed to be turnaround were rescinded (I looked it up and researched) So the current policy does not present turnarounds as an option.

This struck my attention when I looked at the fine print and saw turnaround miraculous showed up as a possible action on the published list of the 129 schools that remained on the lists.

I get why they want to do some turnarounds because they have no place for some of the students to go because and the students won't be able to have access to higher performing schools. But this isn't right; If they go through with turnarounds this year, then the policy of school closings is fraudulent. The list of the 129 schools with turnaround as a option came out before the release of the Commission Final Report on March 6, 2013, so do let CPS tell you that it was suggested by the Commission. CPS needs to be held accountable!

FormerPAL wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

No, that's exactly what I'm

No, that's exactly what I'm suggesting. I don't think it's all that crazy to suggest that CPS wants to manage messaging.

The real story after the final list is published is about who they task with creating those transition plans. Given the amount that has already been added to the plate or principals and teachers this year, I really hope that as little as possible is given to the folks who are supposed to be focusing on teaching and learning every day.

The heavy lifting needs to come from downtown to ensure that kids and families and schools affected are listened to.

Timothy Meegan wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

to former PAL

That is exactly what is going to happen unless the people of the City of Chicago stop them. This is "disaster Capitalism" applied to our schools, where both the budget "crisis" and the underutilization "crisis" are largely fabricated in order to privatize a public service so that a few rich people can become much richer.
Byrd-Bennett and Frank Clark of the Commission have admitted on seperate occasions that CPS' formula is deeply flawed. So is the annual "budget defecit". Last year CPS claimed nearly 1 billion dollar defecit then at the end of the fiscal year ended up with a $344 million dollar surplus! This has been the pattern for years. They are planning on what Bruce Rauner called "Blowing up the District" on Chicago Tonight.


Charters are very lucrative thanks to the New Markets tax credit, interest on loans and other incentives. Plus charters can subcontract out administrative responsibilities twice and pay up to 15% of CPS dollars (your money) each time. That's how even a non-profit charter can be a money machine. Finally if the Charter owns the school property it can rent it out or sell to those subcontractors, collecting the equity each time. Bruce Rauner has a plan on the shelf to buy up empty school buildings. and sell or rent them out to others.

It is no coincidence that ISBE is proposing eliminating SPED class size requirements even while CPS is hard at work blowing up the district. The reason is to create what reformers call a "Portfolio District".

The rule change is because a "Portfolio District" will subcontract out SPED services to a for-profit provider and in order to maintain fat profit margins the provider must be able to provide services inexpensively. CRPE claims that federal special ed laws like IDEA are a barrier to this type of educational "innovation".

From the Center to Reform Public Education (CRPE):

“Under the portfolio strategy, government (whether in the form of a local school board or some other authority like the mayor) would be a performance manager, allowing schools to operate as long as they were the most effective available, constantly looking for better providers, and closing the least productive schools. Schools would operate under performance contracts and pay for services from independent providers, networks, or school transformation organizations. Schools would decide whom to hire, how to allocate their budgets, and what services to buy. All parents would choose schools, and schools would be funded based on enrollment.” From "Portfolio Strategies, Relinquishment, The Urban School Districts for the Future, and Smart Districts"

The Broad document is the script for mass closures, but mass closures need to happen in order to make room for the "Portfolio District" model.
Kids, teachers, parents, and neighborhoods lose. Guess who wins?

Anonymous wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

Close these failing school so

Close these failing school so our children can make it.what about the low performing school where the children are not learning the schools with no libraries no after school programs no mentors and suspensions are all the schools know.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

Close these failing under

Close these failing under performing schools

Rod Estvan wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

On the report itself

I have now had the time to reasonably carefully read all 45 pages of the Final Report of the Commission on School Utilization. From having talked with several reporters today I discovered that the report was released to the media in the very late afternoon and an opportunity was then given to the media to ask questions of Mr. Clark within about a half hour after its release. I think that was unfortunate because it is very unlikely the reporters could have digested this report in such a short amount of time.

The special education section of the final report is a vast improvement on the Interim Report the Commission issued on January 10. The Commission admits in this section (pages 12-14) that the basic mythology CPS used when measuring schools with significant numbers of students with disabilities that also had cluster programs was flawed. The Commission states: "Properly inventorying the space used by special education classrooms could change the utilization status of an indeterminate number of schools."

First off Access Living, the organization I work for, provided written comments to the Commission on January 23 and we are glad the Commission came to a conclusion similar to the one we reached in regards to the utilization measurement system CPS applied to special education programs in schools deemed as under enrolled. We are not glad that the Commission did not make or attempt to make any determination of the impact of this technical flaw in CPS' approach on any of the 129 school deemed under utilized by CPS. We believe that such an analysis could have been undertaken if the Commission chose to do so. We feel not doing so was an abrogation of the mission the Commission was assigned to complete.

Access Living as an organization fully shares with the Commission members their reservations and concerns for students with disabilities in the closing process. We also appreciate the fact that the Commission recognized that there are ADA physical accessibility issues relating to the closing process. We hope CPS takes to heart the Commission's concerns in this area.

Exactly how the Commission came to the conclusion that "CPS has the capacity to carry out approximately 80 consolidations, and other school actions such as turnarounds and co-locations" is to a degree somewhat obscure in the report. But we believe that a close reading indicates that the report assumes elementary school students can travel up to 1.5 miles to their new school and that we believe is very questionable. Our city is approximately 234 square miles in total area with 6.9 sq miles of it being water. Effectively the Commission believes it is theoretically possible for elementary school aged children to travel up .66% of the land mass of the city in order to go to school each day, without any clear legal entitlement to busing unless they have a disability related basis for it. 105 ILCS 5/29-2 allows any school district in the state to charge students for busing up to 1.5 miles of their home, 105 ILCS 5/29-1 allows any school district not to provide busing for non-disabled students at the district's determination.

The Commission discussed in the report how CPS could link up with the CTA or it could provide busing to students in certain situations that do not have a clear legal entitlement to it. We think that this thinking cuts against the cost savings rational of school closings to begin with. So just on that basis we believe the Commission should have reduced its 80 number to the 60 number it cited (p. 17) as being within one mile of a better school supposedly with "seats." By the way seats do not equate to classrooms, and some of the disabled students will require completely separate classrooms.

The report makes many useful suggestions for CPS to spend some pretty serious money on helping students make the transition to new schools, but it does not quantify the costs at all. These suggestions are serious and well thought out in many instances, we believe that the Commission predicated its assumptions on the capacity of CPS to carry out closures on the implementation of these suggestions. We believe that once these ideas including additional social workers, safe passage systems, a summer camp program a receiving schools to orientate students from closed school to the new schools, and other very good ideas are cost factored out they will prove to be impossible for CPS to carry out on the scale of anywhere near 80 schools. The Commission had an obligation to look at the fiscal capacity of CPS to carry out these transition suggestions and take that capacity into consideration in its report which it failed to do.

Lastly, what to do with the empty closed buildings. The Commission throws out some nice thoughts all of which cost money, money CPS claims it does not have and other governmental entities may also not want to spend. Probably the most interesting aspect of the report was the Commission's estimate that the cost of just having an empty annex building secured and mothballed would cost $75,000 a year, the Commission does not throw out a number for a full school which must be much more (page 10). Moreover, the Commission estimates the cost of tearing down an annex and turning it into green space to be between $3.5 and $6.5 million per site, how much would it be for a full school?

Rod Estvan

Anonymous wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

words on paper

Words on paper mean nothing until we see it actually happen. Moving 25k kids is TOUGH!I know it's not comparison in equipment, but look at all the time and energy it costs to bring 25k troops to iraq etc. it is a HUGE undertaking!

Anonymous wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

Ding Ding Ding!

Timothy Meegan's post hits the nail firmly and squarely on its head. These school closings are merely a necessary step to clear the way in the money grab / privatization scheme known as education reform that is underway across the country. CPS led by the mayor and the Philadelphia School District are operating from the EXACT same script, right down to the manufactured underutilization and budget crises and their respective school closing commissions.

As it stands, private operators receiving public dollars to run charter schools aren't tasked with educating all students. Most don't accept kids after a certain grade level. They have not been held accountable to tax payers for their operational or academic performance. Yet we are barreling full speed ahead towards this school model even though the evidence points to results that are decidedly mixed.

Our public education system is being dismantled and we the tax payers are being duped. This chaos being inflicted on our communities isn't remotely about better opportunities for children. As usual, it's just about taking money from the many and funneling it to a few. We can't let this happen.

Rod Estvan wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

re: Meegan's position on the privatization of special education

Those who have worked in the field of special education for a number of years are probably aware that prior to the enactment of federal laws relating to the education of students with disabilities for many of these children the only education opportunities offered were in the private not for profit sector. The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) enacted in 1975 was the predecessor to IDEA, it arose from federal case law holding the deprivation of free public education to disabled children constitutes a deprivation of due process. In Illinois the Supreme Court upheld the denial of a public education to significantly disabled students.

So imbedded in EAHCA was the right to an education for disabled students at the expense of the state in either public or private settings. IDEA is consistent with EAHCA on the right of the families of disabled children to receive an education at the expense of the state in either public or private settings depending on the needs of the student. So the theory being presented by Mr. Meegan is curious in that current in Illinois thousands of children with disabilities are already being educated in the private sector at the expense of the public. This is established in state law under section 14-7.02 of the Illinois school code.

I do share with Mr. Meegan some concern over the growth of for profit companies that may provide private special education services. In Florida, there is a law called McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program. Last school year over 24,000 Florida students with identified disabilities attend a participating private special education schools using this voucher system. Currently 1,155 private education schools are receiving money from the program and 65% of the schools are religious based not for profit schools. Most of the students, 54.8%, do not have a severe disability.

During the 2011-12 school year, the most recent complete year of funding, $151.3 million was paid to voucher participants. The state calculated maximum scholarship amount for IEP students enrolled during the 2011-12 school year ranged from $4,280 to $18,529, with an average
scholarship amount of $6,849. The McKay program contains flimsy standards for participating private schools. While Florida grades its public schools based on a strict set of standards and ties funding to these grades, private schools receiving tax dollars through McKay are not graded, not obligated to hire certified staff, and not required to test all
special education students. Almost all the schools are not for profits, but in some cases there are links to entities that are for profit.

In order to get a Flordia voucher these families waive all due process rights they would have under IDEA, clearly as an advocate I don't like that at all. I don't see any indication in Illinois that there is a link between the ISBE proposal to eliminate special education class size limits and the promotion of something similar to the MacKay voucher program. All special education advocates in Illinois have opposed this rule change and it is unclear what if any impact it will have on private special education schools which are regulated under separate section of state law (private schools are in section 401 and the administrative rules under current discussion are in section 226).

The main movers of the current ISBE proposal was the Illinois Statewide School Management Alliance. This body's primary motivation was to reduce costs to school districts and the Alliance has been an opponent of all voucher proposals in the Illinois General Assembly, it is also generally critical of charter school proposals. As a registered lobbyist with the General Assembly I am very familar with the evolution of the current proposal to abolish special education rules for class sizes it was not a plot of privatizers, but rather a plot of public sector administrators trying to save money. So in concluding I do not think Timothy Meegan's post hits the nail firmly and squarely on its head.

Rod Estvan

Anonymous wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

I don't want to put words in

I don't want to put words in his mouth but Timothy's post did not deal only with privatization from the standpoint of special education. It (and my earlier post) addressed the broader privatization push underway as facilitated by the education reform movement. That is absolutely the direction in which public education is being driven by the policy positions and grant allocations of large philanthropic organizations operating in the education space, the US DOE RTTT grant and NCLB waiver approval process, and the legislative agenda of free market and anti-labor advocates. The nail is being hit firmly and squarely into the coffin of public education as we know it and to assert otherwise is to dismiss what is happening in districts and states across the country, including New Orleans, DC, Philadelphia, Chicago, and NYC.

helenkeller wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

Thanks you, Rod for

Thanks you, Rod for advocating for students with disabilities. Your knowledge base is amazing.

Rod Estvan wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

His comments in relation to

His comments in relation to the revocation of the special education rules explicitly linked the ISBE proposal to plans for removing special education from the public to private sector. He also linked the proposal to plan to abolish IDEA. While some of the Superintendents and Presidents of various Boards of Education who are supporting this proposal would I believe like to abolish IDEA, none of the members of the Alliance who are backing this proposal have ever stated so publicly. But if that is their thinking it not based on moving special education into the private sector, its simpler. The districts are going broke and they are willing to throw students with disabilities under the bus if that is what it takes to survive.

The task in front of us now is relatively simple, defend these rules because they are good for children with disabilities and they promote their learning. I look forward to reading Timothy's comments submitted to JCAR in defense of these rules as I do yours.

Rod Estvan

Anonymous wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago


I find it odd with Obama bragging about "unemployment" drop...he doesn't care that 1000's of his original constituents and supporters in Chicago will soon lose their jobs? Yeah the ones they were forced to buy under residency rules....honestly...teacher are humans...we aren't perfect but we too have our basic needs? Is their going to be any help for us?
Assuming that 1/2 the teachers will be rehired..which is probably a pipe dream about more than 2 to 4% of Chicago teachers will lose their lively hoods...maybe their homes? Imagine if a local company was shutting down...Rahm would be crying his crocodile tears and yelling booh hoo at the companies and asking them for job training.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

Sorry but your comment is a

Sorry but your comment is a tad presumptuous. I recognize your expertise in this space but forgive me for having a different burden of proof that needs to be met before I'm inclined to speak out in defense of something.

Rod Estvan wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

root of the problem

The root of the problem in relation to Meegan's perspective is that it is urban driven. Moving educational services to private providers is only economically viable with economies of scale, the proposal to eliminate special education rules are coming from smaller and moderate size districts which make up the bulk of school districts in our state. Chicago is massively bigger than even U46 which is the next largest district in the state.

Chicago because of its scale can try to drive down prices for private providers, in particular in the special education sector. In fact CPS pays private special education providers less per child based on rates they bargained for than does any other district in the state. I was present a year and a half ago when Dr. Smith, the former CPS special education director, made that point in a meeting with ISBE, and the special education directors association. The suburban and small town directors mouths fell open at that because they realized CPS was getting up a $5,000 per child cheaper rate than they were with some of the very same providers.

Using the private sector does not work as well on the small scale, in that situation the only pathway for conversion to the private sector is vouchers. When the last voucher bill was defeated in the Illinois General Assembly three years ago the leading lobbyists against the bill were from the ACLU, the teachers unions, myself and several other lobbyists for disability advocacy organizations, People for the American way, and the Illinois Statewide School Management Alliance. The Alliance saw this in terms of a money drain to the school districts. CPS, the City of Chicago, and Speaker Madigan all supported the voucher bill as did the Catholic church, and Senator Meeks who ran a religious school that has since gone bankrupt. The CPS was very low key in its support however, saying things like they were not opposed.

In the floor fight the real champions in opposing the voucher bill were some liberal democrats, rural democrats, and some Republicans. Rep Roger Eddy one of the Republican leaders in the House was a leading opponent and now that he is retired from the House he is effectively the leader of the Alliance. We defeated the voucher bill in the House by one vote, with the Black and Hispanic members totally split.

Now having said that, CPS will likely move more of its most severely emotionally disturbed students who are current educated in completely separate settings into the private special education sector. But only because it can drive down its rates even more based on economies of scale, not because of the proposed rule changes. As I stated before the rule change under debate does not apply to the private special education providers. Moreover, there are private special education schools in the Chicago area that will not cut a deal with CPS and who are charging full rates. CPS will likely not put these students in these high end schools for emotionally disturbed children. When I am working with the family of an emotionally disturbed child who the school based team is recommending a separate school for, I also recommend to families that they oppose placement in CPS separate schools and try to get into the high end private schools.

As I indicated in an earlier post both state and federal law allow school districts to place students with disabilities in private schools at public expense. CPS is on strong legal grounds for such placements. I have objections to these movements of children to the private sector based on the ability of these schools to return these students to the main stream. But separate public schools also fail in that regard. But this issue deserves a discussion all to its self and I am sure that will take place eventually on the Catalyst site and other sites.

Rod Estvan

Timothy Meegan wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

to clarify

Mr. Estevan is correct that ISBE class size rules would not apply to private providers. Clearly he is much more knowledgeable than I am when it comes to special education law. The intention of CRPE's portfolio district is for individual school operators to decide whom to hire, how to allocate their budgets, and what services to buy. So with mass neighborhood school closures and the continued expansion of charter operators, 2 things are on the horizon: increasing concentration of SPED students with more severe disabilities in fewer neighborhood schools, and the loss of all operators' ability to negotiate a lower rate, since CPS and charters would subcontract for service independently. There is an incentive for all operators to reduce staff costs by lifting class size requirements with a portfolio district.

Joan Staples wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

RAISE YOUR HAND organization

RAISE YOUR HAND organization recently pointed out that the tactics used by Byrd-Bennett and the Commission, come out of the Broad Foundation Manual, including some very similar language as justification. I am opposed to using such tactics in general, and, certainly rushing to implement questionable actions based on uninformed and secretive evidence. As for Special Ed, I was a Special Ed Teacher and know about the original federal laws. There is nothing wrong with using private services, if the public schools do not have adequate help for students with special needs. However, it is possible to provide for many needy students within their neighborhood public schools, with even some minor adjustments. Finally, some of us have been trying to get Washington to realize that firing lots of public employees creates unemployment and destroys consumers -- in addition to being destructive of human lives. Even some of our supposed liberal friends don't seem to be thinking abou t this. The people most affected by this ignorance need to continue to "stand up" and we need to support them!

Anonymous wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

teachers have united

Firing and blaming teachers is a bipartisan obsession....not caring what happens to them is universal...

Effaridi wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

Failure by Design

Seperate day settings for emotionally disturbed students within CPS fails by design and neglect. Removing SPED schools from their own understanding SPED network (former Area 27) to the current neighborhood networks has led to significantly diminished support at every level. CPS has no articulated plan to re-integrate removed students back into gen ed settings. The process is much more about removal and isolation, less about pathways to return. CPS and OSES have no official partnership with any therapeutic support programs so that these students receive support from true mental health professionals rather than "CPS" clinicians. The fact that these schools do integrate some students back into gen ed settings or prepare some for gen ed secondary placements, is done in spite of CPS not because. Privatization of these programs will only further remove these students from any opportunity to re-integrate to a gen ed setting. The fact that these schools are 98% minority and poor is tragic and tells you exactly who CPS is willing to leave behind.

Observer wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

This would not surprise me:

This would not surprise me: "The districts are going broke and they are willing to throw students with disabilities under the bus if that is what it takes to survive." I mean, who's going to object? Who, with power, that is?

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