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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: Capital savings from closings in question

On the day CPS announced its list of school closings, students at schools slated to shut down received folders with letters to their parents stating that their school had lost enrollment, was partially empty and needed anywhere from $4 million to $37 million in repairs and maintenance.

District leaders repeated that argument, telling the media that CPS will avoid paying $560 million in capital costs over 10 years by shuttering 51schools—more than the savings in operating expenses. The argument has been used to justify the closings, the largest number ever at one time in a major district, as CPS pointed out the need to move old, expensive-to-maintain buildings off the books and cut a projected $1 billion deficit

But a joint analysis by WBEZ/Chicago Public Media and Catalyst Chicago found that the original cost savings estimates were significantly flawed--based on outdated needs assessments inflated by estimates and riddled with mistakes.

CPS leaders acknowledge that the numbers were not iron-clad and insist that the basic premise—avoiding major capital spending—is solid.

In its draft 10-year facilities plan, officials quietly lowered their initial savings estimate by $122 million, conceding that some of the changes were prompted by repeated questions from WBEZ and Catalyst.

Yet the new projections are still based primarily on speculation regarding the current condition of buildings and its needs.

The WBEZ and Catalyst analysis found these problems with the cost savings figures:

  • A CPS official said that the new estimate of $437 million in capital cost savings from closings, down from $560 million, came as the result of updated building assessments. But only six of the 51 schools slated to close have had new assessments.
  • CPS officials have added in a variety of expenses to the known needed repairs, such as modernizing labs, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and installing air conditioning--without conducting assessments to determine what the school needs or obtaining specific estimates of costs.  
  • Major discrepancies can be found between the public information CPS has provided and the internal accounting of cost savings. The 10-year draft master facilities plan provided estimates for closing schools that are, on average, $3 million higher than estimates in the internal documents provided to Catalyst and WBEZ last week. CPS officials included the cost to upgrade schools, in addition to repair costs, despite plans to close schools.


“We are toast”

Principals, local school council members and community activists--and even aldermen--have been questioning the cost-savings figures since the district first released them. 

They believe the numbers were exaggerated to bolster the case for closing schools and say it undermines their trust in the district’s decision-making process—an already fragile trust that CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has said she is determined to repair.

One principal said he was worried the minute he saw the district’s estimate for repair and maintenance at his school.

“I thought to myself, we are toast,” said the principal. This principal, and others contacted for this story, said he has been warned by CPS not to talk to the press.   

A 2010 assessment put a $7 million price tag on repairs and maintenance at this principal’s school. However, the letter provided by the district for parents said it would cost more than three times that figure for repairs and maintenance.

Parents at Trumbull in Andersonville had a similar reaction. The letter parent Ali Burke received at home on March 21 said that Trumbull needed $16.2 million in maintenance and repairs.

“It is ludicrous,” said Burke, who serves on the local school council at Trumbull. 

Trumbull’s latest assessment from 2010 stated that the school needed $4.6 million in capital spending. No new assessment has been done since then. Internal documents provided to WBEZ and Catalyst show CPS lowered the projected savings after the March 21 letter, to about $11 million. The draft facilities plan put the cost to maintain and repair at $15 million.

Burke and other LSC members said they would think CPS would put out estimates based on an actual assessment and pricing based on bids. Burke asked CPS to provide an accounting for how it determined the costs, and CPS officials promised to bring one to a planned meeting with U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky. But the CPS official who attended “forgot” the paperwork, Burke said.

James Morgan, Trumbull’s president, is incredulous. “Where is your source, CPS?” he said.

Not a science 

Mary Filardo, executive director of the 21st Century School Fund, notes that predicting capital cost savings is difficult. Filado’s Washington D.C.-based organization focuses on educational facilities planning. “It is not science,” she says. “It is elastic.”

But Filardo, who has been assisting the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, said that some of the numbers put out by CPS seem odd, especially given the latest assessments.

She points to Wentworth Elementary, a building that is slated to be shut down next year as students and staff relocate to Altgeld.

Between 2000 and 2010, CPS spent about $3 million at Wentworth for boiler repairs and campus renovation, among other work. The 2010 assessment stated that Wentworth needed $5.5 million more in work.

Then, this winter, CPS projected savings of $10.5 million in capital costs by closing Wentworth.

Yet given the major work done in the past 10 years, Filardo says it is hard to imagine what needs to be done. “It is probably an exaggeration,” she says.

Filardo has studied school closings in cities across the country and says it is not unusual for school districts to inflate savings, although often for operating costs such as salaries for laid-off principals, engineers and teachers.

A top CPS official, as well as board president David Vitale, say the adjusting of figures is not important because the basic premise remains. 

“Not having to worry about the capital maintenance is clearly something that will save us money,” says the official (whom the CPS communications office would not let be identified). “It is not a perfect science.”

Education quality also a factor

Vitale says CPS officials are trying to put out a lot of information and tackle many projects and so he would not be surprised if some of the information was not accurate.

“My assumption is that they made some judgments and some estimates,” he says. CPS board members have asked to be briefed on each of the proposed school actions.  By then, Vitale says he expects the school-by-school numbers to be accurate and it is important to him to be able to compare relative costs between schools.

However, with only six updated assessments, it is hard to see how he will be able to make apples-to-apples comparisons for every closing situation. Take Ryerson and Laura Ward in West Humboldt Park. 

The Ward building is slated to close. Ward does not have a new assessment, but the updated assessed need is about $6.6 million a year (including $3.3 million from a 2008 assessment, plus extra costs added in such as inflation, engineering and design). 

Ryerson, where Ward’s student and staff are to relocate, has an updated assessment that puts the price tag for capital spending at $7.9 million. 

Yet Vitale notes there are other factors to consider beyond capital cost savings.

“Because of our financial situation, we must use our buildings efficiently,” he says. He says he also will be looking at utilization and the quality of education in each building.


Chicago dad wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

CPS is trying to set a new

CPS is trying to set a new record for dissembling and diversion and they're well on their way to a big win. The taxpayers and kids will be the big losers if they do. If any private sector organization were run this badly the shareholders would instantly run management out of town on a rail. CPS just can't do the math, not on budgets, not on closures, not on anything. Definitely not on how many parents they have permanently lost the trust of and who will never be tricked into voting for Rahm again either. As a bonus lick in the teeth for Chicago's parents, crickets on all the schools that have been seriously overcrowded for years now. Where's the CPS plan or even acknowledgment for that? The corrupt mismanagement of BBB and the Bored of Education need to go, and we need an elected board that answers to the taxpayers only.

CPS truely anonymous wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

Perfect mis-information without source identification!

“Not having to worry about the capital maintenance is clearly something that will save us money,” says the official (whom the CPS communications office would not let be identified). “It is not a perfect science.”

Democracy Now wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

And there you have it, folks:

And there you have it, folks: Exhibit A for what happens when a group (led by the mayor) starts with the endpoint they want to achieve, then manufactures the evidence to support their case. I'm not sure what's worse - that they did such a shoddy job of hiding their tracks or that they thought we'd be dumb enough to believe them in the first place.

Northside wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

Spread Sheets

One day the word CPS spreadsheets will be synonymous with lies ans hyperbole in the dictionary!! WHY ISNT 60 minutes picking up this story???

Maria wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

What kind of math is this ?

The difference between the REAL assessments (some as recent as 2012) and the CPS assessments is unbelievable! If normal people lived their lives this way, we'd all be in bankruptcy. WHAT will it take to hold CPS accountable for these lies and the spread of misinformation ?

Chicago dad wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

Pay attention Rahm

The buck for all this stops right on your desk, you own this pack of lies. You brought not one but two failed Broad Toadies to Chicago to shove the corporate reform poison down the taxpayers and parents throats and we're not having it. And you sent Brizard, the reject from Rochester away with 1/4 million $$$ of our tax dollars in unearned, totally undeserved severance hush money. Don't waste our time trying to get re-elected, next time we're going to vote for a Democrat.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago


CPS Officials are cowards for not giving their names. You might start seeing a little more accountability from the CPS official who "forgot" the proposal if his name was plastered all over the papers. CPS parents and brave teachers have put their necks out on the line by using their real names and making charges against CPS. (Charges that are all being exposed as the truth.) CPS Officials put out lie after lie under the veil of anonymity.
I've heard CPS employees are miserable and scrambling to find jobs. I think it's only a matter of time before a whistle-blower exposes it all.

urbanteach wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

Keeping track of non-truths...

1. Budget demands no 4% for teachers...
2. Our schools have seen a loss of 140,000 children...
3. Longer school day will fix all...
4. SB7 will not allow a strike...
5. Leave it to the arbitrator to figure it out...
6. J.C isn't leaving...
7. We are facing a billion dollar deficit...
8. We want family/community input in the process...
9. School closings = cost savings...
10. The "underutilization formula"...
11. Children will attend higher performing schools...
12. We need more time to get it right...

Mark Twain... "Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics"

ANN wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

urbanteach, feel free to call it what it is -- a lie

Honest people can feel awkward calling out a liar. Hope you won't.

Rosita Chatonda wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

Has anyone noticed how there

Has anyone noticed how there has been a complete news Blackout about the upcoming CTU election on Friday May, 17,2013? .Lewis and her team are trying to do everything in their power to keep this election hidden. At the House of Delegates last week, they had a "DEBATE". that consisted of about two questions and the CORE CTU team declared a win. Whenever asked about the CTU election, Karen starts talking about the mayoral campaign of 2015. That's because her only accomplishment is a grand showing getting thousands out in the street to strike only to deliver the worst contract to teachers the CTU has ever seen. The contract was so bad they were afraid to publish it until last week so teachers wouldn't have a chance to read it before the election. So much for transparency!

Anonymous wrote 1 year 34 weeks ago

Come on now, Rosita

You know not of which you speak. You weren't at the debate. You aren't a delegate. You aren't even a member. The debate lasted an hour and your team got trounced. Not by Karen and Jesse's great answers, but by your candidates' pathetic lack of answers. The whole house saw it. It was a blow out.

Chicago dad wrote 1 year 34 weeks ago

OK Rosita, where are you getting this from?

Seriously Rosita, the things you are saying are easily shown to have no basis in reality, yet you keep on going with them. It seems like a disinformation campaign from a corporate deformer, thats how lame and obvious it is. Really now, are you a DFER plant or is there something else going on. I'm not trying to get personal, it's just that the stuff you are saying is so bizarre. What gives?

Rosita Chatonda wrote 1 year 34 weeks ago

No I was not inside the

No I was not inside the debate I heard the audio.I watched and was informed by delegates. No, I am no longer a union member after paying dues for years as many African American and veteran teachers have paid dues for years have been attacked maligned and insulted by the CORE leadership. My organization meets every Tuesday at Operation PUSH @ 6:00 p.m. seeking justice for teachers who have been disenfranchised by the vicious CORE leadership.

Rosita Chatonda wrote 1 year 34 weeks ago


Dear Teachers, Parents and Students,

This will probably be the last time I have an opportunity to write about the impending crisis in education here in Chicago before the CTU election on May 17, 2013. As an education organizer, teacher in Chicago for 25 years at both private and public schools, we have seen a demise in ethical practices on behalf of the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union.

In 1995 the Amendatory Act was passed in Springfield giving mayoral control of the Board of Education to the mayor at that time, Richard J. Daley. The corporate reform model which basically consisted of young novice non-educators taking control of the Board of Education to privatize it's assets.

The result of this action has been catastrophic for students, parents and teachers. In the late 90's Reconstitution was initiated and schools were selected to go through the process of targeting and firing teachers in African American communities rather than invest in the schools. Reconstitution as defeated in the courts when the once rock solid Chicago Teachers Union filed appropriate lawsuits and fired teachers were put back to work or compensated for this injustice. City lawyers had to go back to the table and develop another plan to gentrify communities. This plan called Renaissance 2010 was unveiled in 2001-2002 with the closings and turn-around of three schools in the African American community. Daniel Hale Williams, Dodge and Terrell. Terrell was closed and Williams and Dodge received Turn_Arounds. Meaning that the entire staff was fired and students were uprooted from their home schools. (since 2001-2 most inner city students are purged slowly from schools), For over 15 years teachers and students in the African American community have been the scapegoat for policies that are rooted in racism and bigotry.

Simultaneously we began to see the erosion of the Chicago Teachers Union and it's inability to defend it's members. The powerful and beloved Chicago Teachers Union President Jackie Vaughn had left a union rock solid before her death. However, Supernumerary rights were lost that grossly effected veteran teacher seniority and bumping rights. The unraveling of the Chicago Teachers Union ethical practices, give-away of hard fought rights began in 2001.

However, nothing and no other union president has given away so much as Karen Lewis. The give-all way legislation called Senate Bill 7 that forced the CTU into a strike after Lewis signed teachers up for a Longer School Day with no pay. The loss of seniority in economic layoffs, the erosion of union collective bargaining and striking rights; making performance the primary criterion for teacher retention instead of seniority; streamlining the process to fire teachers with unsatisfactory ratings and granting CPS the authority to extend the length of the school day without agreement from the teacher’s union.

The legislation, developed in part to avoid teacher strikes, includes a provision for the Chicago Teachers Union to have approval from 75 percent of its membership to authorize a strike. Before the legislation was passed, CTU only needed 51 percent of voting members before proceeding to the next step to authorize a strike. The State Legislature requires a simple majority of members present to advance legislation, and 60 percent to override a gubernatorial veto.

Lewis on the signing of Senate Bill 7

“We are proud that we were successful in making sure experience and performance are respected. We have made the process for teacher dismissal more efficient and fair. We also have made certain there will be more accountability for everyone involved in the education of our students; not just teachers, but administrators and school board members as well,” said CTU President Karen Lewis.

To sum it up Teachers , on May 17, 2013 , you have an opportunity to restore dignity to the Chicago Public Schools . To stop the fighting, name calling and personal vendettas between Lewis and the mayor. You have a responsibility to teachers who are paying an incredible price for mistakes made by Karen Lewis and CORE. With 5,000 African American teachers and countless of veterans of all ethnic backgrounds, Give Lewis a chance to do what she really want and that is to run for mayor. Let her finance it and not off the backs of teachers.


In Genuine Solidarity,

Rosita Chatonda
Founding President of CAUSE, The Chicago Alliance of Urban School Educators
SS NAACP Displaced Teacher Chair
South Shore CAC Community Outreach Chair

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