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Does Rogers Park need a new charter school?

A new charter school in Rogers Park will undermine neighborhood schools in multiple ways, say residents who complain there was “no discussion” about siting the new school.

UNO Charter Schools announced last week it is leasing the building which housed St. Scholastica Academy, 7416 N. Ridge, and will open a K-8 school there.  UNO chief Juan Rangel promised “a very aggressive recruitment campaign,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

UNO’s goal is to recruit 570 students.  Most “will be pulled from the surrounding community,” said Jim Ginderske of Occupy Rogers Park.  The group protested at the announcement of the new school last week.

Rogers Park has six elementary schools, he said.  They have a range of performance levels, but all “have a good mix of students,” dedicated teachers, and parents  who are involved in trying to garner more resources for their schools.  And all are seeing enrollments decline.

Every student recruited by UNO will cost a neighborhood school thousands of dollars in per-pupil state allocations, and by recruiting more motivated students, UNO will undercut local schools’ academic strength, he said.

It’s happened before (and not just here).  At a community hearing in 2009 Kristine Mayle, now CTU’s financial secretary, described the process where she taught, De La Cruz Middle School, which was closed in 2009, the year it won a Spotlight Award from the state board of education.

“We were an award-winning school, and then UNO started pulling kids away from our school and our numbers dropped,” she said, as Substance reported at the time.

(The De la Cruz building was then used to house UNO’s Paz school, its first and lowest-performing campus, while its facility was renovated.)

The big question is whether CPS really needs to open 60 new charter schools, as planned, when it has hundreds of underfunded neighborhood schools in buildings it says are underutilized.  Especially when charters  perform no better than neighborhood schools.

Meanwhile, UNO schools in non-CPS buildings get $400 thousand each in annual facilities funding from the school district,  WBEZ reports.

That’s a sharp contrast to neighborhood schools, where CPS funds repairs only “as needed,” with repairs often deferred for years.  Half of CPS schools will get no facilities funding under the proposed budget, BEZ reports.

And the CPS subsidy is on top of $100 million in state funding UNO’s getting for new school construction – from a state that fails to meet its constitutional mandate for fair school funding.

“What’s really happening here is starving neighborhood schools of resources,” Ginderske said.

Charter school proponents used to argue that public schools would improve with competition.  But with this kind of competition – for scarce resources – that’s not how it works.  This is cut-throat competition.

Ginderske criticized Ald. Joe Moore for backing the new school without consulting his constituents.

On top of Moore’s action squelching an advisory referendum on an elected school board, he said, “Many people feel they elected [Moore] as a progressive, and he’s no longer a progressive.”

“You don’t have to agree with the mayor on everything,” he said.

A community platform to stop violence

Violence is up in Chicago, but community leaders say prevention works and deserves support.

Hundreds of residents of Rogers Park and Uptown will attend the unveiling of a comprehensive violence prevention platform by the Organization of the North East on Monday, April 30 at 6:30 p.m. at Sullivan High School, 6631 N. Bosworth.

“We cannot end violence and crime with policing and law enforcement,” according to the platform. “We must address the root causes of violence by employing multiple strategies that build community, support positive youth development, prevent the negative influence of poverty and racism, and provide development-focused interventions when youth make choices that will have a negative impact on their lives.”

Speakers will include young people who have been helped by community programs and CeaseFire interrupters and clients.  “There’s a lot of good work being done that needs to be continued,” said ONE executive director Joe Damal.

Students who have been inappropriately suspended will discuss the need for school discipline reform.  ONE is part of the High Hopes Campaign, which calls for implementing restorative justice practices to reduce suspensions and expulsions in CPS.

Budget deal eliminates housing counseling program

[UPDATED]  Housing advocates reacted with shock to the revelation yesterday that funding for HUD-approved housing counseling agencies was completely eliminated in last Friday’s deal on the federal 2011 budget.

A range of housing programs face significant reductions – but the $88 million housing counseling program is one of the only ones being zeroed out entirely, said Bob Palmer of Housing Action Illinois.

The deal would eliminate a basic source of funding for the nonprofit agencies which assist troubled homeowners – in the midst of a continuing foreclosure crisis of historic proportions.  A vote is expected in Congress this week.

“It’s completely misguided in the face of the foreclosure crisis,” Palmer said.  “It looks like partisan politics has trumped making good funding decisions.”

Agencies will close, foreclosures will rise

He said agencies he’s heard from today uniformly say they would have to lay off staff and reduce services – and a number of agencies say they would be forced to close.

The elimination of funding will certainly mean an increase in foreclosures which could have been prevented, he said.

Studies have shown that homeowners facing foreclosure with assistance from housing counselors are far more likely to work out a settlement where they keep their homes.

[Woodstock Institute “strongly opposes zeroing out funds for HUD-funded housing counseling assistance,” said Tom Feltner in a statement.  Feltner noted research by Woodstock and Housing Action that found gaps in counseling resources in areas of the Chicago region facing notable increases in foreclosures.  He said agencies “will likely have to close their doors or sharply decrease their operations in the absence of HUD funding.”

“At a time when foreclosures continue to rise and communities are devastated by vacant homes, family instability and loss of home equity, we simply can’t afford to cut funds for housing counselors working on the front lines to keep families in their homes whever possible and create educated, responsible homeowners,” Feltner said.]

At the Rogers Park Community Development Corporation, the funding loss would mean a loss of staff positions at a time when other sources of funding are tight, said Heather Hain.

“It could be pretty devastating,” she said.

Another major source of funding for RPCDC comes from federal community development block grants administered by the city – and that program would be cut by $640 million under the budget deal.

Hundreds of cases

Like many such agencies, RPCDC has traditionally focused on homebuyer counseling, but in the past three years has seen its caseload shift dramatically to foreclosure prevention counseling.

The agency has been taking on hundreds of foreclosure cases each year since about 2009, Hain said, and each case can take two years to be settled – with each client requiring considerable individual attention.

“These cases are not neat and tidy,” she said.  “People are losing jobs.  And a lot of it has to do with banks not being responsive.”

Another potential source of funding for foreclosure prevention is under consideration in Springfield.  HB 1810 would assess a $500 fee for a foreclosure sale, with funds supporting housing counseling, borrower outreach, free legal assistance and court-based mediation.

It would also give an incentive to banks to work out troubled mortgages rather than foreclosing on them.

The bill has passed the House housing committee but faces significant opposition from the financial industry, Palmer said.

Students: Emanuel errs on charter performance

Rahm Emanuel “didn’t do his homework” when he touted the supposed superiority of charter schools in a televised debate, three Chicago high school students assert in a Youtube video that’s attracted widespread attention.

Chicago news media didn’t do its homework, either, when it allowed Emanuel’s baseless assertion to pass unchallenged.

In the debate on WGN on January 27, Emanuel said: “If you take out Northside [College Prep], if you take out Walter Payton, the seven best performing high schools are all charters.”

In fact, none of the best-performing high schools are charters, the students point out.

“Four hundred thousand students go to their neighborhood public schools [in Chicago],” they say on the video.  “You want a real school turnaround? Invest in us!”  The video supports Miguel del Valle’s candidacy.

Sullivan junior Gerardo Aguilar, who’s involved in a Mikva Challenge civic participation project at the school, attended a January 17 candidates forum sponsored by Mikva and WTTW.  He says he liked Del Valle’s repeated emphasis on neighborhood schools, and he came back to school and organized fellow members of the Latino Club to canvas for him.

On the last Saturday of January, they watched the WGN debate online, so they’d have a better grasp of the issues when they went door-to-door later that day.

‘Did you hear what he said?’

They immediately realized Emanuel’s error; they knew that nearby Lane Tech was a top-ranked school, Aguilar said.

“We were talking about it: ‘Did you hear what he said?'” relates Alexandra Alvarez, also a junior at Sullivan. “If he doesn’t care about neighborhood schools, what’s he going to do to help them?”

All in the same day, they researched the issue, scripted, shot, and edited the video, and posted it on Youtube, with the help of a neighbor who’d been Aguilar’s coach for the Young Leaders Conference of the National Hispanic Institute.

(Latino Club advisor Jacquelyn Rosa gives an account of the video’s creation at Achy Obejas’s Citylife blog.)

As far as Emanuel’s inaccuracy, the students’ charge is on the money, said Don Moore of Designs for Change, who analyzed rankings at Newstips’ request.

In fact, the top nine high schools – based on the percentage of students at or above state standards in combined reading, math, and science scores on the Prairie State Achievement Examination – are all public, non-charter schools, he said.

“Emanuel’s claim has no factual basis,” Moore said.

The Emanuel campaign did not respond to a request for clarification.

Not only are no charters among Chicago’s top-ranked high schools; not one charter is among the twelve Chicago high schools with 50 percent or more of students meeting standards.

Unlike charters, eleven of the top performing schools are governed by Local School Councils, which select their principals for four-year performance contracts. (The twelfth, Rickover Military Academy, has an advisory LSC.)  Also unlike charters, all twelve are staffed by unionized teachers.

In addition to favoring privately-operated, nonunion charters, Emanuel has called for removing the power of public school LSCs to appoint principals – a central accountability feature of Chicago school reform – and returning it to the central bureaucracy.  (Several efforts by Mayor Daley to accomplish this over recent years failed to gain traction in Springfield.)  And Emanuel has backed legislative efforts to severely constrain teachers’ seniority and collective bargaining rights.

‘Fix existing schools’

For the students, the concern seems to be continued disinvestment in neighborhood schools to benefit new schools that soak up resources but serve much smaller numbers of students, without better results.

“There are schools that already exist that need fixing, that need resources,” said Alvarez.

“Going to a neighborhood school, we don’t have a lot of resources,” she said.  But although “the attention the school gets is for violence, gangs and drugs,” there are “programs that help students do better.”

Aguilar mentions the school’s medical careers academy, as well as the Paideia program, which was withdrawn last year when funding ran out.

Beyond that is a concern that school policy will be based on prejudices rather than facts.  Emanuel’s misstatement “shows that the people that people think know everything aren’t really looking into the problems they say they want to fix,” said Christina Henriquez.

Moore backs this up too. “The public needs to know the truth about the charter school myths,” said Moore.  “A lot of their supporters speak of them as the solution, but the evidence doesn’t bear this out.”

He cites a study (pdf) commissioned by the Renaissance Schools Fund, a business-backed group that raises money for charter schools in Chicago, that found no difference in achievement when matched pairs of charter and public school students were compared over two years.

Indeed, Moore’s analysis indicates that more than two-thirds of the charters currently serving grades 9 through 12 have less than 27 percent of students meeting standards.

Finding Emanuel’s error “got us to ask, how much does he really know about schools?” said Henriquez.  And it led them to fear that “he doesn’t care about us.”

Beyond all that, perhaps, the students’ achievement – catching a significant gaffe by a major candidate which completely slipped past the city’s news media (this reporter included) – is a testament to the unsung accomplishments of students and teachers at Sullivan and in neighborhood schools across the city.

‘Participatory budgeting’ in the 49th ward

In a city where budget opacity is the norm – including a billion-dollar TIF program operated with minimal public disclosure – one ward will be the first locality in the U.S. to undertake the cutting-edge “good governance” practice of participatory budgeting.

At nine neighborhood assemblies starting tomorrow night (Tuesday, November 3, at St. Margaret Mary Church, 7311 N. Claremont), residents of the 49th Ward will elect community representatives to begin the process of allocating infrastructure funds from next year’s $1.4 million aldermanic menu program.

In further neighborhood meetings and workshops over coming months, community representatives will develop proposals for infrastructure projects, and next spring residents will meet in a ward assembly to vote on an infrastructure budget.

The process got started last spring when Ald. Joe Moore called together leaders of 50 community groups, who formed a steering committee to develop the planning process.

“Hopefully this is a start toward a far more transparent process,” said Jamiko Rose, executive director of the Organization of the North East, who chairs the steering committee.

Read the rest of this entry »

Video poker debates

A Chicago ordinance bans video poker; with the state’s new capital budget funded in part by the legalization of video poker, a push to repeal the local ban is expected.

And with scores of localities moving now to institute bans, “Chicago is the key whether video poker machines will exist in Illinois,” said Rev. Thomas Gray of the national organization Stop Predatory Gambling.

Three forums this week will bring together the Task Force to Oppose Gambling in Chicago and the Illinois Coin Machine Operators Association, joined by Ald. Joe Moore and the Illinois Conference of the United Methodists — Monday, October 19, 7:30 p.m. at Humboldt Park United Methodist Church, 2120 N. Mozart [corrected]; Tuesday, October 20, 12 noon at Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington; and Wednesday, October 21, 7 p.m. at the Rogers Park Library, 6907 N. Clark.

Summer in Rogers Park

Nonprofits, parks, police and local pols are sponsoring a resource fair with information on summer events, summer programs for kids, and volunteer opportunities for adults and teens — Monday, June 8, 4 to 7 p.m. in the cafeteria of Sullivan High School, 6631 N. Bosworth (enter on Greenview).  At 7 p.m. there’s a “safety walk.”

Hundreds of Senn supporters visit Ald. Smith

From Chi-Town Daily News:  Hundreds of students, teachers and North Side residents gathered outside an alderman’s home last night to protest plans to reorganize Senn High School…

“Ald. Smith, you were elected to represent us,” said Father Dominic Grassi of St. Gertrude Catholic Parish. “You have not come to the table, so we’re going to bring the table to you.”

Father Paul Koch of Ebenezer Lutheran Church rang the bell at Smith’s home as the crowd sang, “This Little Light of Mine,” but no one answered. He taped a letter to her door invoking Jesus’ instruction to “let the little children come to me.”

“We pray that you have a change of heart and recognize the value of diversity and the potential of all youth in our community,” it said.

 

Related:

Town hall on Senn’s military academy

Senn to present community plan



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