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Senn to present community plan

Senn High School’s local school council and its strategic planning committee will present their five-year strategic plan at a community meeting Monday, March 10, 7 p.m., 5900 N. Glenwood.

The plan calls for keeping Senn as a general community school, enhancing its academic programs and publicizing its “unique and rich learning opportunities.”

A few weeks after the committee released a draft of its plan last September, Ald. Mary Ann Smith announced a counterproposal — closing the general high school and opening four small schools.

 Smith is the major supporter of the Rickover Naval Academy at Senn, which has generated widespread controversy.

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Recruiting LSC candidates

“The community here takes LSC elections very seriously — just as seriously as Hillary and Barack,” said Darryl Bell of Teamwork Englewood.

The group is one of a dozen around the city working with “minigrants” from the CPS Office of LSC Relations to recruit candidates for April LSC elections. The deadline for candidates to file is March 12.

PURE recently posted an updated guide to LSC elections (pdf).

Bell reports enthusiasm among community residents for the elections — in part motivated by concern over the consolidation of the Miles Davis Magnet and Vernon Johns Middle Schools. He said the change could create trouble by requiring students to cross gang boundaries.

Bob Vondrasek at South Austin Coalition reports a bit more difficulty in recruiting candidates. Organizers have encountered some negative attitudes toward LSCs, he said.

“Some go bad. Some are controlled by the principal,” he said. “But even with all the flaws, they’re still doggone worth having. They’re the only way you can have some kind of voice in the school.

“At it’s best, a good LSC and a good principal are the two key things. You get more parental involvement and more community involvement.”

“It’s extremely difficult motiving parents to run for LSCs when the board continues trying to close or turn-around schools” — acting unilaterally, without consulting their LSCs, said Wanda Hopkins, a parent advocate at PURE and LSC member at Lewis school who’s working with SAC on candidate recruitment.

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Referenda Give Voters a Voice on Schools, Development, Jobs

Voters in precincts across Chicago will consider referenda on a range of local issues in the March 21 general primary.

[Updated3-22-06: Outcomes have been noted based on unofficial results of the Chicago Board of Elections.]

22nd Ward: High School Boundaries

A referendum calling on CPS to “draw attendance boundaries for Little Village High School to only allow students from the surrounding community to attend” is being opposed by Little Village Community Development Corp., the group which helped organize the hunger strike in 2000 which led to the creation of the new high school.

“This is not only divisive, it is unconstitutional,” said Jesus Garcia, executive director of LVCDC.

State Senator Martin Sandoval initiated the referendum complaining that the high school draws students from North Lawndale while some in Little Village are excluded.

In fact the students from North Lawndale live closer to the high school than students in the east portion of Little Village, said Jaime de Leon of LVDCC. He said the referendum has “racist implications” and is “based on the notion that African American students from North Lawndale are taking slots that should go to [Latino] kids from Little Village.”

He added that the school has a limited capacity and couldn’t accommodate all of Little Village’s high school students “The referendum would take us back to square one in terms of overcrowding,” he said.

At a recent meeting, parents of students at the high school “want to protect the way the school is set up,” de Leon said. “They don’t want their kids to go to an overcrowded school and they like the fact that their kids go to a school with more than one race.”

Leaders of the high school as well as nonprofit partners including Lawndale Christian Development Corporation and Instituto del Progreso Latino also oppose the referendum and defend the school’s diversity.

“We urge our elected officials to focus their efforts on improving the other schools in the area, instead of attacking our school,” said Rito Martinez, principal of the Social Justice School, one of four small schools at the high school.

[Measure approved by 54.8 percent of voters]

For more: Jaime de Leon, Little Village Community Development Corp., 773-447-0776

25th Ward: Downzoning

In 13 Pilsen precincts in the 25th Ward, Pilsen Alliance has a referendum asking voters whether Alderman Danny Solis should downzone the neighborhood — in general limiting new residential construction to single family homes — in order “to slow down gentrification” and “preserve the historic designation of Pilsen.”

Last month Pilsen was designated a state historic district, making homeowners eligible for an eight-year property tax freeze — if they invest 25 percent of their building’s assessed value into rehab.

The designation “could be a way to preserve buildings, but it could lead to speculation” and higher property taxes for residents, most of whom are low-income and would have difficulty qualifying for a tax freeze, said Alejandra Ibanez of Pilsen Alliance. “The benefits [of the designation] don’t outweigh the challenges and limitations for people with lower incomes,” she said.

“If [Solis] wants historic preservation, he’s going to have to put a moratorium on teardowns and he’s going to have to downzone” to head off “speculators [who] are buying bungalows and two-flats, demolishing them and building three- and four-story condos,” Ibanez said.

She is concerned about “misinformation” including claims that downzoning would lower property values. “That couldn’t be more wrong,” she said.

“Pilsen is already so hot it’s on fire,” said Ibanez. She said property taxes there doubled between 2000 and 2004.

In the last two years the group has lost campaigns to block two large condominium projects, and residents were discouraged after being “beat up and shut down” by aldermen and planning commissioners when they tried to testify against the projects, Ibanez said.

Pilsen Alliance recently completed a survey of all Pilsen’s lots, noting zoning, usage, ownership and taxes, Ibanez said. A report on their findings and policy recommendations is forthcoming, she said.

[Measure approved by 75.5 percent of voters]

For more: Alejandra Ibanez, 312-243-5440

35th Ward: Development and Jobs

Alderman Rey Colon is supporting three referenda in the 35th Ward, and the Logan Square Neighborhood Association is supporting two of them and opposing one.

LSNA supports referenda backing an inclusionary zoning ordinance (establishing affordable housing setasides in larger new developments and rehabs) and the Big Box Living Wage Ordinance requiring new retail establishments larger than 75,000 square feet to pay a living wage and provide health benefits.

The inclusionary zoning measure “is a great tool for communities like Logan Square where the pool of rental and homeownership options for working families is shrinking as prices rise,” said Nancy Aardema of LSNA. The living wage ordinance has roots in an LSNA campaign in the late 1990s that won a community benefits agreement with a new Costco at Clybourne and Diversy providing job training, living wage jobs, and health insurance.

A third referendum calls on the alderman to “support commercial and residential redevelopment of the Fullerton/Milwaukee/Armitage TIF.” It gives the Alderman a “blank check,” said Aardema, and undercuts against community involvement in planning, which LSNA supports.

She points out that LSNA is supporting two development proposals in the TIF area that maintain local businesses, preserve existing buildings and remain in character with the rest of the block.

[Inclusionary zoning referendum passed with 76.7 percent of vote; Big Box Living Wage referendum passed with 83.5 percent; TIF referendum defeated with 56.3 percent of voters opposed.]

For more: Nancy Aardema, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, 773-384-4370

48th Ward – Senn High School

A referendum in the 48th ward calls on the Chicago Board of Education to “establish a formal process to receive community input regarding removal of the Rickover military academy at Senn High School.”

The decision to establish the military academy of Senn was an example of “decision makers holding meetings to say they’ve gotten community input when the decision has already been made,” said Christopher Persons of Citizens for Inclusive Government, a group formed to sponsor the referendum.

“At every opportunity for community input” on the Rickover academy “the input was strongly in opposition — from teachers, students, and the community — and it went ahead anyway,” Persons said. He said school and elected officials deferred to Ald. Mary Ann Smith on the decision.

Senn’s LSC opposed installing the academy unanimously, Persons said — and when Smith established her own “Senn Tomorrow” committee, that group also overwhelmingly opposed the academy. Smith then dissolved the committee, he said.

The group’s voter canvas has found support for the referendum among “a strong majority of residents who are in favor of removing the academy” — and also among supporters of the academy “who agree there ought to be a thorough and honest process,” he said.

“They’ll deny it and deny it, but [the academy] is a recruitment scheme” — especially in a school with many lower-income students, Persons said. With rising test scores and a student body speaking 56 languages, Senn should consider establishing a peace academy, an international studies program, or a language academy, he said.

[Referendum approved by 69.7 percent of voters.]

For more: Christopher Persons, Citizens for Inclusive Government, 773-370-3055

49th Ward – Community Benefits

Five Rogers Park precincts will vote on whether employers who receive public funds should be required to hire locally, pay a living wage, and respect the right to organize. The referendum was placed on the ballot by the Rogers Park Community Action Network, which is seeking jobs commitments at the Howard CTA reconstruction project as well as two local TIF districts.

[Measure approved by 87.9 percent of voters]

For more: Fran Tobin, Rogers Park Community Action Network, 773-973-7888

Wards 24, 28, 29, and 37 – Jobs for Ex-Offenders

A referendum on the ballot in four wards with the highest number of people returning from prison seeks to lift employment barriers for nonviolent ex-offenders for public jobs. It backs legislation removing criminal background questions on state, county and municipal job applications.

The four wards cover Austin, North Lawndale, and East Garfield Park, the three community areas with the highest concentration of returning ex-offenders, according to a recent Urban Institute report.

According to the report, over half of the over 20,000 ex-offenders who return to Chicago each year end up in one of seven neighborhoods.

“We believe that if the public sector agrees to help more people [with criminal backgrounds] secure jobs, the private sector will follow,” said La Shawn Ford, a candidate for state representative in the 8th district who organized the referendum drive.

Ford points out that the federal government does not ask job applicants about their criminal background, and several states limit questions on criminal background on their job applications.

“I truly believe that if individuals are able to gain employment, they will be better citizens and better parents,” he said.

Ford said that volunteers he organized collected 4,000 signatures for the referendum in two weekends. “That shows how pressing the issue is — for ex-offenders and for society.”

[Passed overwhelmingly in all three wards; combined totals: 12,618 yes, 1,015 no]

For more: La Shawn Ford, 773-378-5902

Loyola TIF Stirs Controversy

A proposed Sheridan-Devon TIF district has had “unprecedented” community paritipation in preliminary planning, according to proponents. But some residents with concerns about affordable housing and living wage jobs feel their input is being overlooked.

Loyola University has acted as “catalyst” and hired S.B. Friedman Consultants to prepare a TIF proposal, said Jennifer Clark, director of community relations for Loyola. But Ald. Joe Moore (49) and Patrick O’Connor (40) appointed a TIF task force to gather community input and draw up the redevelopment plan which is a central part of a TIF proposal.

One recent meeting sponsored by Moore broke up into small groups to discuss residents’ visions for the TIF district. But some residents felt the resulting report neglected their contributions.

Members of Rogers Park Community Action Network had proposed dedicating 30 percent of TIF funds to low-cost housing, and requiring employers benefiting from TIF funds to provide living wage jobs and respect their employees’ right to organize; at the next community meeting, July 31, none of their ideas were included in the compilation of proposals.

According to TIF task force chair Kimberly Bares of DevCorp. North, ideas from the small-group sessions “were considered on the basis of their appropriateness and feasibility.”

RPCAN argues that since the area is already attracting investment, a TIF is only appropriate to address needs the market can’t meet, and particularly to offset displacement caused by market pressures. Without specific goals and guidlines, the TIF is “simply a blank check for the alderman and Loyola,” said Fran Tobin of RPCAN.

At his July 31 community meeting on Loyola’s Sheridan campus, Moore promised residents that he would be guided by principles of “diversity” and would approve no development proposal which the community opposed.

A citywide TIF watchdog group is concerned about “conservation” TIFs like Sheridan-Devon, which can be enacted in areas where investments and property values are already growing. The Neighborhood Capital Budget Group is considering proposing reforms to tighten eligibility requirements for conservation TIFs, said John Paul Jones because “those are the TIFs that really hurt the tax base.”

Other concerns center on Loyola’s role. Clark says the school is considering developing retail property it owns around the Loyola El stop, as well as student housing and parking. “We don’t have any hard and firm plans,” she said. Tobin says Loyola could use property tax funds to acquire private rental housing and develop it into student housing — thereby taking it off the property tax rolls. Opposition to the TIF is growing among concerned Loyola students and faculty, Tobin added.

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