Chicago Teachers Union – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop http://www.newstips.org Chicago Community Stories Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:31:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.11 Teach For America alumni organize ‘resistance’ http://www.newstips.org/2013/07/teach-for-america-alumni-organize-resistance/ http://www.newstips.org/2013/07/teach-for-america-alumni-organize-resistance/#comments Sat, 13 Jul 2013 01:42:23 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7562 In a major step for a growing “countermovement,” Teach For America alumni and teachers are meeting at a conference here this weekend to organize “resistance to TFA’s efforts to promote corporate education reform.”

Meanwhile  CPS, which is laying off hundreds of teachers, is stepping up its financial support for the controversial organization, which provides graduates of top colleges with cursory educational training and places them in classrooms in low-income urban and rural areas.

An assembly on Organizing Resistance to Teach For America takes place Sunday, July 14, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., at Uplift Community High School, 900 W. Wilson.  It’s part of the national Free Minds, Free People conference, aimed at “promot[ing] education as a tool for liberation.”

Among the organizers is a group of New Orleans TFAers who formed a Teachers Roundtable to foster community discussions after they realized their training hadn’t prepared them for issues of racial justice and community displacement, according to the American Prospect.

The Sunday event aims to focus the efforts of an emerging group of TFA alumni and others who are critical of the organization’s role backing privatization and the charter school movement, said Kerry Kretchmar, an assistant professor of education at Carroll University in Wisconsin.  Kretchmar was a TFA teacher-intern in New York City from 2004 to 2006.

Contributing to inequality

While TFA “uses the language of the civil rights movement” and talks about ending educational inequities, the group “perpetuates systemic inequalities”  including the lack of certified teachers in low-income urban schools, Kretchmar said.  And while it started out a quarter century ago filling teacher shortages in poor districts, today its “corps members” are replacing veteran teachers.

TFA spokesperson Becky O’Neill said in an e-mail that research “shows that corps members’ impact on student achievement exceeds that of other teachers in the same high-needs schools, even when compared with veteran and fully certified teachers.”  According to Kretchmar, peer-reviewed research doesn’t back up that claim.  (More on the question here.)

It’s a sensitive subject in Chicago, where hundreds of teachers were displaced when Mayor Emanuel closed 50 schools recently, and hundreds more are expected to lose their jobs with cuts to school budgets now under consideration.

Meanwhile, Substance reports, CPS has increased its contract for TFA to refer teacher-interns to the district from $600,000 to $1.59 million, raising the number of first-year TFAers to 325, up from 200 two years ago.

That money is for referrals (some call it a “finder’s fee”) and for on-going support; CPS also pays TFA teacher-interns the full salary of a starting teacher.  (CPS did not respond immediately to a request for comment.)

It’s not like it’s particularly hard to find available teachers in Chicago.

No teacher shortage

“In Chicago, we don’t have a teacher shortage; we have a huge population of veteran teachers who’ve been thrown out of their jobs,” CTU president Karen Lewis told Newstips.  “It’s primarily middle-aged black women.  And it’s very difficult for them to find open positions.”

Chicago is not the only place that’s happening, either.

O’Neill argues that in Chicago, hiring decisions are made by principals, who “continue to hire our corps members based on the impact they make in the classroom.”

But Lewis point out that with the district’s shift to per-pupil funding, principals have a strong financial incentive to favor lower-salaried first-year teachers over those with experience — even though research shows that teachers with five or more years of experience are far more effective than novices.

She adds that TFA has raised hundreds of millions of dollars from pro-privatization foundations; the group’s total assets in 2011 topped $350 million, according to the Prospect.  “So why is CPS subsidizing them?  It’s ridiculous.”

Targeting communities

In May, local teacher/blogger Katie Osgood raised alarms about a TFA statement that “by 2017, we aim to create a network of eight or more neighborhoods with exceptional levels of student achievement….

“Through a focused influx of corps members and alumni, we will reach critical mass in the Near West Side, East/West Garfield Park, North/South Lawndale, Archer Heights, Brighton Park, Gage Park, and Englewood.”  The statement was included in materials for a gala, $10,000-a-table fundraiser at the Drake Hotel.

Osgood wrote that TFA was targeting “the very same communities being traumatized” by massive school closings.

“And TFA wants to go into those communities after mass layoffs — where many quality veteran teachers will be displaced and many may not be rehired,” among them many teachers with deep roots in the community – “and offer them uncertified, poorly-trained novices, many of whom have never even been to the Midwest, much less know the varied individual neighborhoods of Chicago.

“It’s like TFA is kicking these communities while they are down.”

Commented O’Neill, “Based on the success that our corps members have had teaching in some of our highest-need communities and feedback from principals in these areas, we’re open to the idea that it might be worth increasing the number of corps members we recruit, train, and support to partner with kids and families in these communities in particular.”

Since up to 70 percent of Chicago TFAers work in charter schools, including the politically-connected Nobel and UNO chains, it could be yet another sign that the school closings weren’t about “underutilization” or saving money after all — they were to lay the ground for charter expansion.

Guinea pigs

More recently, Osgood has scored TFA for using CPS summer school classes — for students who failed courses during the school year — as training sites for their interns.

“These are the children most in need of expert teaching and support; many may have or eventually may need special education services,” she wrote. “Instead, TFA partners with certain schools where students are used as practice tools the entire day, as novices have their very first experiences working with a group of children.”

According to Osgood, a veteran teacher she knows reported his class was taken over, and he “was told to sit silently in the back of the classroom” as “five novice TFAers fumbled their way through lessons for four whole weeks of a five-week summer term.”

“They are using my kids as guinea pigs,” he told Osgood.

“The organization is working to deprofessionalize teaching,” charges T. Jameson Brewer, a former TFAer who’s now a PhD candidate at Univerity of Illinois at Urbana-Champagn

“The assumption is that anybody can teach — that if you went to a good school and got good grades, then you can teach,” he said.  “I can assure you that’s not the case.”

Brewer took a curious route into TFA.  After university training he was certified as a secondary school history teacher in Georgia — but at the height of the recession, a two-year job search was fruitless.  He joined TFA thinking, “anything to get in a classroom,” he said.

Burnout

He took notes and even volunteered as a staffer for summer training institute his second year to gain more insight.  (TFA trainers are not a whole lot more experienced than their trainees.)   His account of his experience will be published in a forthcoming issue of Critical Education devoted to TFA.

He’s also written on burnout among TFAers: he thinks the combination of minimal training and the ideology that every student failure is solely the teachers’ fault is a powerful factor, and contributes to low retention rates for the organization.

Brewer recalls witnessing a TFA adviser yelling at an intern who’d sought his guidance regarding a student who consistently failed to bring a pencil to class.

The adviser excoriated the intern, according to Brewer, “insisting that if the corps member had properly ‘invested her students in their learning’ that the student would bring a pencil.  The corps member was brought to tears and quit three days later.”

Time to fold?

Another local blogger who’s a TFA alum has suggested it’s time for the organization to fold.  A recent TFAer in Colorado, Matt Barnum is now a student at University of Chicago Law School; he seems generally supportive of mainstream “reform” goals.

But he argues that TFA is now replacing veteran teachers, and points to the “wasted investment schools make in teachers who leave within a few years.”  He questions TFA’s cost-effectiveness, pointing out that the group’s annual budget in 2009 amounted to $38,000 per intern, more than double what it cost in 2005.

Barnum says his five-week training was “close to useless” and the support he received through the school year was perfunctory and “little help.”  Considering the group spends over $200 million a year, perhaps there is a better use for that money, he writes.

Osgood has called on TFA members to quit, saying the organization claims to fight inequality but in fact contributes to char it.

“I have nothing against the corps members,” says Lewis.  “They’re young people who have a lot of empathy and want to do something, want to give something back.”

In fact, she says, “I came into teaching like they did” — graduating from an Ivy League school and going through an alternative certification program.  “I didn’t know I was going to make a commitment to teach, but I got the teaching bug.”

“I know that you are trying to help, but you are becoming part of a system that is destabilizing children’s lives,” she says.  “Realize that you’ve been sold a bill of goods.”

What should they do?  “Make a commitment, learn how to teach, check your egos at the door.”  By this she means questioning the organization’s Super Teacher fantasy, the notion that an elite education gives you special powers that mere mortals lack.

“And don’t buy into the finger-pointing at veteran teachers.  We have to do this together.”

***

CTU is a sponsor of Free Minds, Free People, along with Northeastern Illinois University, the University of Chicago Urban Teacher Education Program, the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Education, and a number of national groups, including the Alliance for Eeducation Justice, Rethinking Schools, and the Brown University Department of Education.

Karen Lewis will speak as part of the plenary town hall meeting, Saturday, July 13 at 2:15 p.m.

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Alternatives to school cuts http://www.newstips.org/2013/06/alternatives-to-school-cuts/ http://www.newstips.org/2013/06/alternatives-to-school-cuts/#comments Wed, 19 Jun 2013 22:32:17 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7539 Just a month ago — when they were intent on closing 50 schools — the watchword at CPS was “quality education.”

“What we must do is ensure that the resources that some kids get, all kids get,” said Barbara Byrd-Bennett in an internet ad funded by the right-wing Walton Family Foundation.  “And these resources include libraries and access to technology and science labs and art classrooms….

“And with our consolidations we’re able to guarantee that our children will get what they need and what they deserve.”

That was then.

Raise Your Hand has released a very partial list of budget cuts faced by schools under the district’s new per-pupil funding system, and it’s impressive:

Goethe, Jamieson, Kozmisky, Sutherland, each will lose between $250,000 and $300,000.  Audobon, Belden, Gale, Grimes Fleming, and Ray, between $400,000 and $500,000.  Bell, Darwin Mitchell, Murphy, Suder, Sullivan High, betweeen $700,000 and $800,000.  Gage Park High, Lincoln Park High, Mather Elementary, Roosevelt High, $1 million or thereabouts.  Foreman High, $1.7 million.

CTU reports that Taft High School faces a $3 million cut.

According to Wendy Katten of RYH, every school they’ve contacted faces budget cuts.  So far they have figures from about 10 percent of CPS schools, and the cuts total about $45 million, she said.  (CTU budget analyst Kurt Hilgendorf said the union has requested district-wide figures on cuts but CPS has declined to supply them.)

“It’s horrific,” she said.  “There are terrible losses.”

It also clearly contravene’s Byrd-Bennett’s promise about what school consolidations would accomplish.

Losing library access

Two high schools,Von Steuben and Lincoln Park,  are reported to be considering laying off librarians — at Von Steuben it would mean no open-access library; at Lincoln Park, the library would remain open part of the school day but not after school — but many more principals are being forced to choose between staffing their libraries and having enough teachers.

At many schools it will mean  eliminating art or music.  At Katten’s son’s school, it looks like art will be eliminated and physical education will be staffed by a part-time teacher — which means gym just twice a week, far below the state requirement.

Funding for enrichment programming as part of the longer school day trumpeted by Emanuel last year is being eliminated.  At many schools, “the longer day is not going to be very enriching,” Katten said.

And many schools will be forced to lay off teachers and increase class sizes.  Audubon Elementary, losing $400,000, is considering laying off as many as six teachers, which will raise class sizes to 37 to 45, according to DNA Info.  Sullivan High is considering laying off seven teachers; Kelly High could lose ten or fifteen.

CPS’s per-pupil funding system, touted as a boon to principal autonomy, has turned out to be yet another way to remove resources from neighborhood schools.

It’s as if Emanuel thought he could cut his way to better schools.

TIF squads

And while the city’s elite clearly prefers budget cuts and layoffs to deal with CPS’s financial troubles, parents and teachers see another way.

Raise Your Hand is organizing “TIF squads” in every ward to compile the details of how schools are being affected.  They’ll use the information to impress individual aldermen with the necessity of declaring a TIF surplus and returning funds to CPS.

“We need a long-term sustainable solution at the state level, but parents refuse to accept these cuts now while the city is simultaneously handing out property tax money for projects like a $55-million DePaul stadium,” Katten said.

The group is holding an All South Side Schools meeting Thursday, June 20 at 7 p.m. at Augustana Lutheran Church, 5500 S. Woodlawn, to continue organizing.  Friday, June 21 at 10 a.m., they’re holding a parent rally against cuts at the State of Illinois buildling, Randolph and Clark.

In the next year they’re among many groups planning a serious drive to fix Illinois’s regressive tax structure — a desperately needed reform to address school funding as well as the state’s fiscal crisis.  Will Emanuel and the school board join in?

Where the money is

In her City Club address Tuesday, CTU president Karen Lewis outlined a series of revenue measures that would tap into the vast wealth generated by the financial sector and restore a measure of balance to the tax system — and financial stability to governing bodies.

“The CTU wants to work with our leaders in City Hall, Springfield and at the board to solve these sorts of problems,” she said. “We can’t work together on these issues because they keep creating new problems.”

Instead of sharply dividing the city with his campaign of school closings — which had virtually no impact on CPS’s fiscal problems — Emanuel could “take a holistic approach” and work with all stakeholders for basic changes that would really make a difference, Hilgendorf said.

One example:  CTU backed legislation in the spring session that would close three corporate tax loopholes that bring no economic benefit and cost the state $445 million a year.  It died in committee.

And while everyone’s attention and energy was absorbed by school closings, nothing got done on CPS’s pension crisis.

But at least we’re seeing progress on building a new stadium for DePaul.

***

At the Campaign for America’s Future, Richard Eskow promotes the new Education Declaration — which spells out what might be called real education reform — and provides an apt rundown of the modus operandus of “Michelle Rhee and Rahm Emanuel and the rest of their ilk, using the same playbook that’s been deployed against Social Security, Medicare and other vital government services. It goes like this:

1. Pretend that “budgets” are the real crisis – but never mention that corporations and the wealthy are paying less in taxes than ever before in modern history.

2. Make scapegoats of innocent people to draw attention away from yourselves. For Social Security they’ve attacked “greedy geezers,” but it’s hard to come up with a catchy equivalent for kids. (“Insatiable imps”? “Avaricious anklebiters”?) So they vilify teachers instead.

3. Sell a fantasy which says that the private sector can do more, with less money, than government can.  (Never, never mention that private insurance provides far less healthcare than public insurance, at much higher cost. And don’t bring up the mess privatization’s made of prisons and other government services.)

4. Find a name that doesn’t use words like “money-making.” How about “charter schools”?

5. Describe yourselves as “reformers” – rather than, say, “demolishers.” That’s why “entitlement reform” is used as a euphemism for cutting Social Security and Medicare. (Michelle Rhee even called her autobiography “Radical.” Apparently “Shameless” was taken.)

6. Employ the political and media elite’s fascination with (and poor understanding of) numbers. Suggest that “standardized” and “data-driven” programs will solve everything – without ever mentioning that the truly ideological decisions are made when you decide what it is you’re measuring.

7. Co-opt the elite media into supporting your artificial description of the problem, as well as your entirely self-serving solution.

8. Use your money to co-opt politicians from both parties so you can present your agenda as “bipartisan” – a word which means you can “buy” a few “partisans” from both sides.

“It shouldn’t be surprising that all these attacks share a common playbook. The money’s coming from the same pockets, and for the same reasons: so they can keep their own taxes low – and make money from the privatization schemes.”

 

Updated: A sentence with an inaccurate statement regarding the impact on selective enrollment schools was removed.

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After the school closing vote http://www.newstips.org/2013/05/after-the-school-closing-vote/ Thu, 23 May 2013 03:52:59 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7243 With the school board voting to close 50 neighborhood schools — to nobody’s surprise — the movement that sprang up in opposition moves to a new phase.

One indication: while the board was meeting, eight activists were arrested in Springfield blocking the entrance of legislative chambers, demanding the General Assembly pass a moratorium blocking the closings.

Participating were members of Action Now, Albany Park Neighborhood Council, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, and the Chicago Teachers Union.

“We’re going to keep up the momentum to stop school closings,” said Aileen Kelleher of Action Now.  “There will definitely be more large-scale actions.”

“There’s a legislative strategy and a street strategy,” said Jitu Brown of KOCO.  “We are organizing in our communities to stand up for our children, to stand against disinvestment — which is what this is.”

Said Brown: “They are expecting people to scurry back into survival mode, but they’ve got that wrong.  People want to send their children to their neighborhood schools.”

He promised a “full-court press” for an elected school board over the next year.

Raise Your Hand called on the legislature to pass a moratorium on school closings “so CPS can modify its utilization formula to incorporate special education populations along with…community-based programs.”  The district’s utilization formula “is significantly flawed” and “results in overcrowded classrooms across CPS,” said Wendy Katten.

Along with a moratorium, RYH urged legislators to order an audit of safety, factility conditions, and overcrowding in closing and receiving schools, as well as the costs of school closings.

“I don’t think anybody thinks this is the end,” said Erica Clark of Parents For Teachers.

“Parents in some of the schools are not going to take this lying down,” she said.  “For months they’ve been saying we’re not leaving our school, we’re not going to that school, it’s not safe and it’s not a better school; we’re just not going.”

After months of effort, “a lot more people are engaged,” said Xian Barrett, a high school history teacher and activist with the Caucus of Rank and File Educators in CTU.  Keeping them engaged is the challenge organizers face.

The union is providing one avenue for continued activism — training hundreds of voter registrars with the goal of  registering 100,000 new voters.  Two hundred teachers and community members have registered for the first training sessions, conducted by the County Clerk’s office, Thursday, May 23 at 5:30 p.m. at Bethel AME Church, 4440 S. Michigan.

CTU president Karen Lewis will speak about the failings of mayoral control of Chicago schools and the need for an elected school board.

“It’s really a biggger fight to get community control of our city and our schools, and it won’t be over until it’s won,” Barrett said.

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In Bronzeville: school closings, violence, Wal-Mart, and TIFs http://www.newstips.org/2013/05/at-overton-school-closings-violence-wal-mart-and-tifs/ Wed, 15 May 2013 00:58:22 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7199 Two actions protested the closing of Overton Elementary in Bronzeville today — a morning rally highlighting safety issues (and much more), and an afternoon action, which raised larger issues of resources by drawing the connection to a Walmart being built nearby with TIF funds.

About a hundred parents marched from Overton, at 49th and Indiana, to Mollison, at 44th and King  — past four gangs and four drug locations, according to Francis Newman, a parent from Williams Prep, which is also on the school closing list.

The walk also took them past the spot where Columbia College student Kevin Ambrose was shot and killed last week, she noted.

“We’re demanding these schools be kept open and that they get the resources they need,” Newman said.  She said she recently visited Disney Magnet school, which has numerous computers, smart boards, and iPads for children.  “In our school, we can’t get a computer that works,” she said.

The real status-quo

The idea that “schools are under-resourced because they’re underutilized is a lie that is used to validate the status quo,” said Jeanette Taylor, an LSC member at Mollison and a leader with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization.  “The status quo in Chicago is closing schools.”

Several parents discussed schools that had struggled after repeatedly receiving students from closing schools and are still being subject to school actions.

A hearing officer has recommended keeping Overton open, challenging CPS’s assertion that Mollison is a higher-performing school, which is based on its highly technical system of performance points.

“Closing this school to bring children from Overton to Mollison doesn’t sound like education reform it me, is sounds like sabotage,” Taylor said.

Overton parent Darlene Johnson said she served as a Safe Passage worker at Dyett High School last year.  “A boy walked past us, turned the corner, and was shot,” she said.

She also raised the issue of budget priorities:  “We say no money to McCormick Place for a DePaul arena, no TIF money for Wal-Mart — and why does that rich lady that used to be on the school board need all that TIF money?”  She was referring to Penny Pritzker.

Wal-Mart connections

That was also the theme of an afternoon rally that started at the school and ended at the site of a new Wal-Mart at 47th and King Drive, featuring Wal-Mart workers from OUR Wal-Mart and Warehouse Workers for Justice, along with the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Jobs With Justice.

The Walmart development on 47th is being subsidized with $13 million in TIF money, on top of an $11 million TIF subsidy for a new Walmart in Pullman, organizers said.  On top of that, the Walton family foundation gave close to a half-million dollars to finance CPS’s school closing “community engagement”  (including advertising).

Walmart’s owners have also given $22 million to charters in Chicago — their largest investment in charters in the nation — organizers said.

The world’s largest employer — and the nation’s wealthiest family — “can afford to build their own store without our tax dollars,” said Susan Hurley of JWJ.  “That money should be going to our schools.  We could save a lot of schools with $24 million.

“And they need to do a lot better by their workers before they start telling us how to run our schools.”

“Why does Walmart and the Walton Family, who don’t live in Chicago, have more say about our schools than the people who send their children there?” asked Kristine Mayle of CTU.  “It’s because they have the same agenda as the mayor, which is … to privatize them.”

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Fuzzy math: the CPS budget crisis http://www.newstips.org/2013/02/fuzzy-math-the-cps-budget-crisis/ http://www.newstips.org/2013/02/fuzzy-math-the-cps-budget-crisis/#comments Fri, 08 Feb 2013 01:25:13 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6958 As citywide opposition to Mayor Emanuel’s massive school closing program comes into sharper focus every day, the rationale for the plan gets fuzzier and fuzzier.

Take the question of money.

When CPS chief Barbara Byrd Bennett accepted her utilization commission’s call for taking high school closings off the table, the potential savings from school closings was significantly reduced, says Dwayne Truss, organizer of the Save Our Neighborhood Schools coalition on the West Side.

That’s because high schools are a lot bigger and costlier to operate than elementary schools.  Closing elementary schools saves you less.

Publicly, CPS has projected annual savings of $500,000 to $800,000 for each school closed.  Privately, their estimates are lower – as low as $140,000 per school.  And they estimate that upfront closing costs, including severance pay, security, and moving costs, could be as high as $4.5 million per school, potentially wiping out any savings for many years.

With only elementary school closings, we’d be smart to expect the savings to come in on the lower end — if at all.

Truss points to an additional cost that he insists must be taken into account – the loss of hundreds, maybe thousands of good jobs for African American teachers, principals, lunchroom workers and engineers.

Under a city administration hellbent on eliminating public service jobs that form the backbone of the black middle class – where black unemployment rates are more than double the rate for whites — and in a district facing civil rights compliants for targeting black teachers, he sees layoffs resulting from school closings as another drag on the economic vitality of the neighborhoods.

 

The sky is falling!

Then there’s the billion-dollar deficit, which we’re told time and again means we have to close schools.

Last week CTU blew the whistle on CPS’s budget manipulations, showing that instead of a deficit requiring the district to drain its reserve fund and deny teachers compensation for the longer day, the final audited budget showed a surplus of $344 million.

“Perhaps it’s time to have an honest budget discussion, before any schools are closed,” union president Karen Lewis said.

CPS responded that the additional $344 million came from early payments from the county and state, the Sun Times reported.

There’s more to it than that, according to union budget analyst Kurt Hilgendorf, a high school teacher on leave.  In addition to underestimating revenue in its official budget, CPS also ended up spending $221 million less than it had budgeted.

Did that reduced spending result from “efficiencies”?  The two biggest items where actual spending was below budget were teachers salaries and, after that, textbook purchases.

Perhaps cutting teaching positions to save $70 million is an “efficiency.”  Perhaps budgeting $86 million for textbooks and then spending only $49 million is an “efficiency.” Hilgendorf suggests it might better be understood as “lying with math.”

 

The boy who cried wolf

The practice of “overestimating expenses by a huge amount, and underestimating revenues by a huge amount” is a longstanding pattern, he said.

The previous year, CPS projected a $245 million deficit and ended up with a $316 surplus.   That’s a half-billion-dollar difference.

In the four years between FY 2005 and FY 2008, CPS’s total deficit projections totaled more than $1 billion.  The reality in those four years was a total surplus of $920 million.

To get the full effect of this “Chicken Little” approach to budgeting, Hilgendorf has compiled the numbers that CPS officials issued in press statements in the months before the annual budgets were presented and approved.

In 2005, CPS was discussing a $200 million deficit; the approved budget had a $29 million deficit, and at the end of the year there was an $83 million surplus.

In 2006 and 2007, press statements foretold deficits of $175 million and $328 million; approved budgets had deficits of $45 million and $105 million; at the end of the year, there were surpluses of $104 million and $138 million.

In 2009 and 2010, actual deficits were slightly smaller than the approved budget.  Earlier statements to the media, however, predicted deficits that were two to four times the actual shortfalls.

In the early discussions of last year’s budget, CPS claimed they faced a $700 million deficit.  That turned into a $316 million surplus.

Now they’re headed for a $1 billion deficit.  Or so they say.

At the huge CPS hearing on the West Side last week, Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance pointed out that the district took a hit to its bond rating when it drained its reserves to fill its supposed budget gap last year.

But release of the audited numbers– which normally happens in December – was postponed, and for some reason the surplus wasn’t even reported in the course of last December’s bond issue, she said.

 

Lost and found

“This crisis was manufactured, and decisions are being made based on incorrect and incomplete financial, enrollment, and utilization data,” Leonard said, pointing to the newly disclosed budget surplus – and the revelation that CPS enrollment actually increased by 1,000 students this year.

She pointed out that CPS spends over $400 million on outside lawyers and other professional services, and that while the state cut its education spending by $200 million, CPS stood silent as UNO sought a $35 million earmark for new schools.

Leonard called – as many sensible people have – for a moratorium on school closings until CPS completes a facilities master plan.

Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization puts it succinctly: “CPS doesn’t have a budget crisis, it has a priorities crisis.”

He singles out $350 million budgeted last year for the Office of New Schools, dedicated to developing new charter and contract schools.

This year there’s $71 million in the budget specifically dedicated to developing new charter schools.

As long as CPS is spending $71 million to open new charters, it’s going to have a hard time arguing that it has no choice but to close 100 neighborhood schools, in order to save $50 million, or $25 million, or whatever.

Indeed, as long as CPS is committed to opening charters, it’s going to have a hard time arguing that utilization issues are what’s driving school closings.

Which may not matter.  The real bottom line may be that this is Mayor Emanuel’s agenda, the facts don’t matter, and we have very little say in the decision.

That’s not keeping people away from the hearings, by any means.  But it does seem to be making a lot of people angry.

 

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More questions: charters, partners, and planning http://www.newstips.org/2012/12/more-questions-charters-partners-and-planning/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/12/more-questions-charters-partners-and-planning/#comments Wed, 19 Dec 2012 15:35:27 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6842 (This is the second of two posts – part one looks at questions for the Commission on School Utilization including enrollment numbers and savings from closing schools.)

 

Mayor Emanuel, CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett and utilization commission chair Frank Clark have taken the position that “right-sizing” the district has nothing to do with the district’s expansion of charter schools.

One has to do with declining enrollment and snowballing deficits, the other with choice and quality, according to this view.

The argument would work better if CPS’s enrollment and utilization numbers held up; if school closings actually saved significant amounts of money; and if charters consistently offered quality rather than undermining most parents’ first choice – a quality neighborhood school.

Even then, though, it’s hard to separate the proliferation of charters from enrollment declines at neighborhood schools.

[Based on revelations in Tuesday’s Tribune, the separation of school closings and charter expansions is purely strategic; when officials say they are unrelated, they are lying.]

 

A hundred new schools

In the past decade, as CPS lost 30,000 students, it’s opened more than 100 new schools with space for nearly 50,000 additional students, according to a new report from CTU.

While CPS closed scores of schools during that period, the number of schools in the district went from 580 to over 680.

“To the extent excess capacity exists, the main driver is the district’s aggressive charter proliferation campaign,” according to the report.  “The current ‘utilization crisis’ has been manufactured largely to justify the replacement of neighborhood schools by privatized charters.”

Throughout Renaissance 2010, “there was no facilities plan” and facilities decisions were “ad hoc and haphazard,” according to CTU’s report.  Adding to the confusion was the practice of approving charter schools without specifying their location, and some charters’ practice of repeatedly relocating their schools.

“CPS has opened charters haphazardly, without considering how they affect nearby schools,” according to a Sun Times editorial.

As Catalyst points out, new charter schools have been concentrated in the community areas with the largest number of schools listed as “underutilized” by CPS.  North Lawndale, with the most schools now rated as underutilized, has gotten more charter schools than any other community.

In general, those schools aren’t outperforming neighborhood schools, according to Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance.

 

A new round of failure

While school closings and new charter schools have been concentrated in low-income African American communities, these students are actually better served by neighborhood schools, according to CTU, citing reading score gains 10 percent higher in traditional schools than in charters in such areas.

Meanwhile students in closing schools have suffered mobility-related academic setbacks, faced transportation and security issues, and landed in worse-performing schools – while achievement rates in receiving schools have been adversely impacted.

It looks like the very students whom CPS has failed for a generation – whose schools have been systematically neglected and underresourced – are once again being failed.

“CPS has to look at the damage they’ve caused to children and communities and be honest about it.” said Rod Wilson, education organizer for KOCO, whose members recently sat in at Emanuel’s office demanding a moratorium on school closings.  “First they have to correct what they’ve already done, then they can start correcting the rest.”

“A school is a community institution, it’s not just a unit of production where you can close one and open another,” said Wilson.  “They’re just providing children to charter schools that are creaming and pushing children out.”

Meanwhile, as the utilization commission was holding community hearings on school closings, CPS was approving four more charters – on top of nine approved earlier this year.

At a recent commission hearing, many speakers – including the education chair of the local NAACP — noted that school closings have been concentrated in the black community.  Many spoke of “our schools” to distinguish them from charters, asking why “our schools” are being targeted.

Now it turns out, according to CTU, that the utilization commission is sharing office space with three pro-charter advocacy groups including New Schools Chicago.  (In the members’ biographies on the commission’s website, chairman Clark is identified as a founder of the Rowe-Clark Math and Science Academy but – perhaps in order to build “trust” – the fact that it’s a charter school and part of the Noble Street network is omitted.)

 

Room for partners

At the commission hearing last Monday at St. Sabina’s, 19th ward Ald. Matt O’Shea testified against closing Esmond School, noting that its 40 percent utilization rate would go up if its1972 addition were closed.  The 40-year-old addition is in disrepair, O’Shea said, while the original 1891 building is “in pretty good shape.”

How many of the 140 schools listed as eligible for closure due to underenrollment, O’Shea asked, have annexes that could be closed?  Before the commission starts recommending wholesale school closures, it should look at closing secondary buildings, he said.

Austin schools activist Dwayne Truss of Progressive Action Coalition for Education makes the same point.  “A lot of schools out here have one or two additional buildlings,” he said.

Indeed, hundreds of CPS schools have had annexes added in recent years. Many of these buildings would be perfect to house a range of the administration’s initiatives, such as early education and community college programming.

Extra space in schools could be productively used to support the newly-announced reinvigoration of the district’s highly successful Child-Parent Centers, or to replicate successful programs like school-based health clinics or community schools, which bring in community partners to offer after-school enrichment for children and ESL, GED, and computer classes for adults.

“Across the country, school districts are increasing utilization of their buildings by extending access to non-school users,” according to a report on joint use by the 21st Century School Fund.  Public agencies and nonprofit partners are offering program that extend schools’ curricular goals, address social, emotional, and health barriers to success in school, and help families provide more educational support at home.

In a school district struggling to meet parents’ demands for arts programming with a longer day, or to provide enough social workers and other support staff to deal with problems like truancy, extra space could make possible partnerships with the city’s many arts and social service agencies.

Indeed, it’s in the low-income communities with some of the higher rates of underutilization that these needs are greatest.

There are many challenges to managing such partnerships, according to the report, but some districts are succeeding at it.  Among the possible benefits:  “When school buildings are underutilized, a paying joint-use arrangement with either public or prviate partners can make continued operation of the school building fiscally possible.”

 

No plan

The large number of annexes in school buildings also demonstrates the need for long-range planning, said CTU researcher Sarah Hainds. In some cases, because it takes years to for approval and construction of such projects, additional buildings intended to ease overcrowding opened after school enrollments started going down, she said.

That’s because school facilities decisions in Chicago are made ad hoc and in response to political pressure, not based on any kind of plan, she said.

Earlier this year CPS officials said they hoped for early release of a ten-year facilities master plan, whichwas due in January under 2011 school facilities reform legislation.  But when Byrd-Bennett came in, she said the district needed more time, and a bill extending the deadline for announcing school actions also extended the deadline for the ten-year plan.

A master plan “would give us an opportunity to look at population projections, housing development, long-term factors” that will impact enrollment down the road, said Cecile Carroll of Blocks Together, chair of the master plan subcommittee of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force.  “But these are things CPS doesn’t want us talking about before they close schools,” she said.

Instead, CPS wants to shut 100 schools based solely on this year’s census and enrollment figures.

“I can’t believe they want to close all these schools without any kind of plan,” said Hainds.

Carroll suspects that doing ten-year projections would show that large-scale school closings are ill-advised.  And she worries that CPS sees the ten-year plan as merely a means to “right-size” the district without “a forward-looking strategy for sustaining and improving neighborhood schools.”

CPS wanted to put the draft plan’s deadline back to October, but the final bill gives them until May 1.  That means – if CPS meets its legal obligation — some kind of long-term plan will be on the table after school actions are announced but before the board can vote on them.

Carroll said there’s little transparency around the planning process, indeed little indication that it is underway.  For one thing, outreach to principals and LSCs – whose input with educational visions and long-term facility assessments for their schools is required by the facilities law – hasn’t taken place.

 

Time to wait?

Grassroots activists maintain the CPS should put school actions on hold until it’s developed a long-range facilities plan.  CTU has called for a year-long moratorium; KOCO has called for two years.

The Sun Times has called for waiting a year to “right-size” the district, based largely on eminently practical considerations: “There is no way CPS can humanely right-size its district, closing dozens of schools in just a few months….

“Even under the best circumstances, CPS rarely pulls off a complex task well.  We’re talking about relocating thousands of children and teachers, finding new schools for them, ensuring their safety and well-being.  The odds of that happening successfully in a matter of months are extremely low.”

In addition, the district is required to hold three hearings for each school action it proposes – that would be 300 hearings for 100 closings in little over a month — and school board members are expected to consider that testimony.  And the deadline for schools that require applications – a major reason the legislature pushed the deadline for school action announcements to December last year – has come and gone.

Will the commission consider the option, widely backed among informed observers, of waiting for a long-range plan before implementing whole-sale school closures?  Or are they just expected to collect community input, ignore it, and deliver a list of schools to axe?  Is this an “independent commission,” or is this a done deal?

There’s a larger picture:  school closings are happening in urban school districts across the country.  According to Diane Ravitch, districts like New York’s are “repeating the pattern that was established in Chicago.”

The idea of closing schools to improve education was also embodied in the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind law, which mandated sanctions for low test scores.

The original rationale for closing schools came from the business world:  the way to improve education, it was argued, is to subject eductors to rewards and punishment based on standardized tests.  That logic hasn’t been validated by Chicago’s experience.

And while this year there’s a brand new rationale, presented with all the theatrics of an imminent crisis, the policy is the same.

Behind school closings, Ravitch writes, is “the dynamic of privatization: as public schools close, privately-managed charters open, accelerating the destruction of neighborhoods and public education.”

At WBEZ, Becky Vevea points out that if the district closes 100 neighborhood schools and opens 60 charters, the proportion of privately-operated charters in the system will double — to more than a quarter of CPS schools – dramatically reshaping the district.

Is this a decision the public gets to weigh in on?

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Questions for the commission: enrollment, finances http://www.newstips.org/2012/12/questions-for-the-commission-enrollment-finances/ Wed, 19 Dec 2012 01:56:42 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6831 There’s an awful lot of confusion around the CPS’s new commission on school utilization.

There’s confusion over administration claims of an enrollment crisis, as WBEZ has detailed – and, as at least one CPS official has acknowledged, there are strikingly different ways of estimating the number of “empty seats.”  There’s confusion on the part of parents and educators testifying before the commission with no idea whether their schools are threatened, as the Tribune notes.

There’s confusion on whether CPS’s five-year moratorium on school closings only covers school closings due to underutilization; whether a shelved-for-now plan to have charters take over neighborhood schools will be revived; how much money closing schools really saves; and, especially, just why CPS continues to roll out new charters while citing enrollment declines and budget deficits to insist on closing neighborhood schools.

There’s also widespread confusion over just how independent this “independent commission” is.

Even among the people naming and chairing the commission, there’s confusion.  CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett says the purpose is to come up with a list of schools to close; commission chair Frank Clark has repeatedly promised only a “broad set of recommendations” for how to address the issue.

In one recent Tribune article, Byrd-Bennett said she’s expecting a list of schools to close from the commission, and CPS spokesperson Becky Carroll said it’s “up to them [the commissioners] – we don’t know at this point” what they’ll recommend.

Behind the commission’s charge is a lot of talk, especially from Byrd-Bennett, about restoring trust.  But merely delivering a list of school closings —  without taking seriously widespread concerns about the assumptions behind CPS’s policy of closing schools — will just engender more cynicism.

Is the commission going to acknowledge and address serious questions about CPS’s facilities policies, or is it just providing political cover for a foregone conclusion?

 

A rapidly shrinking crisis

“The accuracy of how CPS calculates school utilization” is one of the “key issues the commission must consider,” according to a Sun Times editorial last month.

Indeed.  In  mid-October, Mayor Emanuel was saying there are 200,000 “empty seats” in CPS – 600,000 seats for 400,000 students; by the end of October, the crisis had eased by half, with only 100,000 empty seats out of 500,000 total.

Maybe there was a rush sale of classroom chairs?

Then new census numbers were rolled out, with CPS touting Chicago’s loss of 145,000 school-age children over the past decade.  But CTU pointed out that CPS’s actual enrollment had declined by just 31,500 in that period – during which CPS added 50,000 new seats, mainly in charter schools.

It’s simple, according to WBEZ: a higher proportion of Chicago’s kids are attending CPS than ten years ago.  (Among other factors, this could reflect the closing of scores of Catholic schools and lower dropout rates.)  But it’s a lot less dire.

Meanwhile, Jeanne Marie Olson, a CPS parent and systems analyst who’s part of the Raise Your Hand coalition, dug into the school utilization formula, which identifies underutilized schools and is behind estimates of “empty seats.”

She points out that the range considered “efficient enrollment” takes CPS’s recommended maximum number of students per class as the midpoint, and extends it by 20 percent in either direction.  So enrollment at a school with 36 students in each classroom – 20 percent higher than the district’s class size policy recommends, and wildly imappropriate, for elementary schools particularly – is considered “efficient.”

(Chicago has the largest class sizes in Illinois, which is one of a minority of states without legal class size limits; but a class size targets as high as 36 is remarkable even among big-city districts.  New York City has a “target capacity” of 20 students in K-3 classrooms; and instead of CPS’s range of 80 to 120 percent, New York’s “programming efficiency” range is 75 to 90 percent, giving a “standard classroom potential capacity” for those grades of 15 to 18 students.  In CPS the range is 24 to 36.)

 

How many “empty seats,” really?

Recalculating enrollment levels for elementary schools using the CPS maximum as the top number for efficient enrollment, Olson found far more overcrowded schools and far fewer with underenrollment.

With an efficiency range reflecting class size policy, she found, the number of underutilized elementary schools drops from 50 percent to 38 percent; more significantly, the number of elementary  schools at less than 50 percent underutilization – the point where school closings are considered —  drops from 20 percent to just 8 percent.

And instead of 62,695 “empty seats,” there are just 7,467.

So with a more realistic and humane utilization standard, we could be looking not at 100,000 “empty seats” but something closer to 15,000 district-wide.  [A new analysis by RYH puts the total district-wide number at 25,000.] This “crisis” seems to fade by the week.

At a hearing of the General Assembly’s Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force where Olson presented her findings last week, CPS business operations manager James Dispensa argued that the space utilization formula doesn’t correlate to class size and is designed instead to reflect how resources are allocated to schools.

He pointed out that one problem with underutilized schools is that, because they lose staffing positions with enrollment, they tend to have overcrowded classrooms.

Olson argued that class size issues are central to space utilization, since the district’s formula is based on the number of kids per homeroom.

At the hearing, CPS public affairs director Michael Rendina said that perhaps the space utilization formula needed to be adjusted.

For many months, the legislature’s facilities task force has been arguing that the district’s space utilization formula doesn’t meet the requirements of the 2011 facilities reform law, mandating consideration of age and grade, educational program, and uses by after-school programs and public and community agencies.

But Substance reports that at one hearing, Commissioner Terrence Hilliard revealed that he hadn’t heard of the task force.  This is quite remarkable.

CEFTF has been doing research, holding public hearings, and engaging CPS for a couple of years.  It has raised a series of concerns about CPS’s failure to abide by the 2011 law – for one thing, its inability to monitor the impact ofthe most recent school actions on 7,700 affected students.  Hopefully commission members will acquaint themselves with this work.

They may not want to rely solely on State Senator Iris Martinez, a member of both the commission and the task force, however: she recently was reported reciting CPS talking points about census figures and empty seats.  These are among the assumptions that need to be examined.

At its most recent hearing, CEFTF co-chair State Representative Cynthia Soto announced plans to hold monthly “Second Saturday” community hearings to give LSCs a chance to testify on utilization and facilities issues – including cases where CPS school utilization reports have faulty data.

 

What savings?

Another essential task for the Commission on School Utilization, according to the Sun Times, is to “verify CPS’s estimates of school-closing savings.”  Indeed, there’s a good bit of confusion around this.

CPS says they’ll save $500,000 to $800,000 for each school they close.  Where do the savings come from?  District spokesperson Becky Carroll told Sarah Karp of Catalyst that “savings generally come from eliminating those positions that go with the building itself – a principal, clerk, maybe custodian. Other savings generally come from reduced utility, maintenance and repairs costs.”

But the Rosalind Rossi reports at the Sun Times, “To achieve any savings, Carroll said, closed buildings would have to be leased out or sold.”  In fact, that’s been the experience of other districts.

As Karp points out, “selling buildings has been a particular challenge as many times closed buildings are in poor neighborhoods where property values aren’t high. Also, vacant school buildings often don’t have other uses, and are expensive to tear down in order to repurpose the land.”

She cites a national study that found that school districts actually saved far less than they projected by closing schools; in some cases, savings were negligible.

According to a recent report from CEFTF’s long-range planning subcommittee, estimates of savings from school closings in Washington D.C. failed to take into account the costs of closings –costs including loss of property value, relocating or disposing of equipment, demolition or continuing maintenance of buildings, transportation for students, and displaced student services – costs which “negated DC Public School’s projections that school closings would save money.”

One theme at the Clark commission hearing last week at St. Sabina’s is that neighborhoods already struggling with abandoned homes don’t need the hulking eyesores of abandoned school buildings.

 

Parking meters redux?

Closed schools won’t go to charters because they’ll be sold or leased, according to Byrd-Bennett.  But with social services struggling, Catholic schools closing, and a depressed housing market, it’s hard to picture a market for old school buildings – unless it’s a venture capital operation such as that floated two years ago by Bruce Rauner, Mayor Emanuel’s best billionaire buddy.  According to Greg Hinz, Rauner projected using private equity and debt to purchase 100 old schools and lease them back to charters.

If that’s the plan – public facilities sold to private parties and leased back to taxpayer-funded entities – we deserve to know about it now.  It sounds a lot like a recent parking meter deal.

Even in the unlikely event that CPS’s projections of savings came true, savings from 100 school closings would only reduce the district’s  operating budget by about 1 percent – or the $1 billion deficit by 5 to 8 percent.  (The real reduction savings would likely be half that or less.)

CPS’s budget crisis isn’t caused by overcapacity; it’s largely caused by the district’s failure to make contributions to its pension fund.  And “right-sizing” CPS will entail massive disruption and without getting the district anywhere near right-sizing its budget.

 

Part two examines charter expansion, community partners, and planning.

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About that injunction http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/about-that-injunction/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/about-that-injunction/#comments Tue, 18 Sep 2012 00:15:18 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6650 By angering teachers with a motion for an injunction declaring the teachers’ strike illegal, Mayor Emanuel may have made passage of the proposed teachers’ contract even more difficult, said Rod Estvan, education policy analyst with Access Living.

If so, it would be just the latest in a series of mayoral moves that have backfired.

Teachers on the picket line are talking to parents about how you’d want to read a contract for a new home before you signed it – and about how the City Council failed to read the contract that privatized Chicago’s parking meters.

They also recall their experience with SB 7, the bill designed to make school strikes in Chicago impossible.  According to a union attorney at the time, language that “satobtages union bargaining rights” was slipped into the bill at the last minute, after negotiations had been concluded.

And of course they recall the 4 percent raise rescinded based on an obscure contract provision last year – while CPS voluntarily stepped up payments to city agencies by tens of millions of dollars.

“CPS’s spur-of-the-moment decision to seek injunctive relief … appears to be a vindictive act instigated by the mayor,” reads a statement from the union.  “This attempt to thwart our democratic process is consistent with Mayor Emanuel’s bullying behavior toward public school educators.”

From the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign: “The delegates and members of the CTU have a democratic right and a civic responsibility to review the terms of the tentative contract agreement thoroughly before signing it.”

The Chicago Tribune argues that teachers aren’t going to get a better contract.  But that’s impossible to say. They’re not going to get a worse one, though the Trib may wish for it. There could be technical glitches that need to be corrected.  And there could be matters where union leaders have to go back and try for more.

Given reported problems with implementing the interim agreement to staff the longer day in Track E schools – not to mention reports of 100 or more school closings in the works – teachers certainly want to take a hard look at the specific language of job security provisions.  (The Emanuel administration’s taunts about school closings – a gratuitous act of one-upmanship – also helped bring these concerns to the fore, Fred Klonsky suggests.)

Emanuel’s move confirms the Tribune’s recent analysis – the mayor’s approach to the teachers’ contract has suffered from the fact that his tactical repertoire is limited to attack mode, and also from his and his advisers’ lack of experience with collective bargaining.

To me it seems more like a p.r. tactic than a legal strategy – does he really want to put Karen Lewis in jail?  (During the Pullman strike in 1894, Grover Cleveland put Eugene Debs in jail – and John Peter Altgeld made sure Cleveland was never nominated for president again.)

For many teachers it boils down once again to respect – respect for the negotiating process, respect for the democratic processes of the union, respect for the legitimate concerns of teachers – respect they have found consistently lacking from the mayor.

It’s also about trust:  Teachers don’t trust CPS, a sentiment they share with many parents.  Indeed, CPS doesn’t seem to be an institution that fosters trust within itself, starting at the top: Emanuel clearly doesn’t trust his schools chief.

It seems clear that teachers trust CTU leadership including Karen Lewis.  Part of the reason is that the leadership trusts its members, and when they say they want to look the contract over before agreeing to it, they have a right to do that.

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