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No celebration: Chicagoans protest police, schools

Two dovetailing protests will mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in Chicago on Wednesday — a march on the Board of Education by a citywide coalition of community groups at 10 a.m., and a march on City Hall demanding accountability for police killings directly afterward.

Both protests emphasize how far we still have to go to address racial inequality, and both call for the creation of elected bodies to oversee local agencies — an elected school board and an elected civilian police accountability council.

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A dozen community organizations have called for a one-day school boycott and will march on the Board of Education at 10 a.m. demanding an end to the destabilization of neighborhood schools and recognition of the human right to a safe, quality education for every child.

They are calling for an elected school board and reallocation of TIF funds to stop budget cuts.

“Our schools are still very segregated and very unequal,” said Sarah Simmons of Parents For Teachers.  Suburban and selective enrollment schools have a full range of programs while students at Dyett High School in Washington Park are forced to take art and phys ed classes online, she said.

After heavy budget cuts, Kelly High School has two art teachers for 2,700 students and no library, said Israel Munoz, a recent Kelly grad who helped organize the new Chicago Students Union and is now headed to college.

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After the school closing vote

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.”

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In Bronzeville: school closings, violence, Wal-Mart, and TIFs

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.

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Are school closings racist?

Some people think so.

At the most basic level, there’s the fact that decisions about African American communities are being made without their consent.

Of 54 school closings proposed by CPS, 51 are in low-income African American areas; 90 percent of students being impacted are black.

“If you look at the people making the decisions and the communities they’re talking about, you have white males saying they know what’s best for African American students,” said Austin schools activist Dwayne Truss.

“Barbara Byrd-Bennett is not calling the shots,” he said.  “Mayor Emanuel and David Vitale and Tim Cawley are calling the shots.  She’s just an expert in closing schools who they brought in to do that.  She’s just the messenger.”

Comments Elce Redmond of the South Austin Coalition, “She’s put in place to implement these policies so they can hide behind her.”

Byrd-Bennett “would not have been hired if she was not on board with [Emanuel's school closing agenda] — and with the priority of providing opportunities for private educational interests to make money bringing in mediocre interventions for black children,” said Jitu Brown of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization.

Three high schools

For Brown, it’s about the school system’s priorities — and that’s a civil rights and human rights issue.

“The priority has been to disinvest from minority communities and invest in failed programs, invest in charter schools and contract schools,” he said. “The priority has been that minority children don’t have the same quality of education.

“Example: Look at North Side College Prep, they have 22 AP classes.  Lakeview High, with about 18 or 20 percent African American students, a few blocks from the mayor’s house, they have 12 AP classes.  Dyett High School, 99 percent African American and 95 percent low-income, no AP classes.

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Bronzeville youth, community leaders to speak on violence

While politicians push tougher law enforcement to address youth violence, community leaders and youth in Bronzeville are demanding that the root causes of violence — including unemployment, disinvestment, and school closings — be put at the top of the agenda.

At 4 p.m. on Thursday, February 12 14, youth leaders from five high schools — including King College Prep, where Hadiya Pendleton was a student, and where one of the suspects in her murder graduated – will hold a press conference at 4 p.m. at Dyett High School, 555 E. 51st Street.  They’re part of Leaders Investing For Equality (LIFE), which for several years has pushed for restoration of funding cut from youth employment programs.

At 6 p.m. on Thursday, the Bronzeville Alliance and Centers for New Horizons will hold a press conference at the Ellis Childcare Center, 4301 S. Cottage, to launch a community initiative to coordinate social services for community youth and families and to advocate for a reversal of cutbacks they say have destabilized the community.

In media coverage of youth violence, “there doesn’t seem to be much discussion of the root causes of these problems and the responsiblity of government and the private sector for years of disinvestment in minority communities,” said John Owens of CNH.

“We’ve had many years of jobs being lost and cutbacks in a whole range of social services – and the whole idea of closing schools is just another form of cutbacks,” he said.

“There’s been no discussion of youth employment, no discussion of the destabilization of families when jobs are lost and parents are working odd hours, no discussion of afterschool programs that are relevant,” Owens said.  “The bottom line is that we need to understand what it means to build community and we need to start building it – with the kind of resources that are needed for a community in crisis.”

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Fuzzy math: the CPS budget crisis

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.

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More questions: charters, partners, and planning

(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.

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School closings: what ‘everyone knows’

“Everyone knows schools must be closed in large numbers,” according to a Chicago Sun-Times editorial published Thursday.

The editorial questions the savings involved in school closings and calls on CPS to be “more open and inclusive,” and to release a new facilities master plan required by state law before more closings are announced.

But does “everyone” really know schools must be closed?  At hearings on proposed closings in recent years, there’s been consistent opposition – until paid protestors, later connected to Mayor Emanuel’s political operatives, began showing up.

We asked around, and here are some responses:

 

Laurene Heybach, Director, The Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless:

The notion that “everyone knows [Chicago public] schools must be closed in large numbers” is a remarkably un-researched assertion. As a member of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, I can say unequivocally that such is not the case. And CPS has never been able to make such a case.

Parents want quality neighborhood schools, not experiments (charters) which drain resources from their neighborhood school and don’t deliver. We hear this again and again, and parents are getting increasingly frustrated with a city that can help decorate the Willis Tower but tells neighborhood schools “no” for every request, from a math teacher to a working heating system to an air conditioner. Indeed, one parent spoke directly to the CPS representative on our task force to say precisely that: the Board of Education’s answer to just about anything our parents want is “no.”

It’s top-down and political people who push closures.  This is why we need to return facility planning to our communities and stakeholders — parents, teachers, students and principals — and take it out of the hands of politicians.

 

J. Brian Malone, Executive Director, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization:

Everyone knows there has been population loss on the South and West Sides of the city. The issue with underutilization, at this stage, is largely the result of CPS cramming charter and contract schools down the throats of communities of color, while also:

(1) raiding the coffers to fund these schools that do very little (if anything) to improve educational outcomes, but do a great deal to create wealth for the private operators and investors; and

(2) siphoning the human capital, material, and financial resources from neighborhood schools, which make them look unattractive when compared to the “new” school with the great marketing budget.

Disinvesting in neighborhood schools has done more to reduce the appeal, and by default the enrollment, of neighborhood schools, creating this manufactured need to close schools, which was orchestrated by the Renaissance 2010 plan and continued forward.

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