Kenwood Oakland Community Organization – 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=4.4.12 No celebration: Chicagoans protest police, schools http://www.newstips.org/2013/08/no-celebration-chicagoans-protest-police-schools/ Tue, 27 Aug 2013 23:44:43 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7638 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.

***

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.

Adolphous McDowell, a longtime school activist with KOCO, places Mayor Emanuel’s educational policies in the context of the backlash against the civil rights movement — noting that we’re still struggling to fulfill the promises of Reconstruction, when newly enfranchised black legislators created public education systems in southern states where they’d never existed.

One reaction to school desegregation in the 1950s and ’60s was the shift of public funding to white-only private schools in the South; later President Reagan pushed vouchers as a way to shift public funds to private school operators, McDowell said.

All those efforts “are coming to pass with charter schools,” he said.

Wednesday’s protest is the kickoff of a 25-city campaign to stop school closings and charter expansions.

Working with the national coalition Journey for Justice, Chicago students and parents have filed civil rights complaints against CPS and testified this January at a hearing on school closings at the U.S. Department of Education.

***

The local chapter of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression is leading a Peoples March on City Hall for Peace and Justice, highlighting the call for police accountability.  After gathering at the Federal Plaza at 11 a.m., they’ll march to City Hall for a 12 noon rally.

Since 2009, 70 Chicagoans have been killed by police, often in very questionable circumstances, said Ted Pearson of NAARPR.    Many police victims are shot in the back, he said.

Not a single officer has been charged for these killings, he said.

Investigations by the Independent Police Review Authority are “ineffective,” he said.  IPRA can only make recommendations to the Police Board or turn over evidence to the State’s Attorney.  “Anita Alvarez does nothing with these cases,” he said.  “She just sits on them.”

He points to the case of Rekia Boyd, a 22-year-old shot by an off-duty detective in Douglas Park in March 2012.  The officer claimed a young man pointed a gun at him, but he was holding a cellphone, said Pearson.  Alvarez charged the young man — who was shot in the hand by Detective Dante Servin — with aggravated assault.  Charges were dropped when Servin failed to appear for a hearing.

Servin has not been charged and remains on the police force. This spring the City Council approved a $4.5 million settlement with Boyd’s family.

Pearson said the issue of police killings gets little mainstream attention “but in the black community it’s a hot-button issue.”

“It’s common to hear people say the police are just a gang like any other gang, the only difference is they get away with it,” he said.  “They take the law into their own hands.”

The alliance’s legislative proposal to establish an elected civilian police control board is modeled on a measure that was enacted by Berkeley, California, in the 1980s, he said.

Buses are bringing protestors from Englewood, Washington Park, Woodlawn, Lawndale, Garfield Park, Austin, Pilsen, Little Village, Hegewisch, Humboldt Park, and Rogers Park.

***
Gary Younge has a new book from Chicago’s Haymarket Press on The Speech, about the background of Martin Luther King’s famous oration fifty years ago.  “The speech was profoundly and willfully misunderstood,” theologian Vincent Harding, a colleague of King’s tells Younge in an adaptation published in the Nation.

Younge points to one sentence often overlooked today — and which could serve as a rejoinder to Emanuel’s austerity agenda:  while blacks remain “on a lonely island of poverty,” King said, “We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.”

Don Rose, one of the Chicago organizers of the March on Washington, underscores this point in his latest Chicago Daily Observer column.  But given Wednesday’s agenda, last week’s column is also germane:

“There are so many twists and turns in Rahm Emanuel’s school plans it’s hard to figure out exactly what he has in mind—apart from wrecking the Chicago Teachers Union. He sure doesn’t seem to be helping the kids, which should be his first order of business.”

]]>
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.

]]>
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.”

]]>
Are school closings racist? http://www.newstips.org/2013/04/are-school-closings-racist/ http://www.newstips.org/2013/04/are-school-closings-racist/#comments Sat, 06 Apr 2013 23:41:55 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7099 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.

“Look at world languages.  North Side College Prep has everything from Chinese to French, German, Japanese, Latin, and Spanish — levels 1 to 4 plus AP.  Lakeview has Mandarin Chinese, French, Spanish, Spanish for native speakers, levels 1 to 4 and AP Spanish.  Dyett has Spanish 1 and 2.

“The expectations have been lowered — and they’ve been lowered by the district.”

Dyett is now being phased out, with new students sent to Phillips High School.  That’s an AUSL “turnaround” school — and it’s at the lowest academic standing, with scores significantly lower than Dyett’s and lower rates of graudation and of graduates enrolled in College (Dyett has 63 percent for the last category.)

“No school with predominantly white enrollment would face that,” said Brown.

‘Mediocre interventions’

“Now we know that only 1 in 5 charter schools outperforms public schools,” he said.  “That’s true nationally and it’s true in Chicago.  We’ve known since 2009 that only 18 percent of the school that replaced closed schools [which have impacted black students almost exclusively] are high-performing, and that includes charter and contract schools.

“That’s despite the advantages of having selective enrollment tools like applications and lotteries, of not having to follow [CPS’s] Student Code of Conduct, so they can push students out — and they do,” he said.

“And there’s no way they would go into a white community with an intervention that has a record of only 1 out of 5 high-performing schools.

“So it is institutional racism,” Brown said.  “Beecause the real motivation is not school quality; the purpose of closing schools and privatizing schools is not to invest in school quality any more than it ever has been.

“They’re not interested in making sure black children have access to a world-class education.  If they were they would replicate the good neighborhood schools that work.  They have run a system that intentionally ensures that children on the South and West Sides go to test factories instead of schools.”

“You’re not providing a quality education to a certain group of people,” he said.  “And then to be so bold as to attempt to profit off the mess you’ve made….

“At bottom it’s a human rights issue,” Brown said.  “The children at Dyett deserve the same type of schooling they have at North Side College Prep.”

Truss concurs: “If you look at where the majority of magnet and selective enrollment schools are located, they’re in predominantly white neighborhoods, and they get the extra funding and the extra support,” he said.

Destabilizing communities

Another issue is the impact school closings will have on struggling communities.

Thousands of African American educators and school staff will be losing their jobs — at a time when black unemployment in Chicago is far higher than most big cities, Truss points out.

“School closings will absolutely make things worse with the foreclosure crisis,” said Redmond.  “All the plans they’re coming up with are strangling the community, and it needs to be called what it is — some call it ethnic cleansing — but part of the corporate strategy for the city is to weed out these neighborhoods.

“They’ll deny it up and down but that’ the fact, that’s what’s happening to these communities,” he said

“I am concerned that when you close these [school] buildings, the effect it’s going to have is that people won’t want to stay in an area without a school they can walk to,” said Valerie Leonard of Lawndale Alliance.  “Just like when International Harvester closed — people left in droves.  That’s likely to happen now, especially because it’s so much more dangerous.  The farther you have to go the more likely you’ll have trouble.

“When you have policies that further destablize the commuity, that’s a concern,” she said.  “Especially when it’s being brought to their attention, and they are still going forward.”

“Unfortunately the mayor isn’t listening at all,” said Redmond.

]]>
http://www.newstips.org/2013/04/are-school-closings-racist/feed/ 2
Bronzeville youth, community leaders to speak on violence http://www.newstips.org/2013/02/bronzeville-youth-community-leaders-to-speak-on-violence/ http://www.newstips.org/2013/02/bronzeville-youth-community-leaders-to-speak-on-violence/#comments Wed, 13 Feb 2013 23:47:30 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6968 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.”

Owen said CNH and other Bronzeville agencies are trying to provide developmental social services, “but everybody is barely keeping their doors open. There are not enough of us and we are not funded anywhere near what would be adequate to reach the number of youth and families out there who are in need.”

The new coalition, dubbed SAVE (Stop Armed Violence Everywhere), is calling on the city and state to work with residents to restore employment, educational, mental health and recreational resources in Bronzeville.  They are demanding meetings with Governor Quinn and Mayor Emanuel.

The coalition includes local schools, social service agencies, community groups, and business and veterans groups, Owens said.

The Bronzeville Alliance issued a call to the media “to avoid body-count journalism and drive-by reporting that criminalizes our community and tends to look at this very complex problem in narrow, counter-productive terms.”

It calls for an approach that is “pro-active, holistic, and sustainable.”

Youth leaders from LIFE will highlight public school closings, reduced funding for summer youth employment and limited recreational opportunities as”catalysts of community destabilization,” according to a statement from Shannon Bennett of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, which backs LIFE.

“Policy decisions made without consultation with the people directly impacted have led to destabilization of communities and increased violence in neighborhoods, particularly communities of color,” according to the statement.

“Summer youth employment was decimated over the last 20 years, and only one-third of the youth who apply each year for summer jobs find work. There is very little teen-specific programming in communities around Chicago serving out-of-school and severely at-risk youth.

“School actions implemented by the Chicago Board of Education have led to the creation of new youth gangs and the 300 percent increase in homicides in north Kenwood-Oakland.”

[See previous Newstips on LIFE from 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011]

]]>
http://www.newstips.org/2013/02/bronzeville-youth-community-leaders-to-speak-on-violence/feed/ 1
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.

 

]]>
http://www.newstips.org/2013/02/fuzzy-math-the-cps-budget-crisis/feed/ 1
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?

]]>
http://www.newstips.org/2012/12/more-questions-charters-partners-and-planning/feed/ 2
School closings: what ‘everyone knows’ http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/school-closings-what-everyone-knows/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/school-closings-what-everyone-knows/#comments Fri, 21 Sep 2012 04:09:31 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6663 “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.

As the district gets out of the business of educating African American and Latino students, they are increasing their stock in brokering the education of our children to private operators who are seemingly more concerned with improving the value of their portfolio.

This misguided effort to continue to subsidize charter and contract schools (since 2004, only 18 percent of which are top-performing, and half of those are selective enrollment) at the expense of neighborhood schools, is the reason for this contrived budget crisis.

There needs to be a moratorium on both school closings and charter/contract schools, and greater investment in community-driven school transformation models.

 

Julie Woestehoff, Executive Director, Parents United for Responsible Education:

I think Wendy Katten summed it up yesterday when she raised the question of why CPS needs to plow another $76 million into opening new charter schools when we supposedly have so many under-enrolled schools.

I would add to that the fact that despite the enormous financial investment CPS has put into charter schools, they have only managed to perform about as well as existing traditional schools.

Some have been saying that charter schools are the school system’s parking meter deal.

 

Sonia Kwon, Raise Your Hand Coalition:

The main question is why are they opening 60 new charters if there is such underutilization of CPS schools?

And what is the plan for the extreme over-utilization of some schools? Neighborhood schools are really the only public schools that have no class size controls. Magnets, selective enrollment and charters can limit enrollment and cap class sizes, but neighborhood schools cannot. So once again there is undue burden on neighborhood schools.

 

Valerie F. Leonard, Lawndale Alliance:

There is considerable pressure on the legislature to provide equal funding for charters as for neighborhood schools. In fact, schools that receive funding from the Gates Foundation already receive equal funding from CPS.  That being the case, will CPS really save money by closing neighborhood schools and opening charters?

Will CPS tie the expansion of charters to past performance? After all, the reformers are demanding that teacher evaluations, principal tenure and the very existence of the schools be tied to student performance.  Are they willing to be held to the same standards they impose on others?  All too often, failing or mediocre charters are given license to expand, while similarly performing, or even better performing neighborhood schools are closed.

The long and short of it is, I think CPS is using the strike and unionized teachers as the scapegoat for decisions that have already been made. The schools would have been closed regardless of whether or not the teachers had a strike. Schools have been closing at an accelerated pace since the inception of Renaissance 2010, and there were no strikes during those years.

 

Dwayne Truss, Progressive Action Coalition for Education:

Tim Cawley [who the editorial quotes saying “to generate real savings, we must close those buildings for good”] has had his sights on closing neighborhood schools since late Summer of 2011.  I was in attendance at a Chicago Education Facilities Task  Force meeting in which Mr. Cawley announced that CPS is looking to “right size” the district.  For me this translated to closing schools.

Prior to the CTU strike the Austin and North Lawndale Community Action Councils were told by CPS that it planned to close schools in both communities.  We knew that any CPS settlement with CTU will be an excuse by the mayor to justify closing schools in order to pay for the teachers’ new contract.

CPS is disingenuous in that it has opened underperforming charter and contract schools in poor communities already struggling with underutilized neighborhood schools.  One of the school actions voted on by the school board this year was to approve renewing the charter for ACT Charter School.

ACT operated a high school.  ACT voluntarily suspended its operations because of poor academic performance and financial challenges.  The board allowed ACT to reopen as a 5-8 middle school.  The school is managed by KIPP, a level 3 performing [i.e., “failing”] charter school operator.  I argued that KIPP will stress the utilization of some of the neighborhood schools because KIPP will blatantly recruit students from Austin neighborhood schools.

[For more, see West Side parents fight ‘education apartheid’; for a similar story, see Does Rogers Park need a new charter school?]

There is no sane or even a fiscal reason to open additional charter schools.  As you may know, CPS has already allocated an additional $76 million to charter schools.

Also please note that Bruce Rauner is a board member of ACT.  He has already failed in operating a charter school.

***

There was also some e-mail discussion between commenters.  An announcement last month that CPS was seeking brokers to sell off 23 surplus properties, with the goal of raising $15 million for the school district, was brought up.

Then a Greg Hinz column from two years ago was cited, reporting on an idea from Bruce Rauner, the private equity financier, charter school impresario, and confidante of Mayor Emanuel, who’s been prominent recently with attacks on the Chicago Teachers Union.

Rauner was said to be floating a plan to form a private venture capital fund to buy up empty CPS buildings and lease them to charter schools.  In New York City, this has been a profitable enterprise. According to Hinz, Rauner was talking about $200 million in equity, $600 million in debt and 100 CPS buildings.

Two years ago, Rauner wouldn’t talk about the concept with Hinz, saying only that he’s “deeply interested in improving the way we educate our children,” and talking to people to “provoke creative thinking and solutions to the greatest challenge our city faces.”

Rauner was on the panel in June when the Chicago Council on Global Affairs unveiled a new venture philanthropy fund for Chicago schools.  According to the Sun-Times, Rauner told the assembly he had provided $20 million to school reform and 80 percent of it was “wasted.”

]]>
http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/school-closings-what-everyone-knows/feed/ 1