Lawndale Alliance – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop Chicago Community Stories Sun, 18 Feb 2018 19:24:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 AUSL turnarounds called ineffective, expensive Fri, 17 May 2013 01:19:45 +0000 Why is deficit-challenged CPS proposing to spend over $1 million a year to “turn around” each of six schools, using a program that’s produced mediocre results — especially when teachers at four of the schools have voted to support a far cheaper and more effective turnaround proposal?

Could the political connections of the Academy for Urban School Leadership — whose big-dollar donors include major contributors to Mayor Emanuel, like David Vitale, Penny Pritzker and Bruce Rauner — have something to do with it?


Of twelve turnaround schools listed on AUSL’s website which the group took over between 2006 and 2010, ten of them are on academic probation today.    Only one of them is rated as Level 1 — “high performing” — by CPS.

Of those twelve schools, eleven were below the CPS district-wide average for ISAT composite scores.  AUSL’s top-scoring school had a composite score that was equal to the CPS average, which is lower than half its schools.

Three AUSL turnarounds at CPS high schools are abject failures, with scores far below district averages and negligible growth.

AUSL did not respond to a request for an interview.

A study last year by Don Moore of Designs For Change of Chicago elementary schools with poverty rates above 95 percent — there were 210 of them — found 33 scoring above the CPS average on ISAT reading scores (the most rigorous test and the most fundamental skill, experts say).  None were AUSL schools.

All the successful schools followed what Designs called the “school-based democracy” model, with Local School Councils selecting principals, approving the budget, and monitoring school improvement — a stark contrast to the “top-down” strategy represented by AUSL.

Only three  out of ten AUSL schools were among the top half of high-poverty schools in reading achievement, Designs found.  That’s despite over $1 million a year in additional resources given to AUSL turnaround schools.

The additional money includes management fees and annual per-pupil payments, in addition to large capital investments in turnaround schools.  The CPS supplementary capital budget for this year includes $11 million dollars for improvements to six schools slated for AUSL takeovers.  Among other resources, AUSL schools get a second assistant principal and a full-time social worker.

A couple years ago, annual spending on turnarounds was $20 million.  It’s growing steadily.

“The resources now used for turnaround schools need to be shifted to helping effective schools become resources for other schools,” Designs concluded.


Moore’s study was released shortly after a report by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, which found that turnarounds and other aggressive school interventions in low-performing schools had “closed the gap in [reading] test scores with the system average by almost half.”

This was touted by editorial writers and politicians as proof of AUSL’s success.  But was it?

Citing statisticians, Catalyst said the report “showed only a small amount of progress,” particularly given “the upheavel and financial investment in turnarounds.”

Pressed by the Sun Times to clarify the report’s results — which were given only in terms of standard deviations — one author explained that after four years of intervention, sixth graders in a turnaround school are 3.5 months ahead of their peers in the lowest-performing schools.

That’s what the Tribune calls “dramatic academic progress,” and what Mayor Emanuel calls “academic excellence.”

The school board went on to approve six AUSL turnarounds.


There’s another model for turnarounds in Chicago — one which has often outperformed AUSL, without replacing teachers and principals, and at one-fifth the cost.

Strategic Learning Initiatives developed its “focused instruction process” approach in a demonstration project with CPS that started in 2006, the same year as AUSL’s first turnaround.

In the four-year program, involving eight low-income elementary schools in Little Village and Garfield Park — each of which had been on probation for ten years or more — each of the schools dramatically increased their annual achievement growth rates, most within one or two years.

The program is based on decades of management studies of high-performance organizations and on the “five essential supports” identified by Moore and validated by the Consortium — effective leadership, family-community partnerships, supportive learning environment, ambitious instruction, and a culture of trust and collaboration.

(The Consortium has found that schools measured strong in all five supports were ten times more likely to achieve substantial gains in reading and math; remarkably, in CPS reports on the five supports, only three AUSL turnaround schools are rated “organized for improvement” or “highly organized.”  Its oldest turnarounds are rated “not yet organized.”)

Working with SLI, principals and teachers get in-school coaches, and teachers run their own problem-solving sessions in school and across school networks.  A family engagement component focuses on teaching parents how to support their children’s learning.  The whole process aims at developing a sense of ownership among school community members, says SLI president John Simmons.

According to Simmons, the biggest lesson from the group’s collaboration with CPS was that, far from being the root of the problem, existing staff and parents “form a large and untapped reservoir of energy, ideas and commitment” for school improvement.

“The idea of replacing the entire staff is completely foreign to the corporate turnaround model,” he points out.

SLI won’t come into a school unless 80 percent of its teachers vote for the program in a secret ballot.  (Because it doesn’t replace the staff, the program is eligible for federal funding as a “school transformation” rather than a “turnaround.”) Teachers at four of the six schools slated for AUSL turnarounds have voted to request that CPS let them apply for an SLI-led transformation.


CTU activist Debby Pope, who attended hearings for five of the school proposed turnarounds, says she noticed a pattern:  most of the schools being targeted had new principals who seemed to be inspiring the staff, and who were achieving significant increases on test scores.

An analysis shows that annual reading score gains at the six proposed turnarounds are eight times higher in the past two years than they were over the previous four.

The change is particularly striking at four of the schools:  under new principals, Barton went from an average yearly decrease of -0.1 percent for four years, to an average yearly gain of 4.7 percent in the past two years; Chalmers went from 0.4 to 4.5; Dewey from -1.9 to 3.2, and Carter from 0.4 to 2.3.

Could it be that, in an effort to goose its own success rate, AUSL is looking for schools where a turnaround in student achievement is already under way?

At the hearing for Chalmers, Pope said, “As a union representative I have to say, it’s not every day you have a staff extolling the leadership of a principal the way you do here.”

Parents and teachers praised principal Kent Nolan, a focused, intent young black man who cuts an impressive figure.

One mother expressed her amazement on coming home and finding her 13-year-old son reading a book.  “My six-year-old daughter reads books,” she said.  “This school has been excellent.”

Another described the turnaround in her two sons’ attitudes toward school.   A third told of being impressed when she saw Nolan disperse a group of drug dealers from a corner near the school.  “What other principal would do that?” she said.

Another parent pointed out that, with an LSC, “we have a say in naming a principal.”  Under AUSL they wouldn’t.

In thirteen years in five CPS schools, “I have never seen an administration as supportive and dedicated,” said a math teacher.  “The school was in trouble” before the new principal, said a case manager.  “We have a fresh start.”

Under Nolan, in two years, Chalmers’ ISATs have risen 10 points.  They’re still far below the district’s average, and the school is still on probation, but it’s only a few points from moving to the next level, according to testimony.

And in the CPS report card on the “five supports,” Chalmers is rate “highly organized for improvement.” It really does seem to have turned around already.

“I have experience with AUSL,” said one mother.  She said her daughter, a student at Collins Academy, was being told she had to find a new school “because of her behavior.”  (I asked her later what the behavior issues were.  “Girl stuff,” she said.)  “Are you going to kick out all the kids with behavior problems?”

She added later that she had a nephew at one of AUSL’s elementary schools who was being told to go to another school.

“We have homeless children, children with parents who are unemployed or incarcerated, parents with addictions; we have children who have been rejected from turnaround schools,” said third grade teacher Louis Lane during the hearing.  “As educators we rise to the occasion daily, we respect our students and care for them.  We are teachers who teach, not kick students out because they have problems.”


It seems immensely, tragically disrespectful to educators like Nolan and Lane and their colleagues to wantonly replace them in order to deliver a payoff to political cronies.

The only real purpose for firing and replacing staff in turnarounds appears to be “to discriminate against experienced educators, especially educators of color,” said CTU president Karen Lewis in a statement last month.  Younger teachers cost less.

CTU found that in six turnarounds of elementary schools with majority-black teaching staffs last year, including three by AUSL and three by CPS, the proportion of blacks on the staff dropped dramatically.  In AUSL’s turnaround of Stagg, the percentage of teachers who were African American dropped from 80 to 35 percent when AUSL took over.

More dramatic was the increase in inexperienced teachers.  While none of the schools had first-year teachers before the turnarounds, after the turnarounds a whopping 57 percent of their teaching staff were first-years.

On top of that, the Designs study revealed that AUSL has huge levels of teacher turnover.  Only 42 percent of teachers at turnaround schools in 2008-09 were still there three years later.

With Chicago taxpayers footing the bill for AUSL’s vaunted teacher training program, that’s s a concern.  In addition, “it creates a constant need to identify new teachers, and makes the goal of fundamentally changing a school’s culture more difficult,” according to Designs.

“High teacher turnover is damaging to a school’s ability to build collaboration among teachers, relationships with students and parents, and continuity in the school’s curriculum.”

Maybe that’s one reason AUSL schools are having trouble getting organized for improvement.


It looks like AUSL will emerge as the big winner in North Lawndale if proposed school actions are approved, said Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance.

She says four of five school actions will benefit AUSL, which will end up controlling all the schools in Douglas Park, where its under-performing high school, Collins Academy, is located.

Pope Elementary is proposed for closing, with its students sent to Johnson, an AUSL school. Bethune, which was turned around in 2009, is slated for closing, allowing AUSL to jettison one of its more challenging schools, where results have not been impressive.  Leonard expects Bethune students will be encouraged to go not to the designated receiving school but to Johnson or to Chalmers, if it’s also taken over by AUSL.

And in a curious maneuver, current Henson students would be sent to Hughes, a Level 2 school, but Henson’s attendance boundaries would be redrawn with half its area assigned to Herzl, a recent AUSL turnaround that’s still Level 3 and on probation.

Leonard point out that even after being in place for several years, AUSL schools in North Lawndale still underperform Lawndale schools generally.  On ISAT reading scores, North Lawndale schools average 65.6 percent meeting and exceeding standards, while AUSL schools in the neighborhood average 51.7.

“The school action policy is being driven for the benefit of well-connected people,” she said.

One of AUSL’s strategies seems to be taking over elementary schools feeding the high schools where it’s under-performing, said Cecile Carroll of Blocks Together, which works with parents and students at Orr Academy and local elementary schools.

“They seem to be thinking, if we can push out and counsel out students from the elementary schools, we can end up with fewer special ed and bilingual students and children with discipline issues at the high school,” she said. “They can get the cream of the crop.”

BT has dealt repeatedly with large numbers of Orr students who were told not to return to school after the turnaround there.  Carroll thinks that with BT’s persistent pushback, the school has backed off its strategy of dumping.

(Rod Estvan of Access Living has reported that the proportion of students with disabilities has dropped at AUSL schools; at Morton Academy, AUSL’s top-scoring school, it’s dropped by one-third since the turnaround.  He’s also noted that enrollment declined by 15 percent from 2006 to 2012 at ten AUSL schools, during a period when CPS enrollment declined by 4 percent.)

According to Carroll, school actions in BT’s area also seem to favor AUSL in curious ways.  School closings are passing by Piccolo, which AUSL took over last year, though it’s a Level 3 school with a 40 percent utilization rate (Carroll says it’s lower now) — and with $26 million in capital needs, according to CPS.

Instead two Level 2 schools with much higher utilization rates and lower capital needs assessments — Ryerson and Laura Ward — are being combined.

And while 53 schools are closed, two AUSL schools, Morton and Dodge, are co-locating.  That means that each school gets to keep its administrative staff — including a second assistant principal for each school, though with enrollments of 362 and 423 respectively, Morton and Dodge are no bigger than many schools that are being combined.

“This isn’t about money,” said Carroll.  “Clearly these decision are not dictated by what’s fiscally prudent.”

It doesn’t seem to be about education either.  It seems to be about money and power.

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Better schools? Sun, 14 Apr 2013 21:28:15 +0000 CPS claims  this year — as it has in past closings — that all students in closing schools will end up at better schools.

The gym of Attucks Elementary's first building, closed in 2008; its current location is now proposed for closing (photo by Nathan Goldbaum, CTU)

A recent view of the gym of Attucks Elementary’s first building, closed in 2008; its current location is now proposed for phaseout (photo by Nathan Goldbaum, CTU)

As the Sun-Times and Tribune both report, that doesn’t seem to be the case.  According to the Trib, whose analysis included several schools for which the Sun-Times couldn’t find data, nearly half of closing schools will send their students to schools with the same performance rating.

By my count, at 28 closing schools — more than half of the 53 on the list — students will be transferred to schools that are on academic probation.

The Sun-Times points out that eight receiving schools actually have lower test scores than the schools they’re absorbing students from.  (This includes four receiving schools that have higher performance ratings but lower ISAT composite scores than the sending schools, which tells you something about CPS’s performance policy; Matt Farmer tells you more here.)

In many cases, the “better school” claim is a shell game.  That’s where you see one school “closing” and another school with better scores moving out of its own building and into the “closed” school.

‘The numbers don’t work’

So, on the North Side, Stockton, a Level-3 school (on probation), is “closing” and its students are “moving into” Courtenay, a Level-2 (“in good standing”) school.  But they’ll stay the same building. The Courtenay building is closing, and its students and staff will be sent to the old Stockton building.

Courtenay is now a small school that takes students who apply from across the city.  No longer.  Courtenay will now take on Stockton’s attendance boundaries.

With about 250 Courtenay students joining Stockton’s 450 students, what this really means is that Courtenay is closing but its administrators are being shifted to Stockton, along with its name.  But with much less space.

Both schools have huge special ed populations — Courtenay’s is 33 percent, Stockton’s is 30 percent — and both have large ELL student populations, which have their own, less stringent legal class size limits. So they really don’t have as much room as CPS thinks they do, since the district’s calculations ignore special ed and ELL space requirements.

“Stockton has four or five empty rooms,” said Wendy Katten of Raise Your Hand, who’s visited many of the closing schools (and found much detail that’s lost in CPS’s decision-making process).  “But they’re getting what — ten new homerooms?  And both schools have huge special ed populations, which CPS is still not factoring in.”

So class sizes will go up, even as two distinct student populations with special needs are merged.

It looks like, rather than liberating students who are “trapped in failing schools,” Emanuel and company are setting up yet another school for failure.

“Mass closings will lead to overcrowding and bigger class sizes,” according to Raise Your Hand.  “The numbers don’t work.

“Some receiving schools have told us they have no idea how 300 to 400 kids will fit in their building without class size going up to 40 or higher.

“Is this how we create better education for Chicago’s children?”

As Farmer recently pointed out, CPS schools are deemed underutilized if they have class sizes below 24 — and deemed “efficient” with class sizes up to 36 — but Emanuel’s children attend a private school where class sizes are capped at 23.

“It’s one thing to push class-size ‘efficiencies’ …on other people’s kids,” Farmer writes, “but don’t look for the mayor to urge those ‘reforms’ upon the folks at [the Lab School] anytime soon.”

Destabilizing schools in Bronzeville

In 2007, UIC researchers looked at the impact of school closings on receiving schools in Bronzeville.  By then, twelve schools had been closed in five years, many replaced by charters.  (Since then, seven more have been closed, with another five slated for closing this year.)

The Collaborative for Educational Justice and Equality at UIC’s College of Education found that the influx of new students disrupted school climate and slowed the pace of instruction.

Larger class sizes made all the issues more difficult to address, CEJE reported.

Administrators told CEJE their schools were forced to shift focus from academics to discipine.  There were more fights, lower achievement, increased truancy.  In 2006, a spate of newspaper articles highlighted escalating violence in schools receiving displaced students.

Teachers had to “back-track” to catch new students up.  Many continued to fall behind.  The new kids had trouble fitting in, had trouble concentrating, and were more disruptive, teachers said.

“You end up destabilizing the culture and ultimately the progress of each school,” said Rod Wilson, a community organizer with the Lugenia Burns Hope Center. Some of the best schools in the neighborhood never recovered, he told Newstips.

Fuller Elementary was a rising school when students from Donoghue were sent there in 2003, Wilson said. Achievement gains were reversed, and after five years on probation, the school was subjected to a “turnaround” last year.  Results from the latest intervention are not in yet.

Beethoven Elementary was one of 100 substantially-improved schools in a 1997 Designs For Change study that argued that local control was the best route for school improvement.  The school featured a Great Books program funded by the Annenberg Challenge.

In 2006, Beethoven took in students from Farren Elementary.  Now it’s in its third year on probation — and set to receive students from Attucks.

(Attucks is being phased out of a building it moved into in 2008, because repairs on its existing building were deemed too expensive — especially with CPS spending $6 million that summer for renovations to house a charter in a nearby school building — one that had been closed four years earlier because repairs there were deemed too expensive.)

“If you transfer a student from a low-income, highly segregated neighborhood school to another low-income, highly segregated school, it’s not the magic bullet that’s going to produce instant increases in academic performance,” Stephanie Farmer of CReATE told the Sun-Times.

Doubling down on segregation

CReATE cites a national study that found that school closings across the country have led to increased dropout rates and increased school violence, as disrupted relationships with adults and peers left students with fewer social and emotional supports to help them adjust to new schools.

While most closing and receiving schools in the CPS plan are low-income and racially isolated, Manierre stands out (as WBEZ has noted) because it’s surrounded by schools that are higher-performing and far more economically and socially diverse.

But its students are being sent to Jenner, which like Manierre is a Level-3 school that’s 95 percent low-income and 98 percent African American, and where the proportion of students meeting and exceeding state standards is in fact slightly lower than at Manierre.

Schools near Manierre include Newberry Math and Science, a Level-1 school with a 56 percent low-income, racially-mixed student body and, by CPS’s calculation, about 100 “empty seats”; Ogden International, a Level-1 school that’s 21 percent low-income and has an extra 100 spaces.

Also nearby is Skinner North, another top-level school with only 20 percent low-income students — and a utilization rate that’s actually lower than Manierre’s or Jenner’s.  According to CPS, Skinner North is 38 percent utilized, with 400 “empty seats.”

Instead, 394 Manierre students are going to Jenner, which has 377 “empty seats” by CPS’s calculation.  Because CPS utilization standards are so parsimonious, that looks like a recipe for overcrowding.

Rather than send Manierre students to higher-performing, racially-diverse schools, CPS is choosing to double down on segregation.


CPS is bringing in an International Baccalureate program to Jenner and six other receiving schools, along with STEM programs at eleven receiving schools.

For some this is reminscent of the Fine Arts Academies and Math and Science Academies that were rolled out with such fanfare under Arne Duncan.

The new programs will require ongoing teacher training and resources, warns Lorraine Forte at Catalyst, if they are not to “end up as nothing more than public relations ‘spin’ to sell closings as a sound educational idea.”

“I like the IB curriculum — it’s geared toward creativity and cricial thinking and not just test prep,” comments blogger and retired education professor Mike Klonsky.  “I think all students should be getting something like that.”

This may not be the most cost-effective way to get it, though, since it involves paying tens of thousands of dollars to the IB organization by each school, for certification, curricula and tests, training and evaluation.  CPS has budgeted $15 million to bring the IB program to seven schools, including new labs.  That’s the same amount being spent to expand full-day kindergarten to all elementary schools.

The new programs are part of a major effort by CPS — involving air conditioning, libraries, labs, playgrounds, and iPads — to depict the school closings as an effort to focus resources, rather than an effort to clear the way for the charter expansion that Emanuel and CPS plan.

One problem, as the Sun-Times points out, is that many of the schools that are being closed already have the features now being promised for receiving schools.  Their example is Garvey, which already has the the air-conditioning, computer lab, and pre-school now being promised at receiving schools.  Garvey, which CPS wants to close, also has higher test scores than its receiving school.

In some cases CPS doesn’t seem to know what’s available in the schools it wants to board up.  It lists “no computer lab” at Henson in its explaining of why the school has been chosen for closing.

In fact, Henson has 16 computers in its library and a technology lab in the room next door, said Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance.  “It has computers in every classroom, and technology integrated in every class.

“I don’t know if [CPS is] just out of touch, or if they are out-and-out lying,” she said.

(Similarly, CPS says Ericson school “lacks science and computer labs”; Chicago Public Fools reports the school has a science lab and four computer labs.)

Community schools

Catalyst describes Henson as “a hub for the community.”  The school converted three classrooms into a health clinic run by Erie Family Health Center for students and community members, and Erie helped set up a food pantry.

The health clinic moved to Henson from Frazier when it was closed and absorbed into Henson.  But it’s unlikely there will be space at the next proposed receiving school, Charles Evan Hughes Elementary.  With Henson’s 250 students joining Hughes’s 300 students, the student body could be significantly higher than the Hughes school’s building capacity of 510 listed by CPS.

And since CPS uses building capacity rather than program capacity as its standard — and allows for class sizes as high as 36 — its utilization standard consistently overstates real school capacity.

Henson is a hub in more ways than those.  Leonard visited Henson during spring break, while school was out, and found it bustling.  “One set of students was doing athletics, another set was choreographing their own dance, another was writing their own music.”  Will a school at 100 percent capacity have room for that kind of programming?

In an internet ad paid for by the Walton Family Foundation, Barbara Byrd-Bennett waxes eloquent about what children deserve:  “With our consolidations, we’ll be able to guarantee that our children will get what they need and deserve, and that parents will now walk into their child’s school and see their child engaged in a dance studio, see their child engaged in a science experiment, see their child with access to technology.”

In fact, though, a dance program, a technology lab, and a health clinic are being shut down at Henson — and it’s quite unlikely there will be room for all those programs at Hughes.

Many of the schools slated for closing are community schools, Katten said. But the consolidated schools will be hard-pressed to replicate the same breadth of programming.

With the consolidations, “schools will have to choose between huge class sizes or giving up programs,” she said.  “It’s going to be one or the other.

“Schools will be forced to increase class sizes a ton or give up space they’re using for things CPS admits they should have.”

Lafayette Elementary has gotten wide attention for its music program.  It’s being closed, and its hugely successful string orchestra program is up in the air, said Merit Music executive director Tom Bracy.   “We’re hoping we can bring the program to Chopin,” the school set to absorb Lafayette, “so we don’t lose 100 students who are currently playing stringed instruments.”

(Photo by Sarah Ji)

(Photo by Sarah Ji)

But even if they succeed in keeping the program going, it will be a different program.  With one-third of Lafayette’s students in special ed, including a well-regarded autism program, the school’s orchestra has fully integrated students with disabilities, as has the school itself.

“Our kids play together, they have gym together, they have art together, music” one Lafayette mother told DNAinfo.

But while Lafayette’s general education students are being sent to Chopin, its special education students are going to “schools capable of handling the needs of the children,” DNAinfo reported.

So even if Lafayette’s orchestra survives, many of the children who have benefitted the most from it will no longer be part of it.

How many programs like this, initiated and supported by communities and schools at a time when CPS has been cutting art and music, will be swept away in the tsunami of school closings?

One thing is clear: CPS has no idea.  All the impassioned testimony from parents and teachers about vital programs, about the realities of space use, about the need for long-range planning, and about serious safety concerns seems to have had no impact on the district’s decision-making process, which could be defined in two words: “mayoral control.”



What could go wrong?

Saving money?


Are school closings racist? Sat, 06 Apr 2013 23:41:55 +0000 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.

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On school closings, West Siders offer alternatives Sat, 06 Apr 2013 02:44:23 +0000 West Side parents and educators have called for a boycott of CPS’s school closing hearing Saturday morning and will hold an alternative community meeting instead (April 6, May Community Academy, 512 S. Lavergne, starting with a press conference at 10 a.m.) where they’ll present a community school plan.

Perhaps Mayor Emanuel ought to go.

He’s the one who recently said, “What I won’t accept is when people are asked, what’s your alternative, what’s your idea, and there’s silence.”

In fact several communities have developed their own plans, including strategic visions developed by six Community Actions Councils sponsored by CPS to improve communications with its stakeholders.

“They all fall on deaf ears,” said Elce Redmond of the South Austin Coalition.  “The mayor has said his decision is final, and he doesn’t care what people have to say about it.”

“It’s a waste of time to go to the CPS hearing,” said Dwayne Truss of the Save Our Neighborhood Schools coalition.  “Nobody that can make any decisions is going to be there.  It’s a dog-and-pony show.”

As for CPS staff, he said, “They’re sticking to their talking points.”

CPS has proposed closing four schools in  Austin, impacting 2,000 students, according to Austin Talks. Saturday’s official hearing is for Louis Armstrong Elementary.

Reducing truancy

SONS will present an alternative plan that will minimize school closings and save CPS money, Truss said.

The plan is based on the strategic educational plan developed by the Austin CAC, which Truss co-chaired with Ald. Deborah Graham (29th).  The council included 25 elected officials, LSC members, religious and community leaders, and city agencies.

That plan focused on solutions to problems like high truancy rates and a lack of all-day early education programs, and proposed developing a range of curricular choices for Austin students, including an IB network running from elementary through high school.

A middle-school intervention program would provide support for at-risk youth and “get them on track for high school,” Truss said.  Douglas High School would offer programs in language and fine arts, STEM, career and technical training, and green technology.

No magnet schools

Truss has also been agitating for an elementary magnet school in Austin.  It’s not fair that the community doesn’t have a single one, he says.

“If you look at the majority of selective enrollment and magnet schools, they’re in predominantly white neighborhoods, and they get the extra money and the extra support,” he said.

Along with SAC, SONS members include Action Now, Westside NAACP, Blocks Together, the Lawndale Alliance, and the Progressive Action Coalition for Education.

In March, the Committee to Save North Lawndale Schools, boasting a long list of elected officials, clergy, community organizations and social services, unveiled an alternative plan that proposed a range of specialty focuses for neighborhood schools.

The committee proposed developing schools as community centers that could address issues of truancy and delinguency, meet job training and  health needs, and fill gaps in recreational and cultural programming for youth.

The committee delivered copies of the report to school board president David Vitale and other board members, and to CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett and CPS staff, said Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance.  No one even acknowledged receiving it, she said.

Since then, four North Lawndale schools have been proposed for closing.

There’s a vast amount of wisdom, experience, and commitment at the grassroots in Chicago’s communities.  Mayor Emanuel ignores it at his peril.

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Fuzzy math: the CPS budget crisis Fri, 08 Feb 2013 01:25:13 +0000 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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School closings: what ‘everyone knows’ Fri, 21 Sep 2012 04:09:31 +0000 “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.”

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Parents air concerns on longer school day Wed, 28 Sep 2011 22:36:49 +0000 Parents in meetings on the West and North Sides this week discussing the proposal for an extended school day expressed a range of concerns far beyond the “for-or-against” terms in which the issue has been framed by Mayor Emanuel and the media.

Both groups released surveys – one large, one small, neither scientific but both gauging the views of parents who are particularly active in their children’s schools.   How the longer day will be implemented and how it will be funded are major concerns.

But how long it should be is also an open question for parents.  The Raise Your Hand Coalition surveyed 1200 parents in 230 schools and found broad support for a longer school day – but little support for making it as long as Emanuel has proposed.

Only 16 percent of respondents in their online survey supported extending the school day to 7.5 hours.  A vast majority – 71 percent – support a school day of 6.5 to 7 hours.

At 13 schools where the group recently won schedule changes to allow children to have recess — moving teachers’ lunch hour to the middle of the day, thus extending the school day to 6.5 hours at no cost to CPS – parents were very happy with the schedule they have, said Sonia Kwon of Raise Your Hand.

“Parents want six-and-a-half hours,” Kwon told Newstips.  “Why [is CPS] asking for seven-and-a-half?”

She points out that since bus routes have been lengthened to cut costs, kids who are bused to her children’s school for special programs have trips as long as an hour-and-a-half.  “With a seven-and-a-half hour day, you’ll have little kids who are away from home for ten hours every day.”

Every school’s situation is different, she says, pointing out that RYH’s recess program was harder to pass at schools with inadequate playground facilities.

Schools without playgrounds

At the Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin on Monday night, one mother said that her children have to go to another school for gym, and will have to travel even farther to get to a playground for recess.

A survey of 36 parents, teachers, and community members who attended that meeting found most favoring a longer day, but 60 percent favoring less than 90 additional minutes now under consideration.

For many, support of a longer day was contingent on sufficient planning and funding, or on agreement between CPS at the Chicago Teachers Union.  The largest segment wanted additional time used to add art, science, music, and gym.

Some 73 percent did not want their schools to move immediately to a longer day.  An overwhelming proportion, 83 percent, said Local School Councils, parents, community stakeholders and educators should be part of the decision-making and planning process.

“LSCs and parents have not been engaged,” said Dwayne Truss of the Ella Flagg Young LSC, who opened the meeting.  “In order to get balance, the process has to be inclusive.”

John Fountain III of moderated the meeting, and Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance compiled the survey results.

Tuesday night at Coonley Elementary in Ravenswood, RYH leaders called on parents to become involved in planning at their schools, and outlined concerns that emerged from their survey.  Parents want quality over quantity and a well-rounded school day, they said.  They want an approach that is sustainable in a school system that has seen annual cuts.  They are worried about CPS’s capacity for carrying out the plan.

‘Show me the money’

CPS has an “underwhelming track record for planning, logistics, and implementation of new policies and procedures,” said Claire Waypole.  “And show me the money,” she added, pointing out that Illinois is now dead last among states for support of public education.

“There can be the greatest idea in the world, but if there’s no money for it, how is it going to happen?” she asked.

How many new art and music teachers will be available – and what’s to guarantee that schools don’t face new cuts and larger class sizes in the second year of the program, Kwon asked later.  Additional money for schools that lengthened their hours this year will not be available next year, she said.

“Nobody at CPS answers any questions about money,” she said.  “That’s one reason everyone is so confused.”

“We have a deficit every year, and next year we’re going to have a worse deficit,” said Truss.  “So are you talking about education, or is this a political battle?”

Audience discussion ranged widely at both meetings.  In both Austin and in Ravenswood, speakers who called CPS’s proposal to lengthen the school day with token payment to teachers “insulting” received warm applause.  (In Austin a speaker called the proposal “legalized slavery.”)

A few parents in Ravenswood spoke against lengthening the school day.  If CPS has the money for a longer day, one mother said, she’d rather they spend it on reducing class sizes.

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TIF reform? Not yet. Thu, 01 Sep 2011 22:50:07 +0000 With the release of his TIF Reform Panel report, Mayor Emanuel may want to check “TIF reform” off his to-do list, but community activists who work on the issue say that would be highly premature.

“They’re talking about transparency as if that’s all we have to do,” said Sonia Kwon of the Raise Your Hand Coalition.  “Transparency and accountability are just tools to reform TIF.  I don’t see this as TIF reform.”

In any case, Emanuel’s panel skips “the first step in transparency” – listing TIF information on property tax bills, said Kwon.  “To know you are in a TIF district and how much of your tax money is going to TIF – that’s the first step.”

That was a major proposal of the Community TIF Task Force of the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group, which brought together dozens of community groups, said Jacqueline Leavy, former executive director of NCBG.  (It was also a major proposal of then-Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley, apparently forgotten when he reacted enthusiastically to the report this week.)

Fundamental reforms missing

Other fundamental reforms advocated by the community task force — and entirely missing from the Emanuel panel’s report — include limiting the use of TIF to truly blighted communities (which was a campaign promise of Emanuel’s), and providing for extensive community input in planning and monitoring TIFs.

The panel recommends making “but for” criteria explicit – to meet the legislative standard that a project would not be possible “but for” TIF support – but includes a “huge loophole” that would allow subsidies for corporations with downtown offices to continue, said Amisha Patel of the Grassroots Collaborative.

It actually ends up expanding the criteria, said Bob Palmer of Housing Action Illinois.

Grassroots Collaborative has called for shutting down the LaSalle Street Central TIF district, and has recently held demonstrations targeting corporate recipients of TIF largesse – including United Airlines, which has received over $30 million in TIF subsidies (and $20 million in additional city subsidies) while routing fuel purchases through a small satellite office in order to evade the city’s sales tax.

Corporate welfare

“It makes no sense to take $30 million from schools and give it to a corporation that’s taking in billions in profits,” said Patel. “It has no real impact on [United’s] bottom line – but it has a huge impact on schools.”

“We really need to tighten up the definition of blight,” said Kwon – and not just downtown.  She gives her own ward as an example: the 47th, where the mayor also lives. “The neighborhood is doing really well, homes are selling, it’s not impacted by the real estate downturn” – yet there are six TIFs.

Raise Your Hand has organized against overuse of TIF at the expense of public schools and has raised concerns about hoarding of uncommitted funds in TIF reserves – currently amounting to $847 million – while the city and schools face severe budget crises.

Ultimately there’s nothing to stop TIF from continuing to operate as a mayoral slush fund, said Patel.  “If the mayor decides [a proposal] is something he wants, he’s going to give them the money,” she said.

Nothing for communities

The panel’s recommendations “are not going to impact communities,” said Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance, which has held annual TIF town halls on the West Side (and recently launched Follow The Money, a blog on North Lawndale TIFs). There’s absolutely nothing about community input in planning and monitoring TIFs; nothing about community advisory councils for TIF districts, she said.

“There’s been no community engagement at the outset” of establishing TIFs, said Leavy – redevelopment plans are “all boilerplate” by consultants who conduct “windshield surveys” of communities. “It’s so top-down, so downtown-driven, so far from the specific needs and opportunities of particular communities.”   Nothing in the panel’s recommendations would change that.

“There’s no mention of making sure that people in communities are actually hired” for new jobs, or ensuring that job training helps people who lack skills to find employment, Leonard said.  “I get the feeling the administration feels that would be too hard.”

“The prime determinant should be providing living-wage, family-sustaining jobs,” said Leavy.  And there should be strong clawback provisions in every project agreement, she said.  The panel’s report is evasive on that subject.

Leavy warns that a number of “creative financing” concepts in the report – bundling TIFs, loan pools, taking equity positions, a TIF venture fund, and stepped-up porting of TIF funds to other districts – merit close scrutiny.

Affordable housing

Julie Dworkin of the Sweet Home Chicago Coalition welcomes the inclusion of affordable housing as one of the “metrics” for evaluating TIF projects, but warns that the current definition of “affordable” – based on area median income, which encompasses income levels in wealthy suburbs – is not affordable in many communities.

Sweet Home Chicago has called for dedicating TIF funds to rehab foreclosed homes, and Dworkin said the mayor’s panel “got it wrong” when it said restrictions on TIF financing for new construction in state law present “a key barrier to more activity in this area.”

In fact, state law provides for TIF financing of new construction of affordable housing, which would be required in communities heavily impacted by foreclosures, she said.

Implementation matters

Much will depend on implementation, as demonstrated by Illinois PIRG‘s new report on the city’s TIF Sunshine Ordinance, which mandated online posting of TIF documents.  The report finds that many documents are missing.

The most significant, said Celeste Meiffren, author of the report, were employment certifications required annually from TIF recipients.  None have been posted, she said, so it’s impossible to check on job creation commitments.

Real TIF reform – beyond what the Emanuel administration implements voluntarily – may well require legislative action in Springfield, and interest in reform is growing there, said Housing Action’s Palmer.   A TIF reform bill stalled in the spring session; further efforts are expected, he said.

Housing Action has developed a list of TIF reform principles that includes listing TIF information on tax bills; strengthening the definition of “blight”; limiting the land area or proportion to tax base subject to TIF within a municipality; requiring explicit statements of purpose and establishing processes for capturing surpluses and phasing out TIFs; allowing individual taxing bodies to opt out of TIFs, and limiting tax increment captured by TIFs to growth after inflation; establishing transparency in porting TIF funds; and expanding TIF use for affordable housing.


On TIF reform, Bronzeville has some ideas


Time for TIF reform?

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