Rahm Emanuel – 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 Ames parent mobilize http://www.newstips.org/2013/11/ames-parent-mobilize/ Fri, 01 Nov 2013 22:36:10 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7915 Parents and supporters of Ames Middle School are ramping up efforts to defend the community school from political interference.

Dozens of Ames parents are set to canvas the neighborhood Saturday morning to register voters and spread the word about community meetings being held by the LSC on Tuesday.  They’ll hold a press conference at 11 a.m. at Ames, 1920 N. Hamlin.

Days after parents protested an announcement by Mayor Emanuel that the Marine Academy would take over Ames, CPS appeared to be backtracking, saying the Marine Academy will stay in its current facility but Ames will become “Marine affiliated.”

The mayor’s office told DNA Info that the earlier announcement was “misworded.”

Meanwhile, Ames’s Local School Council has heard nothing from CPS about what is planned for the school, according to an organizer for the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.  The LSC will meet at 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning, with a community meeting scheduled for 4 p.m. that day.

As a community partner for Ames, LSNA coordinates a range of academic, social, and health support programming for students as well as activities for parents and community members, including ESL, literacy and math-science workshops.  LSNA is nationally acclaimed for the success of its community learning center model.

Ames far outperforms Marine academically, according to LSNA, which calls Marine Academy a “pushout factory,” graduating just 56.5 percent of its freshman class four years later.

Mark Brown reported last December that enrollment declined at Ames when CPS removed two local elementary schools as feeders for the middle school.   Brown suggested that Ald. Robert Maldonado, the main proponent of moving the Marine Academy into the Ames building, ought to “suck it up” and meet with Ames parents.

And Raise Your Hand notes in its weekly update that the Ames plan (whatever it is) is one of a slew of newly-announced projects — incuding a $17 million upgrade of Walter Payton High School and a new Noble charter high school across the street from Prosser High — that are nowhere mentioned in the district’s brand-new facilities plan.

“What was the point of the ten-year master facilities plan?” they ask.

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AUSL turnarounds called ineffective, expensive http://www.newstips.org/2013/05/ausl-turnarounds-called-ineffective-expensive/ http://www.newstips.org/2013/05/ausl-turnarounds-called-ineffective-expensive/#comments Fri, 17 May 2013 01:19:45 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7214 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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Emanuel’s CHA plan challenged http://www.newstips.org/2013/05/emanuels-cha-plan-challenged/ Thu, 16 May 2013 00:13:42 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7206 UPDATED – While Cabrini Row House residents prepare to challenge CHA plans for mixed-income development, CHA resident leaders and housing advocates are questioning Mayor Emanuel’s update to the agency’s Plan For Transformation.

The Cabrini-Green Local Advisory and supporters will hold a press conference Thursday morning (May 16 at 9:30 a.m., 530 W. Locust) to announce “a new initiative to protect the Carini Row Houses,” according to a release from the Legal Assistance Foundation.

Row House residents have called on CHA to fulfill the promise in the original PFT to rehabilitate the development as 100 percent public housing; that plan was put on hold in 2011.

Meanwhile, resident leaders and community organizations called on the CHA board to reject the mayor’s plan and return to the drawing board — and to heed input from the public, including an emphasis on preservation and rehab of existing units rather than subsidizing private development as the most cost-effective way to meet CHA’s obligations.

The Central Advisory Council, comprised of elected leaders of CHA developments, criticized the mayor’s plan for lacking specifics on how CHA will complete construction of replacement housing and ensure families of their right to return to homes they were displaced from.

Few proposals from CAC’s detailed Strategies and Recommendations Report issued last year were incorporated in the mayor’s plan, the group said.

They called for reforming security programs which “harass law-abiding residents” but fail to make developments safe, and for elected representation for public housing residents living in mixed-income developments.

The Chicago Housing Initiative, consisting of community organizations representing tenants of subsidized housing, challenged Emanuel’s claim that 85 percent of the PFT’s promised 25,000 replacement units have been provided.  With thousands of rehabbed units remaining vacant, “the number [of occupied replacement units] is closer to 18,000,” said Leah Levinger of CHI.

Last year the group revealed that CHA receives millions of dollars in operating funds from HUD for units it has failed to lease out.

Under pressure from HUD, CHA has begun leasing vacant units in scattered-site housing, but in some cases the agency is limiting it to residents making 50 to 80 percent of area median income, Levinger said.  One speaker yesterday was a Wal-Mart worker turned away from public housing for not having a high enough income to live in public housing.

Levinger drew parallels between the Emanuel’s plan to step up investment in private developments and the parking meter privatization deal.  The PFT’s mixed-income developments have been a “massive transfer of assets to private control,” at great benefit to private developers but with little advantage to taxpayers and the public.

Typical “public-private partnerships” involve 95 percent public financing, no developer equity, and millions of dollars in up-front development fees, she said. In return, private developers control the land with a 99-year lease, while affordability agreements only extend for 15 to 30 years.

And according to CHI, public-private mixed-income records have a poor record of meeting housing production goals.  At seven development where over 5,000 units were promised by developers, less than half were ever provided.

The CAC and CHI are calling for preserving and renovating existing public housing stock, including Lathrop Homes, Cabrini Row Houses, Altgeld Gardens and West Haven Homes, and rebuilding housing for displaced families at Ickes Homes, LeClaire Courts, Cabrini-Green, and the State Street corridor.

 

UPDATE – CHA has issued the following statement:

“As part of Chicago Housing Authority’s new strategic initiative, ‘Plan Forward: Communities that Work,’ CHA is committed to building strong, vibrant communities throughout Chicago. Currently, the agency is working with a planner and the Near North Working Group to develop a plan for the future of Cabrini, including the row homes. However, CHA has not announced any decision on the future of the row homes. In the coming months, CHA will invite CHA residents and area neighbors to provide their input on our proposed plan for the revitalization of Cabrini. Our goal is to increase the quality of life and economic opportunities for CHA residents and the entire community.”

A previous version gave an incorrect time for Thursday’s press conference.

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Will Emanuel back privatization transparency measure? http://www.newstips.org/2013/04/will-emanuel-back-privatization-transparency-measure/ Tue, 09 Apr 2013 23:09:05 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7103 Community and public interest groups are calling on Mayor Emanuel to support a privatization transparency ordinance that is expected to be considered by the City Council Rules Committee on Wednesday.

The Privatization Transparency and Accountability Ordinance, submitted last November by Alderman Roderick Sawyer (7th) and sponsored by 32 aldermen, would require a cost-effectiveness study and public hearings when the city seeks to contract out services and operations.

Along with a cost-effectiveness study prior to the award of any contract, Sawyer’s ordinance would require a study of possible alternatives in collaboration with unions representing city workers whose jobs could be threatened.  City workers would also be qualified to bid on contracts through their unions.

Noting concerns over unemployment, wage levels and workforce diversity, the ordinance would require that at least half of contract work be performed by city residents, and that contractors pay wages and benefits comparable to what city workers get for the same work.  It would mandate City Council hearings and approval of contracts over $250,000.

“I have a concern about touting a monetary savings if we haven’t thought about the people that will lose a job, the families that could lose a home and the local businesses that could lose a loyal customer,” Sawyer said when he introduced the ordinance.

“If we gut the foundation of our most stable communities by moving jobs to companies that do not have a residency requirement, does the money saved on the budget make up for the money lost in property tax and sales tax revenue? Is there consideration of possible collateral costs of neighborhood destabilization and loss of property values?”

In a letter to Emanuel, the groups backing Sawyer’s ordinance note the $200-million lawsuit against the city based on a non-compete clause in the parking meter privatization deal signed by Mayor Daley in 2008.  Daley now works for the law firm that negotiated the deal.

The process of privatization “must take place in the open from beginning to end,” the groups write.  “The public should be aware of every step that is taken in pursuing a privatization proposal — from the initial hiring of a consultant to the selection of a winning bidder.”

“Given Mayor Emanuel’s repeated statements that he is committed to transparency and accountability in City government and privatization deals, we think this should be an easy commitment for him to make,” said Hailey Golds of Illinois PIRG, one of the groups backing the ordinance.

Other groups signing the letter include the Chatham Business Council, Horner Park Advisory Council, West Loop Community Organization, Rogers Park Community Organization, Wicker Park Committee, and Wrightwood Neighbors Association.

 

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On school closings, West Siders offer alternatives http://www.newstips.org/2013/04/on-school-closings-west-siders-offer-alternatives/ http://www.newstips.org/2013/04/on-school-closings-west-siders-offer-alternatives/#comments Sat, 06 Apr 2013 02:44:23 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7091 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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‘Disaster capitalism’ at CPS http://www.newstips.org/2013/03/disaster-capitalism-at-cps/ http://www.newstips.org/2013/03/disaster-capitalism-at-cps/#comments Sun, 17 Mar 2013 19:33:28 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7034 The tenth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War fell about ten days before CPS was set to announce what could be the largest single school closing operation ever.

The parallels are striking: ambitious programs dictated top-down by politicians over widespread public disapproval, administered willy-nilly by overburdened bureacracies — both driven by ideology that wilfully disregards the perspectives of people on the ground.

In Iraq — a war which Mayor Emanuel enthusiastically supported, and which has cost at least 200,000 lives and over $2 trillion to the U.S. treasury — there was a political and media consensus on the threat of weapons of mass destruction that depended on ignoring the facts being reported by international monitors at the time.

There was a political, ideological hubris that ignored warnings of chaos likely to ensue.  And there was a huge push to sell off publicly-owned enterprises, resulting in massive corruption.

At CPS there’s a $1 billion “budget deficit” and a claim of 100,000 “empty seats,” and an elite consensus that this situation requires closing schools.  The consensus depends on ignoring CPS’s record of wildly inflating projected deficits, as well as many unanswered questions about the costs and savings of closing schools — including the cost to struggling communities.

It requires ignoring the fact that CPS doesn’t have an accurate measure of its utilization.  Raise Your Hand and the Chicago Tribune have documented how the district inflates underutilization rates by using inflated class sizes in its building capacity measurement.

And in community hearings, school after school, principals, teachers and parents, one after another, have argued that CPS’s building capacity measure fails to account for program capacity, the standard that is used by cities across the country — and a standard that would result in higher utilization rates.

***

So CPS can’t really say what its budget deficit will be, and can’t really say how well its schools are being used.  But these are details.

The central contradiction in the establishment consensus over school closings is Emanuel’s plan to spend millions of dollars to open a new wave of charter schools.  This puts the lie to every claim about budget constraints and empty seats.

Pilsen/LV Closings Commission Hearing

The consensus depends on ignoring the district’s stated goal of opening 60 new charter schools.  It requires ignoring the expedited application process promised to charter operators — and the promise to identify underserved areas available for new charter operations — in the Gates Compact signed last year.

It requires ignoring Emanuel’s statement that he hopes charter operators view the compact as “an opportunity to set up shop” in Chicago.

It requires overlooking the strategy document for closing neighborhood schools and opening charters, revealed by the Tribune in December, that notes the “perceived inconsistency” and suggests staging the closings and openings in two phases.

Throw in charter expansion, and budget and capacity issues go out the window.  It becomes clear that the agenda is purely about privatization.

It’s a textbook case of what Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism” — a theory first inspired by the “reconstruction” of Iraq — using (or creating) a crisis as cover for turning over public services to private interests.

It’s all about the ideology.

Sure, some neighborhoods are gaining population and some are losing.  But that’s a different discussion — unrelated to the number of “empty seats” in the district as a whole — and one that requires a facilities master plan.   It requires planning based on demographic projections, not a rush job based on this year’s numbers.  It requires considering the impact of school closings on these communities, too.

It’s clear Emanuel has a plan of his own for CPS — he just doesn’t want to let the people of Chicago know what it is.  That’s not transparent, of course, and it evades accountability.  Beyond that it’s dishonest, framing the discussion in false terms, and it seems a little cowardly.

***

CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett promised to hold a respectful, meaningful community engagement process and to listen to what parents and community members say.

But judging from the audio of a call with reporters released by WBEZ, Byrd-Bennett is engaging in selective listening.  She’s hearing what she wants to hear.

Saying the “overriding themes” of the testimony were concerns over student safety and the quality of receiving schools, Byrd-Bennett claimed, “Everybody got it that we really needed to close schools, that we really needed to consolidate.”

This was based on reports on the hearings prepared by staff or perhaps consultants, according to Byrd-Bennett.  She ought to take five minutes and dip into any one of the videos of community hearings posted by CPS.  She’ll see rather quickly that her staff reports are incomplete.

Speakers representing school after school tell why they should not be shut down.  Many community residents speak out against the entire school closing plan, challenging its basic premises and calling for no more charters.

At every hearing I attended, every alderman who spoke demanded no school closings in his or her ward.

“Everybody” doesn’t “get it.”

Pilsen/LV Closings Commission Hearing

Perhaps Byrd-Bennett hasn’t heard of the legislation to block school closings this year (SB 1571 and HB 3283) that’s been introduced in Springfield?  It’s sponsored by Senator Willie Delgado, chair of the Senate Education Committee, and cosponsored by dozens of Democrats including the chairs of the black and Latino caucuses, Representatives Ken Dunkin and Cynthia Soto. Delgado is holding a hearing on the bill Tuesday.

The bill calls for a moratorium on closings until CPS rolls out its facilities master plan.  That point was made also repeatedly in the community hearings, though Byrd-Bennett may not have heard it. (CPS spokesperson Becky Carroll told the Sun-Times that the facilities plan “has nothing to do” with the utilization issue.  It’s a “visioning” thing.)

“We’re not gonna sit back and say, ‘OK, Mayor Rahm Emanuel — do what you want to do, how you want to do it, when you want to do it — at our expense. It’s OK with us, buddy.’” Dunkin said. “Not on this issue.”

These legislators, and the aldermen speaking out against closings, are a good barometer of sentiment in the communities impacted by the proposed closings.  They’re the ones getting the calls from voters.  And they understand that school closings are just one more huge cutback of public services, and another big step in the painful process of disinvestment from these communities.

“Whether Byrd-Bennett agrees with [parents] or not, she should not mischaracterize what happened at the hearings,” commented Raise Your Hand.  “So much for rebuilding trust.”

***

Meanwhile, our roving mayor was on a panel in New York City on Friday, holding forth on what’s wrong with Chicago schools.  (He was also on a panel of “education mayors” in Los Angeles a couple weeks ago.)

“The real problem,” he said, “is not just the education of our children.  We have parents that can’t be parents.”

Sure, all parents have issues, and some have lots of issues.

On the other hand, Emanuel seems somehow to have missed the tremendous outpouring, in the recent community hearings, of thousands and thousands of parents who care deeply about their children’s education — in the very communities he has targeted and now describes so dismissively.

And how does his analysis work as a guide to policy?  Chicago is in the top rank of the nation’s cities for black unemployment; over 20 percent are unemployed — 2.5 times the unemployment rate for whites here — and according to the Chicago Reporter, 56 percent of the city’s African Americans are out of the labor force.

Many thousands are locked in permanent unemployment due to run-ins with a criminal justice system that targets blacks with far higher rates of arrest and conviction and much harsher sentences than whites committing the same infractions.

The mayor’s economic development policies are focused on building a “global city,” while his response to the epidemic of violence focuses on locking up more young people, a strategy that will only perpetuate the cycle.

He’s laid off hundreds of city workers, most of them black, and farmed out city services to private agencies that will cut wages. His schools policy, meanwhile, threatens the middle-class jobs of thousands of African Americans in these communities.

“It’s easy for him to go to another city and shift the blame away from himself, rather than investing in programs to improve parenting and provide economic opportunities,” commented West Side education activist Dwayne Truss “I guess the mayor is too busy touting corporate jobs transferred from other cities, while he’s firing janitors, lunchroom staff and teachers.”

Emanuel’s New York comments reflect the “family values” rhetoric of the “New Democrats” of his formative years in the 1990s (and their pro-business, anti-worker ideology) — not to mention the “blame the victims” approach of the conservative backlash to the civil rights movement: they’re in the same vein, though not as extreme, as Newt Gingrich’s call for placing children of welfare families in orphanages. The policies Emanuel championed in those years — free trade pacts, elimination of poverty programs, the incarceration boom — have ravished the communities that are now threatened with losing their schools.

In New York, Emanuel touted twelve parent-child centers CPS is opening.  But he’s threatening dozens of schools that have used available space for create parent resource rooms, where adults without computers at home can look for jobs, study for GEDs, and connect with their children’s education.

How are communities struggling with epic foreclosure, unemployment and crime rates ever going to get traction for a comeback if their last remaining institutions are shuttered? Or does the “global cities” strategy actually, secretly, involve further depopulating them?

Photos by Sarah-Ji

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Violence prevention: Corporate charity or citizenship? http://www.newstips.org/2013/02/violence-prevention-corporate-charity-or-citizenship/ Thu, 21 Feb 2013 22:41:21 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6978 Last year, community groups called on Mayor Emanuel and the business community to match the fundraising they did for the NATO Summit to fund youth programs in the neighborhoods.

Now, under the glare of national publicity for Chicago’s ongoing epidemic of violence, Emanuel has decided to deploy his famous fundraising skills to gather $50 million in corporate donations for violence prevention programs over the next five years.

Certainly, every effort to bring resources to desperate communities is welcome.  (And it’s churlish to point out that these folks raised nearly $50 million for NATO in a few weeks.) But is charity a substitute for good citizenship?

The Grassroots Collaborative is pointing out that Emanuel’s choice to co-chair the campaign heads a company that is profiting from controversial interest rate swaps that cost the city and the schools tens of millions of dollars a year.

Jim Reynolds is CEO of Loop Capital, which according to GC, has made $100 million in five interest rate swap deals with the city and CPS since 2005.

Interest rate swaps — also called “toxic rate swaps” by critics — are one of the wonderfully innovative financial products developed in the run-up to the financial crash a few years ago.  They provide set interest rates to cover variable returns on public bond deals.

Cost Chicago $72 million a year

But since the crash, the Fed has kept interest rates near zero, while local governments are locked into interest rates of 3 to 6 percent.  That costs Chicago $72 million a year; CPS loses $35 million a year on the deals, according to GC. (CTU has protested this arrangement.)

While applauding their “charity work,” GC notes, “Chicago business leader must address their role in creating the lack of resources for youth and communities in the first place.  They must stop gouging taxpayers and renegotiate these toxic deals.”

“The solution doesn’t end with short-term donations,” notes GC.  It requires “renegotiating our local governments’ relationship with Wall Street, and getting our economy back on track.”

The toxic rate swaps are just the tip of the iceberg.  The millions of dollars of TIF subsidies going to the corporations that will be donating to the mayor’s fund should be considered too.

If Emanuel wants the business community to step up, he could reverse his phaseout of the head tax, which brought the city $40 million a year.  (It was called a “job killler,” but there’s no evidence for that — the $4 per employee per month amounted to about 25 cents an hour.  And it was one of the only revenue measures that captured a smidgeon of the estimated $30 billion earned in Chicago by residents of the suburbs each year.)

Corporate tax avoidance

Emanuel is expanding summer youth employment, though the number of jobs available will still be a fraction of what it was in previous decades.  He points out that federal funding has dropped precipitously, and the state has been unable to fund a summer youth jobs program established by the legislature.  Maybe the fact that half the state’s corporations don’t pay any income tax — and that Illinois leads the nation in a number of economically pointless business deductions — needs to be looked at.

Instead of paying the taxes they should, Emanuel’s corporate donors will most likely get a tax deduction.

There’s a steady shifting of public functions to the private sector taking place under Emanuel. Economic development is being outsourced to World Business Chicago, public finance to the Infrastructure Trust, public education to charter operators. Now the corporate sector has to step up to provide funding for youth services because the city can’t.

Behind the austerity agenda that Emanuel has enthusiastically embraced lies the contention that the city is broke, the state is broke.  But of course, the money is out there.  We’re in the middle of an economic recovery with soaring corporate profits and intractable unemployment. But with our regressive revenue system, we’re taxing the people at the bottom — the people who are losing ground — twice as heavily as those at the top.

It’s perfectly encapsulated in the story Ben Joravsky tells of the fireman who responds to Emanuel’s teasing about pension cuts by asking the mayor why he doesn’t support a financial transaction tax.   (In response, Emanuel sputters.)

Money for friends

The shift from the public sector, of course, involves a shift away from transparency and accountability.  When Emanuel was disbursing leftover NATO funds to neighborhood programs, trotting from press conference to press conference, “there wasn’t much transparency in how the programs were chosen,” said Eric Tellez of GC.  And it looked like a lot of the money was spent in ways that helped the mayor’s allies, including charter schools, he said.

The communities where Chicago’s young people are being shot down have been devastated by the loss of manufacturing jobs, devastated by foreclosures, devastated by “lock-em-up” policies that offer few avenues of hope for ex-offenders.  They’ve been devastated by racism and inequality.

As Salim Muwakkil says, what they need is nothing short of a Marshall Plan, the kind of massive investment program with which the U.S. revived Europe after World War II.

That’s hard to imagine in this day and age.  Politicians like Emanuel are products of the era of the “taxpayer revolt” and reflect all of its assumptions.

But there are signs that era is drawing to a close.  In California — which launched the era in 1978 with Proposition 13, capping sales taxes and requiring two-thirds legislative majorities to raise taxes — voters in November approved a measure hiking the sales tax and raising income taxes on the wealthy.  The alternative, quite simply, was fiscal disaster.  Tea Party-backed anti-tax measures went down to defeat in Florida and Michigan.

What Chicago and Illinois desperately need — what Chicago’s young people desperately need — is a turn back in the direction of fairness and broad-based, inclusive prosperity.

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The charter contradiction http://www.newstips.org/2013/01/the-charter-contradiction/ http://www.newstips.org/2013/01/the-charter-contradiction/#comments Thu, 03 Jan 2013 22:58:31 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6862 Barbara Byrd-Bennett talks about reestablishing trust between CPS and parents and communities – then she turns around and says that closing neighborhood schools has nothing to do with expanding charters.

Since nobody believes that, continuing to repeat it doesn’t seem like a very good way for the new CPS chief to build trust.

Recent revelations by the Chicago Tribune show that the rhetorical disconnect between school closings and charter openings is part of a conscious political strategy.

A CPS document — which “lays out multiple scenarios for closing neighborhood schools and opening privately-run charters,” according to the Tribune — notes the main contradiction in the administration’s claim that closings are necessary due to underutilization and budget constraints: big plans to open scores of new charter schools.

This “core prong of CPS’s academic improvement strategy” – charter expansion – creates a “perceived inconsistency,” according to the document. Therefore large-scale charter expansion must be held off until after large-scale neighborhood school closings are accomplished.

Indeed, the problem is that charter expansion reveals that closing schools isn’t at all about “right-sizing” or saving money – it’s all about privatization.

Politicized

Byrd-Bennett has emphasized that the September 10 document – and specifically its “pre-decisional discussion” of closing 95 schools, mainly on the South and West Sides – predates her administration.  Byrd-Bennett was chief education officer at the time; she was named CEO a month later.

But Byrd-Bennett’s first proposal, a five-year moratorium on school closings, comes straight out of the September 10 document, according to the Tribune.

Besides helping to sell the legislature on an extension of the deadline for announcing school closings, the document shows, the moratorium has the political utility of creating a sense of separation between school closings and charter openings.

The document reveals a highly politicized approach to implementing school policy – a hallmark of the Emanuel administration, which has seen paid protestors and huge media campaigns attacking teachers.  The document proposes establishing a ‘war room” to monitor community opposition to closings, and outlines possible steps to push back against that opposition.

“Community engagement” is just another strategy to try to disarm the opposition.

And while Emanuel and Byrd-Bennett use their new administrations as political cover, claiming a disconnect with previous policies, another Tribune story shows the continuity of the current administration’s agenda with nearly two decades of failed school policies.

Continuity

It turns out the “independent” commission appointed by Byrd-Bennett to get community input on school closings is being staffed by consultants with long ties to charter boosters.

The Civic Consulting Alliance, an offshoot of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club, is advising the commission but not advocating for charters, the group’s executive director told the Tribune.

The Civic Committee itself, of course, is a major charter school backer.  The group was behind CPS’s Renaissance 2010 program and founded New Schools for Chicago in 2004 to promote and finance charter expansion.  CCA’s role in promoting charter schools goes back further.

According to a CCA promotional brochure, the group “played a major role” in the 1995 transition to mayoral control over CPS.  Ten years later, “CCA worked with the Civic Committee in helping to launch Renaissance 2010, an unprecedented effort to open 100 new charter, contract and performance schools.”  The other part of Ren10’s agenda was the goal of closing 60 “failing” schools.

Ironically, two Civic Committee reports – Left Behind (2003) and Still Left Behind (2009) – obliterated administration claims of progress at CPS in the late ’90s and under Renaissance 2010.  (The solution, according to both reports, was more charters.)

CCA has consulted for the city and its agencies on hundreds of projects and assisted CPS with a range of management issues.  Along the way it helped lay the groundwork for charter schools’ entry into Chicago.

 

§ In 1995, CCA helped CPS develop the process for launching charters, including the application process, financing, selection and startup.

§ In 2004, CCA produced a business plan for New Schools for Chicago, which calls itself “the catalyst of the charter movement in Chicago.”

§ In 2005, CCA developed the RFP process for CPS’s Office of New Schools to solicit charter proposals.  (Yes, all those level-3, non-performing charters were vetted under a process developed by CCA.)

 

More recently the group helped CPS analyze the teachers contract – and recruited a Fortune 500 executive with no education experience to oversee school closings and charter openings for CPS.

Now Emanuel and Byrd-Bennett pretend they’re doing something new and urgent.  The reality is that instead of closing 60 schools and opening 100 charters, like Renaissance 2010 did, they want to close 100 schools and open 60 charters, as promised in the Gates Compact.

When Emanuel says, speaking of the need to close schools, that “over the years, what could have been done over a decade…was not done, it was all postponed,” what is he talking about?  Where has he been?

If Byrd-Bennett is serious about restoring trust – if it’s not just yet another talking point – stopping this kind of game-playing would be a good first step.

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