CPS' Response to Seth Lavin's 10 Questions on School Closings

Seth Lavin (former writer of the newsletter Wonks and dad of a future CPS student who lives in the attendance boundary of a school on the closing list) tweeted these 10 questions to CPS recently. He got a response and we're sharing here:

Q1: You’ve estimated $500K in savings per closed school. Does this mean closing 100 schools solves only 5% of the $1B CPS budget deficit?
A1: The estimate is $500K-$800K depending on the school itself. We will not realize significant savings in years one and two. But we need to act now because CPS has taken no action to address the growing underutilization in our District that's occurred over the past several years. Taking no action means we will continue to spread our limited resources much too thin -- at a time when we are facing billion dollar deficits over the next three years. The sooner we act the sooner we can combine schools and resources so we can better invest in programs that will support more of our students' needs. That means more children can access libraries, nurses and counselors, new technologies such as computers and iPads, playgrounds, art and music -- whatever resources may be needed at a given school based on the needs of their students. Chicago has lost 145,000 school-age children since last decade. This population drop is located primarily on the south and west sides of Chicago, which is where the most chronic underutilization of our schools is located. These communities don't have enough children to fill these schools and classrooms. Children are better positioned to be excel academically if they are in fully efficient schools with more resources.
Q2: What data exist that shows closing underperforming schools results in academic gains for students?
A2: We are not closing schools based on performance. We are looking strictly at utilization in this process.
Q3: You say we have a “utilization crisis.” What data shows that a school’s being “underutilized” hurts student achievement?
A3: Yes, we have a utilization crisis. 50% of our schools are underutilized and nearly 140 are half empty. This is stretching our resources much too thin. We can't put off the difficult decisions that need to be made to address this crisis any longer as it will be our kids who suffer in the long run if we do. And, students in underutilized schools are usually hit the hardest because they do not get the same access to resources that properly utilized schools receive -- they are more likely to be in split-grade classrooms, have limited access to enrichment opportunities like art and music, lack access to support staff like nurses and counselors, as well as safety and intervention services for those are struggling academically and emotionally.
Q4: Chicago Consortium on Schools Research says in 94% of cases kids from closed Chicago schools didn’t go to “academically strong” new schools. Will this be different?
A4: Absolutely. CEO Byrd-Bennett has stated unequivocally that every child will have the opportunity to attend a designated higher-performing welcoming school in the fall. She will not close a school if that guarantee cannot be met.
Q5: Will you guarantee that no students from closed Level 3 schools will go to another Level 3 school?
A5: Again, every dedicated welcoming school will be a higher-performing school.
Q6: You say CPS mishandled its last round of 10 closings. Will you share your analysis of what went wrong, and how this will be different?
A6: There were many lessons learned from both last year and years past, as well as from the experiences of other districts. Some include a lack of community input and transparency and not giving children the option to attend a higher-performing school, as well as not communicating proactively with parents about school options for their children and not having a dedicated, cross-functional transition planning and implementation team in place to do the work at the front end that in order to execute plans for each child that will ensure that they have a safe and smooth transition to their new school. How are we making sure these kinds of issues are being addressed? We are acting on them now -- rigorous community engagement is giving parents and communities a true voice in the process. It is their feedback that is driving the criteria being developed as part of this work. Robust and open transparency around the work being done; having a transition leadership and planning team in place well in advance of any final decisions around actions so we have the necessary framework and research in place to implement all planning associated with transitioning children to new welcoming schools; and identifying a dedicated higher performing school for every child, among others. CPS has never done this level of planning, outreach, communication and listening before as part of this process. We know it will painful and that not everyone will agree with where we may finally land in this process, but we will have done this in a way that gives our communities the voice and respect they deserve.
Q7: Given that you included 5 of last year’s 10 turnaround schools on the new possible closings list, do you regret those turnarounds?
A7: Absolutely not. Looking strictly and objectively from the criteria, they simply did not qualify at this time to be removed from consideration. There is much work and listening that will continue to be done and this list is far from final.
Q8: Will you present your plan for where kids from each closed school will go before deciding whether or not each school will close?
A8: Yes. In fact, every family will receive a proposed plan when a list is recommended to the Board of Education by the end of March.
Q9: Have you hired management consultants to assist you in vetting schools for inclusion on the closings list? If so, who are they?
A9: No. We are doing this work internally with input from the community and principals.
Q10: How many CPS staff members are currently working on transition plans for 5,792 students with IEPs that may be impacted by closings?
A10: We do not yet know how many children with IEPs will be included in this process. But we do have a cross-functional transition planning team of 40 subject matter experts who are guiding the development of all transition plans. This team will then be part of the transition implementation team where each school will have a dedicated team of as many as six individuals, with experience and knowledge in their community and their school, that will be working on the transition implementation process for each student and their family.