Recap of 11/20 City Council Hearing on School Actions

RYH attended the Chicago City Council hearing called by 34 aldermen who comprise the Education Committee regarding school actions on Tuesday, November 20th.  A state law was passed in 2009 that says CPS has to announce potential school actions (closings, phase-outs, turn-arounds) by December 1st to give families enough time to plan to apply for other schools if their school is going to be closed.

This year, CPS has requested an extension of this deadline from the state legislature to March 31st. The state law also requires CPS to come up with 10 year Master Facilities Plan and a draft is due this Januarywith a final plan due in July 2013. The state had previously created the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force (CEFTF) in 2009 to help inform the process around school actions and facilities planning. This year, CEO Byrd Bennett created a new commission to deal with school actions separate from the CEFTF.

Though rumors circulate that CPS plans to close to 100 schools this year, they did not answer many questions that aldermen posed about the specifics of this process.  The main two people answering questions from CPS at the hearing were Todd Babbitz, Chief of Transformation and Strategy for the district- a position recently created. Mr. Babbitz stated in the meeting that he has a consulting background and has not previously worked for a school district, and Frank Clark, (ex-CEO of ComEd) who is on the newly formed commission mentioned above on school utilization.

The meeting lasted almost three hours.  RYH came prepared to testify and provide copies of the class size data recently compiled from ISBE 2011 report cards that shows 76% of CPS schools had a grade that exceeded CPS’ recommended class size limits in 2011.  According to those guidelines, class size should not exceed a limit of 28 in K-2nd and 31 in 3rd- 8th.  Though the city council had people sign up at the outset, there resulted in no opportunity for public input. In the end, we left a copy of this chart with Alderman Waguespack who offered to distribute. RYH Class Size info.

Thanks to all the Aldermen who showed up and asked important questions –Aldermen Arena, Cochran, Dowell, Fioretti, M. O’Connor, Osterman, Pawar, Sawyer, and WaguespackWe commend the Aldermen who are keeping their eyes on this ball to both protect citizens' rights and avoid inefficient duplication of efforts that further burden our city's budget.

Some Aldermen questioned why a brand new commission was set up with the CEFTF has been providing recommendations for two years.  Here is a link to the history of the CEFTF and agendas/minutes from past meetings: 

RYH has attended some of these CEFTF meetings where it has been reported that many recommendations have not been implemented.  CPS has no tracking system to follow students who have been impacted by school actions, such as closings. 

Last year, 7,700 students were impacted by these policies yet there is no information to share with the public regarding how they have fared, such as, to which schools they have moved, what their graduation rates are, etc. According to a study done by CReATE (a group of 100 education professors working together across Chicago) a study of 18 elementary schools in Chicago found that 82% of students affected by school closings moved from one underperforming school to another, including schools already on probation.

This information begs the question, if CPS cannot comply with the state law of providing a list to the public by December 1st, should they not wait until December 1, 2013 for the next round of school actions?

CPS also repeated at this meeting that they need to take school actions to deal with the $1 billion upcoming budget deficit. If that is the case, why do we keep opening new schools (mainly charters) and why has CPS signed the Gates Compact with the stated goal of opening 60 new charters in 5 years?  

Mr. Babbitz reported at this meeting that CPS has already approved nine new charters for next year and more will likely be approved in January. He also stated that charters that applied for applications this summer may be able to get approved to open in Chicago by the state of Illinois without CPS approval. When alderman asked CPS to describe how charters versus district schools are funded, CPS could not even answer the question clearly and asked people to refer to the CPS website.

As parents and concerned community members, taxpayers and people who have our kids in the school system longer than many people in CPS who formulate policies we need to be very aware of the actions our district is taking, keep speaking to our elected officials and expression our viewpoints on these important matters.

Sun Times 

Catalyst article