CMW Newstips: School closings: what ‘everyone knows’

By Curtis Black

“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, seeDoes 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.”