McCorkle, La Casas refute Chicago Board of Education claims that the two schools should be closed

Land Grab and Special Education Privatization

Testimony - CPS School Closing Hearings 1/29/10

On January 29, 2010 there were more hearings on the closing and consolidation of two public schools in Chicago. The first hearing at 5:30 pm was for McCorkle Elementary School, 4421 South State Street Chicago, Illinois 60609. in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, McCorkle is slated to be consolidated into Beethoven Elementary. Consolidation is when one school is closed down and all the students are then placed into another existing school combining the enrollments from the end of one school year into the beginning of the next school without any transitions over time to acclimate the new students into the existing school culture.

After presentations read from scripts by Board administrators on the official reasons to close down McCorkle and consolidate it with Beethoven, the public participation started and the real reasons for the closing started coming to light. According to the Board, the building's condition was cited as the reason for the closure. Supposedly, McCorkle is in bad shape due to the dilapidation and structural unsoundness (according to Board administrators). The administrator who made the Board's presentation, Pat Taylor, has been with Chicago's public schools for less than one year. She was appointed to her present position by Ron Huberman and reportedly learned about schools during her years of experience at the Chicago Transit Authority. Taylor presented the hearing with photographs showing cracks in the concrete and other small problems. She neglected to mention that the Chicago Board of Education currently has more than a half billion dollars available to repair its buildings, leaving the hearing officer to believe that in these "tight times" every penny has to be pinched, and McCorkle has to be closed because of that.

Refuting the Board testimony community members, school staff and professionals submitted testimony and documents — including building inspections and estimates — that contradicted what the Board was using as an excuse to close the school. They also pointed out that McCorkle's test scores showed an upward trend.

In all the testimony from community members, parents and school staff it was revealed that the area around the school was being redeveloped with new housing. The Grand Boulevard Federation presented documentation and testimony that repairing McCorkle would actually save CPS money along with continuing the consistent growth the school has showed in the past few years. Some of the evidence presented by the organization:

Built in 1963, CPS’ 2008 building assessment cites $4,106,000 in needed repairs. This is after CPS neglected the school and spent only $589,000 to fix the school, far lower than most schools citywide.

Similarly, Beethoven was built one year earlier, and it needs an estimated $6,160,000. This is one year older than McCorkle, so how do we know this building isn’t about to fall apart as well? When comparing building assessments, both had 1 Life, Health, Safety repair needed; 26 components needed 100% replacing at McCorkle compared to 21 components at 100% replacement at Beethoven so there is not too much of a difference in building need, except that Beethoven needs more than $6 million in repairs.

CPS says if the repair costs exceed 50% of building a new school, it won’t repair the school. CPS has not shown how $4.1 million is half of the cost of a new school. Rebuilding an elementary school minus the cost of land on the very low end would be about $15 million and the high end about $30 million. More than 12 Bronzeville schools are in need of repairs totaling more than $4 million, not to mention schools across the city, and yet we don’t see CPS closing them with this same justification.

McCorkle is a performing school scoring at 56% in 2008 and has made progress since the principal took over.

In more testimony, displaced teacher John Kugler, testified and duly notified the Hearing officer Margaret Fitzpatrick of her duty as an officer of the court to uphold the law in specific reference to Public Act 096-0803(105 ILCS 5/34-18.37 new) that mandates the establishment of a Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force to study any proposed changes to a school to be dealt with “systematically and equitably … with the significant involvement of local school councils, parents, educators, and the community in decision-making and that school facility-related decisions…reflect educationally sound and fiscally responsible criteria.”

The second hearing at 8:00 pm was for the Las Casas High school Closure located 8401 South Saginaw Avenue Chicago, Illinois 60617. Las Casas is back at the hearings for a second year in a row. Last year the school successfully fought back closing only to be forced again to be put back on the closing list this year. Las Casas is the only high school level therapeutic day school that serves some of the neediest students in Chicago. Students attending the school come from being incarcerated in the Cook County Department of Corrections or the Juvenile Detention Center in Chicago. Other students are transferred into the school form regular schools for disciplinary issues and have various degrees of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. Now the plan is to close the school because as Board employees testified, was not properly designed for the needs of the students. Las Casas is housed in an Archdiocese of Chicago school. One of the most obvious objectives of the Board was clear with all the administrative testimony was to disperse the students to five private contractor schools.

Robert Runcie, Chief Administrative office in his position since March 2009, testified that Las Casa needed to be closed and its students dispersed to five different private contractor schools “…based on the impractical nature of the facility it occupies. It is not conducive to the special population it serves.” Dr. Richard Smith the Chief Area Officer testified to all the studies that were submitted as evidence of the need to close down the school but not one of the studies tendered studied the impact the closure and the displacement of students would have on the students themselves. Debra Duskei, Chief Specialized Services Officer testifies that there would be no adverse impact on the students’ services and emphasized that the displacements would actually help not only the students begin removed form Las Casas but the students of the receiving schools as a method of “integration when appropriate provides students the opportunity to return to the general education setting and have access to their typical peers.”

When the testimony of the public commenced it was made clear that no impact study was taken that addressed the negative consequences of scattering students with serve behavioral disabilities system wide: either to the students being displaced and to the receiving school students and staff. Another issue that was raised by a Father Freddy Washington Pastor of the Saint Mary Magdalene Parrish which the school is building is leased from gave testimony and evidence that was the contradictory to the reasons for the closure because of the money that has been spent on the facility in the past year for renovations totaling 1.2 million dollars. Additionally, the excuse that the facility was “not designed for the students’ needs” refuted by the fact that one of the receiving schools was also an older Archdiocese school thereby the pretext by the board was clearly only a ruse for some other reason and bringing into question the legitimacy of the Board testimony.

The real reason which Mary McGuire, the current union recording secretary made clear was to continue with privatization of specialized services for students away from union certified employees of the Chicago Public Schools. In further public testimony speakers questioned the legality of the privatization and forced displacement of special needs students as it relates to Federal legislation that protects students’ rights to Free Appropriate Public Education under the requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Derrick Harris of Lawndale Neighborhood Organization and George Schmidt, Substance editor, warned and made notice of the fact that this policy was not only detrimental the well being of the students that would be displaced but was in violation of Federal Law.

Links to Audio Recordings and Pictures of the Hearings

Your Photos - McCorkle ES Consolidation Hearing 1/29/2010

McCorkle ES Consolidation Hearing 012910.MP3

Your Photos - Las Casas HS Closing Hearing 1/29/2010

Las Casas Closure Hearing 012910.WMA

Derrick Harris Testifies for Las Casas 01/29/2010


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