Chicago school facilities task force holds final public hearing on north side of Chicago September 28

The Chicago Education Facilities Task Force heard moving testimony Tuesday, September 28, 2010, at its last scheduled community meeting before it will draft a school facilities bill that should provide guidelines before the Chicago Public Schools can close, consolidate, remodel, phase out or reconfigure school buildings.

Valencia Rias (left, speaking) of Designs for Change worked with State Rep. Cynthia Soto (second from left) to design the legislation that created the Chicago Education Facilities Task Force, which is finally bringing its findings together. The photo above was taken during the February 3, 2009, press conference at Rep. Soto's Chicago office announcing the introduction of the legislation. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The problems stem from Mayor Daley’s Renaissance Plan that dictates closing many schools in the city and opening 100 new schools. The glaring problems from a privatization program that many school communities view as arbitrary and capricious was entered into the record by the task force at the Diabetes Center in Humboldt Park on September 28.

The meeting began with two representatives from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, who related how the Ren 2010 Plan to close several schools with high homeless children populations has made life even more difficult for these kids.

“The Renaissance 2010 to close schools has had a harmful effect on the homeless kids,” Patricia Nix said. “These kids are already highly mobile, so the schools are important stable communities for them. Closing schools should be the last resort.”

According to Nix, too many schools closed at once, creating havoc for the families who did not know what school their children could attend for the next school year.

Nix noted that the homeless children population has increased this year by 20% to about 15,000 children. She said many of the receiving schools are not adequately staffed to accommodate the influx of more homeless students.

The next speaker was George Schmidt, Substance founder and Chicago Teachers Union consultant, who spoke about the lack of transparency from the Board that has resulted in a decision to build a new $106 million Jones High School, right next door to Walter Payton High School near downtown, while grossly overcrowded schools on the west side continue to be neglected.

Schmidt noted that Board spent millions to expand the current Jones High School near Balboa and State streets, including the acquisition of the old Burger King on Congress.

That property was then turned into condominiums, in a deal that involved the old LaSalle Bank — which was bought by Bank of America — and former director Norm Bobins, a Chicago Board of Education trustee who stood to personally benefit from the deal in what appears to be a clear conflict of interest.

“We continue to subsidize Chicago’s wealthy,” Schmidt told the panel which included Rep. Cynthia Soto who sponsored the bill to create the facilities task force. “In 1978 I wrote a pamphlet on how Chicago segregates, and that pattern has not ended.”

Schmidt also noted how the Board of Ed discussions, such as the land purchased for Jones that was then turned into condominiums, are in secret, which is a violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

“After spending millions in land acquisitions to expand Jones, they have begun the process to build a new Jones when they say they’re bankrupt," Schmidt said. “Everybody here is being taken for a ride.”

The panel then asked Schmidt what recommendation he would make to end such corrupt practices after Valencia Rias from Designs for Change said these revelations were a “total shock.”

“End mayoral control,” Schmidt said. “The hearings need to be done in the communities for all purchases. This was railroaded through because of mayoral control.”

The next speaker was Anderson teacher Mary Jane Maloney who then spoke about the tragic phase out of Anderson school and the phase in of LaSalle Magnet school into the building, representing a clear case of the haves and the have nots.

“The children saw the new LaSalle school (which occupies the other part of the building) get new tiles, new lighting, a smart board in every classroom, a new computer lab,” Maloney told the panel. “And then they see their desks thrown into a pile on the playground. I tell you, it was very hard to teach about social justice after this.”

Even the water fountains told a similar story at Anderson as they did over 40 years ago that illustrated the segregated black schools in the south – the drinking fountains were all fixed in the LaSalle part of the building, while broken and unrepaired fountains still littered the Anderson part, Maloney said.

The Anderson school is 95% minority and 93% low income, yet almost 70% of the students meet the state requirements in reading and math, Maloney noted, while most of the new LaSalle school students are not low income.

“Anderson at the time of the closing was a successful school,” Maloney said.

When one panelist asked Maloney if she thought legislation could address this wrong, she said, “I’ve lost my faith.”

Next was Julie Woestehoff from PURE, a parents advocacy group that empowers local school councils. She said charter schools have not been the answer because they do not do better than regular public schools, while taking in less special education students and English Language Learners.

Woestehoff said the vast majority of charter schools serve African American students who do significantly worse in reading than their counterparts in the public schools, while Latino charter school students do worse in reading and math.

She also noted that the new Renaissance schools are not open to public scrutiny because they do not have local school councils.

Also, when public schools were closed, violence skyrocketed and children went missing, when suddenly their neighborhood school no longer existed, Woestehoff said.

Robert Runcie, the chief administrative officer to schools chief Ron Huberman, then asked Woestehoff if she thought it was fair to have two teachers on the LSC where they can vote on whether or not to hire their principal.

Woestehoff responded that there is always a balancing act of power between LSCs and the Board of Ed, but noted that the Board should then acknowledge the conflict of interest with Mr. Bobbins, the Board member whose bank had school financing deals.

She also said training future LSC members is a way to deal with any problems. Runcie agreed and said that training is something the Board is interested in pursuing.

Ann Cata, a displaced special education teacher who currently substitutes in various high schools throughout the city, spoke about the turnaround at Marshall High School in which almost the entire staff was fired (for publicity reasons they agreed to keep woman’s basketball Hall of Fame girls basketball coach Dorothy Gaters).

She noted the deplorable conditions at the school prior to the turnaround in which the walls were cracked, the paint peeling, etc. until the turnaround when suddenly everything is being repaired.

“Is that fair to the kids who attended the school before the turnaround,” Cata said. “CPS sets these schools up for failure.”

She added that CPS treats its teachers even worse, saying she only makes one-forth of what she earned as a regular teacher and now can no longer get a regular teaching job even though she is “highly qualified” and received 12 excellent ratings and one superior over the past years.

“We can’t get a damn job,” said Cata, who joined DART – an alliance of displaced teachers. “And it’s not because we’re not qualified, it’s cause we’re too expensive.”

During a short break after her speech, Runcie told Cata that the fact is there are far less teaching jobs in the city, as the student population has decreased from almost 460,000 kids to about 400,000 kids today.

The final parent speaker of the night was Maria Hernandez, a Carpenter school parent who helped spark Rep. Soto to sponsor the bill that asked for a moratorium in school closings and the facilities task force. Eventually house speaker Mike Madigan said the moratorium provision had to be taken out.

Hernandez gave an update on a successful neighborhood school that, like Anderson and others, fell victim to a vicious class war in which CPS decided to give their building away to Ogden International, a wealthy Goldcoast school seeking to expand to a high school in a gentrified area.

The school where Hernandez learned English and served as a bedrock of the community she grew up in is now seeing knives and drugs and Jaguars for the first time as the lower income Carpenter children are slowly phased out of a successful neighborhood school.

Hernandez said Carpenter also had a very successful principal at their school who was suddenly wisked away by the Board, who told them the principal’s contract was with the Board of Ed. “They play with our kids as if they are puppets,” Hernandez said. “The message the parents get is if they don’t make enough money, then they’re not important.”

Following Hernandez, Don Moore of Designs for Change outlined several issues regarding how CPS has been handling its facilities decisions.

The Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force was created by HB 363, which was originally sponsored by Representative Cynthia Soto (D-4th) in 2009 during the massive protests against that year's school closings. The Task Force brings together legislators, teachers, representatives from Chicago Public Schools, and community groups to examine CPS facilities practices and recommend reforms to the Illinois General Assembly. Members of the Task Force expect the hearings to yield legislation in the coming months.

September 28 was the third and final public hearing for the Task Force before the upcoming legislative session. It was held at the Diabetes Improvement Center at 2753 W. Division St. Valencia Rias from Designs for Change chaired the Task Force Panel. The panel included Representative Soto, Robert Runcie (CPS Chief Administrative Officer), Cecille Carol (Blocks Together), Dr. Nona Burney (Grand Boulevard Federation), Laurene Heybach (Chicago Coalition for the Homeless), and CTU Legislative Coordinator Xian Barrett. A meeting will be held at the old State of Illinois Building on October 1 to go over what was learned about CPS facilities policies and to discuss what to do next. 


September 30, 2010 at 12:12 PM

By: Julie Woestehoff

Independent LSC training

Thanks to Jim for this report. I would like to clarify my interchange with Robert Runcie from CPS. I had testified about the research finding that 77% of LSCs were functioning well. He asked me what I thought should be done about the other 23%. I replied that we need LSC training to be independent of the Board, since CPS has a conflict of interest with LSC operations. Runcie said that he agreed that perhaps CPS should not be in the business of LSC training. Regarding teacher LSC reps voting on principals (he asked if that was a conflict), I said that teachers provide important input and that our experience is that most LSCs do a better job of principal selection because of the teacher input.

October 6, 2010 at 3:29 PM

By: Ann

Fewer students + fewer teachers

If Mr. Runcie advised Ms. Cata that there are fewer students to educate in the public schools, then why on earth did Mr. Huberman hire so many from his former work affiliations? (ie. CTA, 911, CPD and City Hall people)Yet, CPS has been hiring at an alarming rate, Teach For America and recent grads that may not even be certified teachers but interns!!!

Mr. Runcie should get a grip! If there are fewer students than perhaps his job will be next in line.

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