GET THAT THNING OUT OF HERE BEFORE IT EXPLODES! CPS 'Draft' Budget CD almost crashes main Substance computer

There has to be some fold wisdom about a bad joke getting worse, and if there is we'll report it following this brief report on the latest wrinkle in the latest iteration in Chicago's Public Schools ongoing attempt to keep citizens in the dark regarding the Board of Education's $6 billion annual budget. As Substance reported earlier this week, in 2011, for the first time in Chicago history, the Chicago Board of Education refused to print copies of the Proposed Budget for distribution, as had been traditional, to aldermen, public libraries, and for the use of interested citizens prior to the annual budget hearings. According to CPS officials, the move was made to "save money" out of the school system's supposedly beleaguered annual budget. The price tag for the supposed "savings"?

And the joke's on... ???? Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (above, shown at the ribbon cutting for the new Chase Bank branch at Montrose and Central in Chicago on August 9. 2011) wants "transparency" in government for every entity under his control — except the Chicago public schools. Emanuels' newly installed CPS leadership team has created the most inaccessible, incompetent and murky Proposed Budget in the more than 150 year history of the city's public schools. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Fifteen thousand dollars. ($15,000).

Citizens who wanted to analyze the budget were told that they could find "it" at a local library, where "it" could be downloaded on the library computers. Leaving out the facts as usual, CPS officials may have missed the facts that (a) also constrained by municipal budget cuts, Chicago branch libraries have cut back their hours, and (b) Chicago's libraries' computers are getting a lot of use, and (c) many of them aren't powerful enough to download the huge documents in a reasonable time, and (d) people who want to read the entire budget either have to read 2,000 pages (that's about how long it is, counting all of the various charts and documents) on a computer screen at a public library...

And, of course, the biggest document in the trove of stuff (the 577-page "School Segment Files" which contained a version of the budget for each of the city's regular public schools; if you want the same information about the more than 100 charter schools, the official CPS answer, at least from the "School Segment" files is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS) had the biggest errors. Without explaining how they did it, CPS budget officials doubled the number of students in just about every public school on the massive list, a total of more than 500 remaining public schools in the city.

(CPS likes to remind people that the charter schools financed by Chicago and Illinois taxpayers in Chicago are also "public schools", but leaves out the fact that they are public schools which are not accountable to the public for their budgeting information or their tests and student performance data — when was the last time you heard that a charter school was being subjected to a "turnaround" by the Academy for Urban School Leadership? Chicago's charter schools — and branches — are actually a privileged slice out of the annual public schools budget that doesn't have to tell the public how they're spending their money or worry about CPS swooping in and closing them because their test scores are low...).


Back to the budget that was kept from the public (unless the public had access to a high speed computer and a quick printer -- or an infinitely patient local public librarian.

On August 10, at the first hearing, I asked CPS officials for a copy of the budget.

After some wandering, they gave me a CD, which I confirmed was the only copy of the 2,000-page budget they were distributing. Fact checked.

Of course, I didn't have the time to load the CD on to a computer (CPS was not providing computers for the first budget hearing at Lane Tech; you either brought your own computer or printed out a copy of the budget yourself if you wanted to do show and tell), so I waited until I got home.

At which time, after a half hour of computer meandering, the CD CPS gave me tried to crash the main Substance computer.

First, the CD kept our fairly powerful Macintosh in a very lengthy loop, trying to "estimate" the time it could take to download the stuff CPS had provided us on the CD.

The specs on the Substance computer are fairly robust, viz. Model Name: iMac, Model Identifier: iMac10,1. Processor Name: Intel Core 2 Duo. Processor Speed: 3.06 GHz. Number Of Processors: 1. Total Number Of Cores: 2. L2 Cache: 3 MB. Memory: 4 GB. Bus Speed: 1.07 GHz...

But after two tries, Substance got a message that the Finder couldn't read the documents, because of an "Error." The fun got better when we tried to eject the CD provided by CPS. It crashed the system, we had to Force Quit, and finally were able to do the simple Eject. But that time, we had spent a half hour on the project, and decided we weren't going to waste our time on the latest iteration of Budget 2012, which is beginning to sound like a chapter out of the Kardassians, only without the visuals.

We've discussed the problems at Substance and decided not to bring the CD back to CPS officials, although one of our staff may present it to a future meeting of the Chicago Board of Education.


Given the way the latest New, Newer, Newest CPS is operating under Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, CPS would probably hire a consultant from some corner of the Broad Foundation to analyze what went wrong with the CD we were given.

And after a year of requests and litigation under the Freedom of Information Act, we would learn that the consultant would have cost more than it would have cost CPS to print the books in the first place. With transparency like this, who needs foggy, murkey, opaque, or any of the hundred other permutations of CPS financials in the second decade of the 21st Century.


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