CPS Chief Executive Officer snubs City Council hearing, while raft of rookie administrators looks ridiculous trying to defend Barbara Byrd Bennett's request to ignore the facilities laws in designing the next CPS Hit List

On November 20, 2012, during the same time that the president of the Chicago Teachers Union was delivering a major speech to the City Club (reported below, blasting corporate school reform), a dozen Chicago aldermen were holding a hearing on the latest attempt by officials of Chicago Public Schools to close schools (and in many cases transfer the buildings to charter school operators) without any public accountability. The hearings had been called by the chairman of the City Council Education Committee, alderman Latasha Thomas, in response to a request from a number of aldermen. They came after CPS officials demanded that they receive a four-month extension of a legal deadline for announcing a list of schools to be closed, consolidated or otherwise changed during the 2012 – 2013 school year.

Under a law once called the "Soto Bill" (actually, the Chicago School Facilities Law, SB 630 at the time it finally became law), CPS is required to produce a list of schools to be closed or otherwise changed (except those scheduled for so-called "turnaround", which was left out of the law) by December 1 of each year. The law also requires that CPS produce a complete ten-year facilities plan (in draft form) by January 1, 2013. The final ten-year plan is supposed to be completed by July 2013.

Ginger Ostro (above, holding microphone) introduced herself as the CPS "Chief Officer Grants and Budget" during the City Council hearings, and as such was called upon by the aldermen to answer questions which she was generally unwilling or unable to answer. Ostro, who was hired by CPS from outside the school system in July 2011, was not asked to explain why the school system's "Chief Financial Officer" (most recently, former Diner's Club CEO Peter Rodgers) was not present at the hearings. Seated with Ostro and on the side during the hearing were (left to right), Alician Winckler (currently "Chief Talent Officer"), Jadine Chou (currently, "Chief Officer Security and Safety"), Arnie Rivera, and Phillip Hampton (currently, "Chief Officer Family and Community Engagement"). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Every alderman present was aware of the fact that CPS has been churning administrators during the past few years, and that instead of simply complying with the law, CPS officials were trying to spin an alternative, in the form of the "Commission." Fourteen aldermen were in the City Council chambers at various times on November 20 during the hearings, although some of them did not ask questions of the witnesses. The majority of the two-and-a-half hours of the hearing were taken up with questions and answers from nine Chicago Public Schools officials (one of whom was the chairman of the Commission) who had appeared that day. Neither Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd Bennett nor the CPS officials who had been most involved in the facilities activities during the past year (or longer) spoke at the hearing. Following nearly two hours of questions and answers from the CPS officials, the aldermen heard from three representatives of the Chicago Teachers Union and the President of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association. On August 20, 2011, State Rep. Cynthia Soto and State Senator Iris Martinez high fived each other while Governor Pat Quinn signed copies of SB 630, the Chicago school facilities law. At the time, Soto and Martinez assured the public that the law, which Martinez pushed through the Illinois Senate, would end arbitrary school closings and force a process on the Chicago Public Schools that would stop the destruction of schools and communities. Among those in the photo above are Chicago Principals Association president Clarice Berry, who serves on the Facilities Task Force, State Senator Esther Golar, Alderman Bob Fioretti, and the controversial State Rep Smith. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. The City Council committee hearing was scheduled after the public was surprised by the refusal of CPS officials to follow state law and schedule hearings to establish a list of schools to be closed or consolidated this school year. Despite claims by CPS officials since the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012 that CPS had "excess capacity" and needed to close up to 100 schools, no one at CPS had provided the public with the criteria for establishing the capacity claims, nor a list of those schools that were supposedly part of the surplus of "seats."

At various times in October and early November 2012, CPS officials had claimed publicly that the school system had as many as "200,000 extra seats." By the time of the November 20 hearing, even the Chicago Tribune had criticized the CPS claims and the Chicago Teachers Union was demanding that this school year there be no closings (or other similar actions) and no additional charter schools established. Instead of scheduling and holding hearings on the 2013 school closing list in October, as CPS did in 2011 (and as the law requires), the latest CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett, announced, without consulting most elected officials, that she was appointing a "Commission" to do the analysis.

Byrd Bennet's "Commission," which was announced to the public via a press release from the CPS Office of Communications, consisted of one Chicago aldermen, two of the elected state officials who had been part of the facilities struggles during the past three years, and others. The most prominent member of the Commission was Frank Clark, who had recently retired as CEO of Commonwealth Edison. The elected officials who had according to press reports agreed to serve on the Commission are Rep. Cynthia Soto, Senator Iris Martinez, and Alderman Howard Brookins. None of those three was at the November 20 City Council hearing.

Whether anyone from CPS was still in an executive position to tell Byrd Bennett that one year earlier the FACE (Family and Community Engagement) office had held the hearings and produced the list on deadline was not made clear during the City Council November 19 event. Last year's FACE "officer," Jamiko Rose, left CPS by March 2012. She has been replaced by Phillip Hampton, who was seated with CPS officials during the November 20 hearings, but said little except to explain the complex structure of this year's iteration of FACE.

The main CPS witnesses were Little, Todd, and Clark, as Barbara Byrd Bennett was truant from the hearings. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.It was a long way from the handful of Chicago City Council hearings on CPS activities a couple of years ago to the dramatic hearings before the City Council's Education Committee on November 20, 2012. In all cases, the question of whether Chicago should support a request from the latest "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago Public Schools to break the law regarding designation of schools to be closed is controversial. Between April 2002 and December 2008, former Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan (now U.S. Secretary of Education) was able, when called upon, to dispatch staff who actually knew something about Chicago's public schools and had some facts to back up their claims.

Year after year during Duncan's term as CEO, schools were subjected to a growing number of transformations, including closings, reconstitutions (called "turnarounds), and others. Duncan left Chicago in January 2009 to become a member of the Obama administration cabinet. By November 2012, the fourth "CEO" since Arne Duncan left town had only a scrub team of rookies and outsiders to plead for a major policy change before the elected officials whose constituents would be most dramatically affected by the Board's actions. In a surprise move, the latest CEO had even replaced (although not yet terminated) a number of the CPS officials who had as recently as a few month ago been among the most prominent educational leaders in Chicago.

CPS was able to hold hearings and provide the public with controversial input into the 2012 Hit List according to the timelines specified under the law. Above, FACE chief Jamiko Rose (background, left) presented a Power Point to the public during the hearing at Simeon Vocational High School on November 16, 2011. With Rose on the main table on stage were (left to right) Arnie Rivera, Oliver Sicat, Robert Boik, and the "Network Chief" for the Network that includes Simeon. Speaking against the closings above was Alix Guevara Gonzales, a teacher who at the time was working as an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union. By the time of the controversial establishment of the proposed "Commission" to violate the Facilities Law in November 2012, Jamiko Rose had been forced out of her position as head of FACE, replaced by Phillip Hampton. Oliver Sicat has been disappeared by the Board, although there is no word that he was been replaced as "Portfolio Officer." The only CPS official who was present by November 2012 when the City Council hearings took place was Arne Rivera (second from left above), who did not speak at all during the questions from several aldermen. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.-- Oliver Sicat, the former charter school principal who became the school system's first "Chief Portfolio Officer," has not been seen at Board meetings or in public since the teachers strike ended on September 20, 2012. -- Melanie Shaker, the former ratings agency analyst, who had served in various titles in the finance office (including "Acting Chief Financial Officer" and "Treasurer") had been disappeared from CPS and had shown up at the City Colleges (also under the control of Mayor Emanuel).

-- Tim Cawley, who was the most prominent CPS official on financial matters and who had served as one of the main members of the CPS bargaining team during contract negotiations with the CTU, hadn't been seen much since the end of the strike, and was missing from the City Council chambers as well. Cawley, who had been working under the title "Chief Administrative Officer," had given more financial Power Points and dissembled about more matters of finance than any other CPS official before he was disappaeared by Rahm's team recently.

If there were one person still with CPS who could have answered the specific questions being posed by the aldermen on November 20, it was James Dispensa, who has served more or less as the CPS chief of demographics for more than a decade. Dispensa has testified as part of the CPS witnesses at school closing hearings more than any other single CPS official. But CPS officials did not even let the aldermen know that Dispensa was present, and he quickly got up to leave when it appeared that some might be ready to notice him (above photograph). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.-- James Dispensa, the senior CPS official who had carefully prepared the demographic information for dozens of the school closings hearings between 2002 and 2012, was suddenly officially missing from the array of senior officers and officials who were lined up at City Council, although this reporter observed him in the rear of the chambers among the community activists who had come to testify (but were not allowed to do so). When Dispensa's presence became more widely known on November 20, he quietly slipped out the rear door of the Council chambers. None of the senior CPS officials whose expertise was provided to the aldermen mentioned Dispensa's existence even though Dispensa knew more about the issues being discussed than all of them combined, based on the fact that he had spent more than a decade preparing every map of every school attendance boundary in Chicago and had served as the expert witness for CPS at dozens of the closing hearings that were held under "Renaissance 2010."

-- Jamiko Rose, the erstwhile community organizer who had been appointed, amid great fanfare, as the first Chief Officer of FACE (Family and Community Engagement), was long gone. Rose had been forced out by the former CPS administration (Jean-Claude Brizard?) by March 2012. The terms of her release have not yet been made a part of the public record. As a result, the CPS team that came before Chicago's aldermen wound up evading just about every precise question from the aldermen who were facing the problems school closings cause in the real world of Chicago's 50 wards and 600 public schools. Chicago remains the nation's third largest public school system, with more than 400,000 children in the public schools for the 2012 - 2013 school year.

The November activities in City Council were also a far cry, in a mere 14 months, from the day (September 9, 2012) when the City Council voted obediently to support their rookie mayor's demand for the so-called "Longer School Day." The September 2011 Longer School Day vote came in the face of serious questions. By then, Rahm's claims about Chicago having had the "shortest school day in the USA" had been proved false, but it didn't matter in the chatter machines that run the eternal talking points of those in power.

The questions raised by parents, teachers, students and the union about what was supposed to happen during the extra hour or more that Rahm Emanuel was demanding the kids and their teachers stay in school were simply ignored in September 2011. And, for those interested in the facts of history, during the summer and autumn of 2011, the paid protesters for the mayor's programs were still being deployed across the city, with only Substance reporting on them.

The November 20 hearing was chaired by Alderman Latasha Thomas (above right), who has served for several years as chairman of the City Council committee that deals with education. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.It was not until January 2012 that the scandal was broken in the city's corporate media and that particular brand of mercenary political agitation ceases, at least temporarily, from the Emanuel administration. November 20, 2012, was light years away from months earlier, and the precision with which the aldermen questioned the remaining appointees of Emanuel showed it. It had been a year of intense learning for many of the city's political leaders, and a large number had been getting their facts straight.

Alderman Thomas led the questions and added her questions during the hearing, which lasted more than two and a half hours. After the November 20 hearing, she told the audience, most of whom stayed for the entire time, that the Education Committee had to leave the room because other meetings were scheduled, but that the day's event was just the first of what she intended to be several. Schools in her ward had been closed or otherwise changed radically on various pretexts during the past four or five years, and she has had to face more and more children, families, and teachers whose lives were disrupted for no really good reason by the various CPS policies that had been used over those years.

During the time of the November 20 hearing, in addition to the more than 100 citizens present, there were 14 aldermen in the chambers. These were: Robert Fioretti (2nd Ward), Pat Dowell (3rd), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Latasha Thomas (17th), Willie Cochran (20th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Roberto Maldonado (26th), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Nicholas Sposato (36th), Tomothy Cullerton (38th), Mary O'Connor (41st), Brendon Reilly (42nd), John Arena (45th), Amiya Pawar (47th), and Harry Osterman (48th).

47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar (above left, rear) asked several pointed questions of the CPS officials present, and then told them that he was opposed to the expansion of charter schools in Chicago. In the photo above are Third Ward Alderman Pat Dowell (foreground) and 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman, both of whom also asked critical questions of the CPS witnesses. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Thomas's first questions, to Ginger Ostro, were about the precise manner in which CPS officials create an annual list. Ostro claimed that the information was available on the CPS website, but Alderman Thomas persisted, demanding that the CPS officials bring the information in a form that the aldermen could examine and ask additional questions about. A quick check of the CPS website shows that the criteria are too vague to be useful in any analysis of what CPS is doing. One of the big unanswered questions is how CPS can "save money" on the closings and consolidations when in most cases during the past decade the buildings were rehabbed at enormous expense (in the tens of millions of dollars in the cases of schools like Bunche, Morse, and Calumet) and then virtually given away free (leased for $1 per year) to charter schools that are currently occupying these formerly public buildings. (The Bunche building is now occupied by the Providence St. Mel's Englewood charter campus; Morse is the Polaris charter school; Calumet houses two "campuses" of the Perspectives charter school. None is doing better than the schools they displaced -- amid great fanfare -- and the number of students in each of the buildings is very small, indicating one of many double standards CPS applies in such cases). Alderman Harry Osterman (48th Ward) asked several questions regarding the necessity of the "Commission" and the reasons why CPS would put schools on the list. In response to one question that was directed by Osterman to Todd Babbitz, Frank Clark replied with a reprise of his earlier answers about making the process "more thorough" and confronting the "immediate problem," which, he kept repeating, was based on the notion that CPS was facing a "budget crisis" and that the "savings" from closing and consolidating schools would help resolve the crisis. Throughout the hearing, the CPS officials refused to note that CPS has traditionally closed functional real public schools, often after spending millions of dollars rehabilitating them, and then turned the newly refurbished buildings over to various charter school operators, usually for $1 a year lease.

The concerns expressed by Osterman, which would come up again and again, deal with the rights of parents to apply for their children to be admitted to the school system's selective enrollment (magnet and gifted) elementary and high schools. The final deadlines for children's applications is before Christmas, and students wishing admission to the magnet high schools must take a test, generally administered at Lane Technical High School, before the holidays. Osterman and others pointed out to the CPS spokesmen that the time lines being proposed by the Commission would eliminate the ability of families to comply with the requirements for admission to the selective enrollment schools. "Please walk us through the timetable between now and September 1," Osterman said to Clark and Babbitz. Alderman Thomas repeated the same line of questioning. Despite a great deal of time spent in explanations, when the discussion was over no one from CPS had answered his questions. "CPS has to get their act together in a clear way," Osterman said, concluding his remarks.

By the time the alderman began their lines of questioning, there were more than 100 people, most of them community leaders who had come in the hopes of testifying, in the Council chambers. At least 16 aldermen and staff sat in the aldermanic seats. More than half of those were prepared to ask questions, so there was not time for additional comments. Getting the facts straight was not something that could be said of the dozen or so six-figure education executives who sat before the City Council on November 19, however. The best reason for their evasiveness may be that all of them are rookies themselves, as Rahm Emanuel was at the time he was preaching about his version of the "Longer School Day". The CPS team at City Council the Tuesday before Thanksgiving 2012 combined had fewer years with CPS — and less knowledge of the city's vast and complex public schools system — than any one of the Chicago Teachers Union witnesses who testified later — or any of the 100 or more community activists who sat there and would have testified if they could have. Although a "credibility gap" is being utilized as a talking point reason for CPS to promote the "Commission" instead of complying with the law, the November 17 event was another example of that credibility gap, as aldermen asked detailed questions and some of the highest paid public officials in Chicago continued to provide non-answers, evasive answers, or to repeat pre-prepared talking points.

The insulting arrogance of the executives that have been placed in power by Rahm Emanuel at the top of the nation's third largest school system is only part of the story. For most Chicagoans, the main story is that their local elected officials are seriously opposing the latest shams being proposed by the latest group of outsiders placed in charge of the city's schools.

The hearing was called to order by Alderman Latasha Thomas, who is chairman of the City Council Education Committee. It began with a brief statement, almost in the form of a lawyer's opening argument, by Alderman Bob Fioretti (second ward). "CPS has manufactured this utilization crisis," Fioretti said, "and CPS is now asking for more time..." Fioretti then outlined the disruption caused in his ward by the school openings and closings that had taken place during the previous several years. Fioretti's questions were addressed by Frank Clark, the retired Chief Executive Officer of Commonwealth Edison, who was asked by Barbara Byrd Bennett to head the "Commission." The two others from CPS who sat at the front of the room were Denise Little ("Chief of Network Quality" for CPS) and Todd Babbitz (whose title is the newly created one of "Chief Transformation Officer"). CPS also introduced five other officials who were present but not sitting up front: Phillip Hampton (the current "Chief Officer Family and Community Engagement"), Arne Rivera, Jadine Chou (Chief Officer for Security and Safety), Ginger Ostro (Chief Budget Officer), Alicia Winckler (Chief Talent Officer).

Frank Clark spent a good bit of time explaining why he had said "Yes" to heading up the Commission. He explained that CPS had a "credibility issue" and that the solution was to try and answers with patience. Clark explained that he saw the commission as a committee on school consolidation -- not a commission to do school closings. He said that any computer model could deal with the basic issues, but that after that he expected the commission to look closely at each school. He was never asked why the work couldn't have been done during October and November by CPS staff. "Something needs to be done, and it has to be done right," Clark said.

Clark told the aldermen and audience at that point that he had met two hours the day before with CTU President Karen Lewis and that Lewis had provided him with a great deal of information. He added that his background included attendance at Wadsworth elementary school in Chicago and Hirsch High School. He repeated the usual remarks about the need for the process to be "open" and "transparent." He said that the Commission was setting up a website,

Clark told the aldermen that the Commission would be holding a hearing on November 26, and that five additional hearings would also be held. He stated: "I have seen no list of schools identified to be closed."

After Clark has finished repeating the talking points he shared over and over, specific questions went to Todd Babbitz, who had been appointed by the Chicago Board of Education as "Chief Transformation Officer" at the July 25, 2012 meeting of the Board. Babbitz's annual salary was set at $195,000 per year. The Board did not discuss the matter before making the appointment. Apparently the Chief Transformation Officer has superceeded the work of the "Chief Portfolio Officer". Previously, a former charter school principal named Oliver Sicat had been "Chief Portfolio Officer." By September 2012, Sicat had disappeared from CPS meetings. Babbitz had no experience in education administration prior to his appointment by the Board in July.

Babbitz explained the purposes of the new "Office of Strategy Management". Then he went on to describe what he claimed to be the context of the situation. "We are facing a deficit of $1 billion for the next school year," Babbitz said. He also claimed that "revenues have been shrinking..." for CPS, without providing any basis for either statement. In that context, Babbitz told the aldermen that closings and consolidations were part of how CPS was planning to overcome the fiscal problems he said they were facing. He claimed also that 20 percent of the schools were "less than half" what he claimed was was "ideal capacity." After establishing the financial crisis, he said that, strategically speaking, CPS wanted a library in every school, air conditioning, and other things. Alderman Thomas asked how CPS funded charter and AUSL schools. Since Babbitz had only been at CPS for four months, the answer was attempted by Ginger Ostro, the Chief Budget Officer, who has been at CPS for about 24 months.

By that point in the hearings, the two CPS officials seated with Clark and adjacent to Alderman Thomas had to introduce a few others who were there (but not everyone from CPS who might have shared necessary information). As a result, the aldermen got to hear from others:

-- Ginger Ostro, whose current title is "Officer, Grants Management and Budget", would turn out to be the main CPS person called upon to explain (or fail to explain) questions about the precise realities before the Council. Ostro, a former Illinois education official, has been with Chicago Public Schools for 17 months. She was appointed to her present $165,000-per-year position by a vote of the Board at its July 2011 meeting. The Board Report recommending the appointment of Ostro noted that she was being hired as a "New Employee." The seven members of the Board voted unanimously and without debate to hire Ostro without anyone asking whether CPS needed to hire finance officials who had Chicago experience and state certification as educational finance officials. -- Not present at the November 20 City Council hearing was the most recent top official in the CPS finance office. Peter Rodgers (whose name has also been spelled "Rogers" in CPS documents) came to CPS from Diner's Club and was hired in September 2012 to the position of "Chief Financial Officer" at an annual salary of $195,000 per year. His experience and knowledge were not available to the City Council on November 20, 2012. As some have noted, CPS has now had five "Chief Executive Officer" people in four years (Arne Duncan, Ron Huberman, Terry Mazany, Jean-Claude Brizard, and now Barbara Byrd Bennett). Little noted is that CPS has also been churning its other top executives. Rodgers was preceded in the CFO position by David Watkins (who lasted about a year), who was preceded by Melanie Shaker (who held the "acting" title for a time), who was preceded by Pedro Martinez (now an "educator" in Nevada), who was... All since the final year of the administration of Arne Duncan.

-- Another CPS official introduced by not sitting at the head table during the hearings was Arnie Rivera. Rivera, it should have been noted, was the only person in the room from CPS who was part of the 2011 hearings prior to the release of the 2011 - 2012 Hit List. But after Rivera was introduced he never spoke again.

-- Phillip Hampton, however, was willing to provide the City Council with great detail about what he is doing as the current head of FACE (Family and Community Engagement), listing the departments and bureaus under his commend, and quickly coming to and end to his presentation. What Hampton neglected to mention was that a year earlier FACE was headed by his predecessor Jamiko Rose and he wasn't even working for CPS. Hampton came to CPS from City Hall in March 2012 at an annual salary of $165,000.

After the aldermen had asked their questions of the CPS officials and noted that the answers were, generally, unsatisfactory, the chairman of the committee, Alderman Latasha Thomas, called on the representatives of the Chicago Teachers Union to make their presentations to the committee. The officers of the union were with union President Karen Lewis, who had been scheduled to make a speech before the City Club of Chicago months before the City Council hearings were scheduled. Three representatives of the CTU were asked to come forward. They were Municipal Affairs Director Joey McDermott, Organizer Brandon Johnson, and research and legislative assistant Kurt Hilgendorf. They were joined by Clarice Berry, President of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, in making presentations to the aldermen. They took the seats previously occupied by the three people who had testified for CPS. [Substance was unable to get a clear photograph of them during their testimony because City Council sergeants at arms forbad it after the earlier photograph; they later apologized, but it was too late].

Joey McDermott began serving as municipal affairs coordinator for the Chicago Teachers Union shortly after Karen Lewis was elected president of the union in 2010. He formally introduced himself to the aldermen present, even though most knew him. Like the others from CTU, he described his career as a teacher, noting also that he had attended Chicago public schools, including Lincoln Park High School.

McDermott repeated the positions of the union. CTU was asking that there be no school closings this year, and that there also be no further expansion of charter schools. Detailing the policy issues, McDermott noted, following the earlier confusing testimony from the CPS officials, that CPS cannot explain how its facilities descriptions are made. "Our utilization plans do not tell us exactly what is going on in those buildings," McDermott said. He noted that CPS has suffered what he called an "instability of leadership," and then detailed the problems that the CPS leaders had caused. "Last year," McDermott said, "there were problems with the use of the criteria..." Based on the criteria presented by CPS in October 2011, Catalyst magazine found that 140 schools might have been closed or otherwise changed. When the Chicago Teachers Union analyzed the schools based on the same criteria, CTU found that 80 schools might have qualified. But CPS found around 100 schools using the same criteria and using publicly available information.

McDermott noted, as had most of the aldermen, that the Task Force had already done much of the work that CPS was now trying to have done by the "Commission." He continued, noting that in the past CPS had been closing real public schools, then opening charter schools in the same buildings. "How can you close 50 schools and open 50 [charter] schools at the same time?" he asked. Then he stated that the suggestions being made by CPS were simply "not an austerity measure," debunking the claim by CPS that the alleged "deficit" justified the need to close the schools in the manner being proposed by CPS.

The next witness to testify for CTU was Kurt Hilgendorf, who delivered the prepared statement below. He added one fact to his presentation following the remarks by Todd Babbitz claiming that the CPS had to close schools because of an alleged one billion dollar "deficit." Hilgendorf reminded the aldermen that claims of huge "deficits" in the past had been proven false. "In Fiscal Year 2011," Hilgendorf added to his prepared remarks, "CPS said it was faciing a one billion dollar deficit. That fiscal year ended with a $300 million surplus." KURT HILGENDORF TESTIMONY

Fioretti's opening statement was replete with facts about the disruption caused by CPS facilities actions in his Second Ward. Two other aldermen who participated in the hearing in the photo above were Ricardo Munoz (above right facing camera) and Willie Cochran (foreground). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Chicago City Council Education Committee, School Closings Hearings Testimony, 11/20/12

Welcome. I am Kurt Hilgendorf, CTU research and legislative activities. I taught history, economics and psychology at John Hope HS in Englewood and Von Steuben HS in Albany Park. Thank you to the aldermen who signed the resolution and thanks especially to Alderman Thomas and the education committee for holding this hearing. School closings demand deliberation, patience, and reasoned, evidence-based decision-making in selecting the schools that go through this wrenching process. We appreciate that the district realizes the need for time up front. However, these actions further demand time in implementation, and it is here where we differ from the district’s approach. Simply put, CPS’s model for soliciting input is duplicative, its plan is underdeveloped, and its timetable is too rapid to effectively implement the changes that executives claim are necessary for the district’s future health. Based on the evidence, the district’s approach will hinder, rather than help, those students and families who are targeted for school action. We thus propose that no school actions occur prior to at least December 1, 2013. Any shorter timeframe practically ensures that consequences will outweigh any benefits. 2. Specifics. We outline three specific reasons for opposing the district’s proposal and timeframe. First, CPS has no master plan for utilizing its facilities. Think about that. An organization with more than 600 facilities has no guide on how to use them, and it has not had one for years. Haphazard planning is what created the so-called underutilization crisis in the first place. a. The Board will miss the Jan. 1, 2013 deadline for a draft, which means there will be no facilities plan at the time the district proposes to announce school actions

b. The Board has proposed to release a draft plan in July 2013 with a final done by January 2014. A draft plan in July could guide actions that would be announced next year.

Alderman Willie Cochran joined in the critique of the lack of precision from CPS, pointing out that CPS was willing to cut teachers based on some undisclosed formula, but was not able to discuss its facilities formula before the committee. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.c. A master plan is necessary for several reasons

First, the board is projecting a massive deficit over the next few years. Facilities spending drives a significant portion of each year’s budget, either through direct spending on maintenance and new construction or spending on debt service. CPS’s debt service has exploded in recent years as a result of major capital spending over the last fifteen years, a time when no facilities master plan existed.

Second, savings of $500,000 - $800,000 are projected for each closed building. A Pew Study on six cities across the country, including Chicago, suggests this number is inflated. Further, even if the number is accurate and the Board closed 100 schools, $80 million is about 1.5% of the district’s operating budget. Closing schools will not solve the district’s alleged budget deficit.

Third, at the same time the district proposes to close neighborhood schools it has in place an aggressive plan to expand charter schools. In late 2011, the district agreed to a Gates Compact, which outlines the Board’s plan to add 60 charter schools over the next five years. Charter proliferation is a major driver of the 50,000 additional student capacity the district created in the last 10 years. If the district closed 60 neighborhood schools and added 60 charters in the same period of time, then it basically has the same problem it has today. Charter proliferation and underutilization are linked; the vast majority of underutilized neighborhood schools are near charters. And even some charters are underutilized, according to CPS’s formula. In other words, the utilization crisis is something that CPS itself created.

Fourth, the district has had 5 different leadership teams in the last 4 years. This type of churn at the top of an organization as complex as CPS necessitates a mechanism for stability and continuity.

A master plan would allow the district to have an orderly approach to managing its facilities and would provide the district with an opportunity for long-term strategic to address true utilization problems and assess the benefits of school consolidation. The facilities plan would also provide a key piece of stability in times of serious staff turnover. CPS must have a facilities master plan before any actions occur.

2. The second reason we oppose the district’s plan is that an oversight and public input mechanism already exists. The Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force (CEFTF) was created by state statute in 2010. As such, CPS’s commission is redundant and undermines the established democratic process.

a. CEFTF represents the community and is made up of a representative range of stakeholders: legislators, CPS officials, CTU members, local school council members, community organizations, and community members

b. Further, the task force’s mission is to ensure that school facility-related decisions are made with the input of the community and reflect educationally sound and fiscally responsible criteria. The task force has developed important relationships and crucial capacity for this oversight role.

c. The task force has already done the work the commission is charged with doing:

- CEFTF solicited input into the facilities master plan and has a facilities subcommittee as part of its structure

- CEFTF has researched best practices for school transitions

- CEFTF is a public body created by statute rather than an appointed body that is unaccountable to anyone other than the CPS CEO. - We should draw on the resources and expertise we already have in place in CEFTF rather than create a new body.

3. The third reason we oppose the district’s proposal is that legislative changes are unnecessary. School actions are not required by law. Rather than change the rules in the middle of the game, the district should take the time to do the process effectively. Evidence to this point suggests that the timetable as outlined in the law is too fast, and yet CPS proposes to speed up the timetable. Several examples are instructive.

a. CPS has not tracked the 7,700 students who were part of last year’s school actions. The district has little information about these students, even though state law required tracking and support. Of those 7,700 students, almost 1,000 were homeless. b. School actions have been concentrated on the South and West sides of the city, and African American students make up 88% of those children affected by school actions. Remember, school actions destroy stability in school communities, and the district has targeted only certain communities.

Noting the major impact that school closings and other changes had had on his ward, Alderman Roderick Sawyer asked several pointed questions of the CPS officials during the hearing. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.c. Those students who have endured school actions, especially those actions tied to performance, have ended up at schools that perform no better than the schools they left. The district’s actions have failed the “educationally sound” test that the facilities law established.

d. School actions are indicative of the district’s misplaced priorities. During the period that CPS undertook school actions, it went without truant officers. As a recent Tribune series outlined, chronically truant students are a significant problem for the city, both in terms of worse student outcomes and the loss of millions in state funding. Students lives are negatively impacted by truancy — they lose out not only on academic instruction but also vital social experiences and stable, supportive environments. CPS has not proposed a reinstatement of truant officers.

e. CPS proposes school actions at the same time the district has rolled out a complex new teacher evaluation system linked to student outcomes and a new set of teaching and learning standards. In other words, the district is asking teachers to create new curricula aligned to new tests that students must master at the same time it proposes major facility reorganization. Any of these initiatives would individually require several years to analyze the process and assess its effectiveness. When these three initiatives are combined, the district is creating a logistical nightmare.

f. Despite the complexity of these actions, CPS leadership is asking for a timetable that gives them less time to effectively carry out school closures. There is little available evidence to suggest that the current leadership has the capacity to simultaneously complete a master plan, work with schools to combine instructional staffs and merge organizational cultures, develop a safety and security approach, organize new transportation schedules and routes, and solicit input from community members. Under the statutory timeline, the district has mishandled school actions over a roughly 9 month period (December through August). The new proposal condenses this time to 5 months. The new plan sets everyone up for failure that can be avoided.

4. Recommendations

a. Because of these challenges, we recommend that CPS take no school actions until at least December 1, 2013. The law does not require school closures, and the public is solidly opposed to school actions. It would be far better for CPS to take one year to develop capacity and stability at the district level before destabilizing and destroying school communities. If the district’s motto truly is “Students First” we must first do no harm to our children; the district must take more time to implement its new policy.

Kurt Hilgendorf's testimony on behalf of the CTU was followed by Brandon Johnson's. Johnson described how he worked as a teacher in an elementary school in Cabrini-Green at the time CPS decided to close a school north of Division St. and send the children to his school, which was south of Division St. Johnson, who has been working as an organizer for CTU for more than one year, described the fear the children from north of Division St. had to deal with because the CPS decision was made without regard to the children's reality. Johnson then began a powerful denunciation of the human toll created by the CPS closings of the past several years. He noted that 7,700 students "experienced school actions last year" and that CPS did not bother to learn what had happened to them, any more than CPS had tracked the impact on the students during all the years (going back to 2002) since it began closings, consolidations and other facilities actions at the end of the first year that Arne Duncan was Chief Executive Officer of CPS.

Johnson told the aldermen and the audience that CPS officials do not care what happens to the poorest children in the poorest communities. Quoting CPS "Chief Administrative Officer" Tim Cawley, Johnson noted that CPS was undermining the schools filled with children who are "failing" by standardized test measures. "We will not invest in those schools," Cawley has been quoted as saying. Johnson the went into other examples of the racism and classism of the CPS policies of the previous decade. He noted that there are still 160 public schools in Chicago without libraries. He noted that the conditions in many school lunchrooms have become so bad that vermin -- including rats -- are infesting them. And he noted that the most severe impact of these policies have been on black children and black teachers. He cited the examples of three veteran teachers, all of them African American, whose careers were destroyed by recent CPS facilities actions. He ended by restating the CTU recommendations: No school closings this year. No more charter schools.


Aldermen question CPS ‘right-sizing,’ opening charters in ‘haphazard’ way, By ROSALIND ROSSI Education Reporter November 20, 2012 11:22PM. Updated: November 21, 2012 2:26AM Aldermen upset about the prospect of massive school closings amid an expected charter expansion Tuesday got a lot of reassurances but not as many specifics from Chicago Public School officials.

During a City Council Education Committee hearing, Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd) charged that the CPS “manufactured’’ its own building utilization “crisis’’ by closing some schools and opening charter schools in a “haphazard’’ way, without a master facility plan.

In his ward , Fioretti said, eight charter schools have moved in, two have moved out, and five neighborhood schools have closed, causing “significant dislocation and emotional distress.’’

One charter recently opened across the street from a neighborhood school that CPS last year had considered solidly performing but half-empty, Fioretti said.

CPS plans to ask the General Assembly to push back the Dec. 1 deadline for producing a school closing target list to March would only create another “crisis,’’ Fioretti said.

It would emerge too late to let kids in closing targets apply to selective enrollment or magnet schools, he said.

Third Ward Alderman Pat Dowell (above) demanded to know the specifics of the CPS guidelines for this year's closings and consolidations, and expressed her dismay after repeatedly being denied specifics. Dowell's Third Ward has experienced some of the most disruptive closings of real public schools (and the opening of controversial charter schools) of anywhere in the city. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Recently retired ComEd CEO Frank Clark, in his latest role of head of a new CPS Commission on School Utilization, was conciliatory, saying, “I don’t think your comments are off the mark. . . . We’ll be in front of the General Assembly and they will make a decision.”

Fioretti tried — without success — to get a committment from CPS that it would not open any more charters, at least in the next year, while it attempts to “right-size” the district. Todd Babbitz, the system’s new chief transformation officer, said he was not in a position to make that commitment. New Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett was unable to attend the hearing.

Babbitz said 20 percent of the system’s schools are at less than half of their ideal capacity, and 10 percent are overcrowded.

“There’s a mismatch between where we have students and where we have schools,’’ Babbitz said. Combined with an estimated $1 billion deficit ahead, “We have some tough choices.’’

Babbitz also revealed that about nine charter schools are in the pipeline for a fall opening and other charters have answered the system’s call for “quality school’’ options. Other “quality school’’ applicants may have responded to an option to replicate a quality neighborhood school, he said.

26th Ward Alderman Roberto Maldonado, a loyal servant of Rahm Emanuel, is the only City Council member to have told his constituents that he is going to get a facilities change in his ward this school year. According to Maldonado, Ames Middle School will become a "military academy" despite widespread protests from residents of the ward. Above, Maldonado appeared briefly at the November 20, 2012 hearings on the 2013 Hit List and then rushed out of the chambers, not returning. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.And, Babbitz said, the system is considering extending the selective-enrollment admission deadline to accomodate a later closure timetable.

But more than half a dozen CPS officials were unable to answer some basic questions, such as how much the district expected to save from each school closing, and how much charter schools received per pupil. Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th), the Education Committee chair, asked CPS to get back to her with the numbers.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) accused CPS of creating school-closing rules tied to “extremely vague’’ and “subjective” criteria — such as “safety and security,’’ “school leadership” and “school culture.’’

Without more objective measures, she said, the system is inviting “suspicion.’’

Chicago Teachers Union officials say CPS staff should wait another year before resuming school closings to ensure they get their “right-sizing’’ correct.

Meanwhile, the union has attacked CPS’ plans, outlined in a grant proposal, to open up to 60 more charter schools in five years.

“We do not see how you can close 50 schools and open 50 schools at the same time and say it’s an austerity measure,’’ CTU municipal coordinator Joseph McDermott told the Education Committee on Tuesday.


Recap of City Council Hearing this week on School Actions

Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward), above, with hand outstretched, told the CPS witnesses, "I would like to see the CEO sitting there..." and then criticized the CPS officials who were present for creating additional instability and uncertainty by not following the Facilities Law. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.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 January, with 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 Waguespack. We 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.


Aldermen take CPS to task over school closings, By: Sarah Karp and Rebecca Harris / November 20, 2012

New CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has said that she wants to separate the discussion on closing under-utilized schools from the discussion about opening charter schools, but at a City Council committee hearing Tuesday it was clear that Byrd-Bennett is unlikely to get her wish.

CPS officials have said that they plan to close as many as 100 schools this year in order to deal with an overcapacity issue of more than 100,000 seats. The situation is a “crisis” because the district is facing a deficit next year of $1 billion, said Todd Babbitz, CPS chief transformation officer.

“For years we have made ends meet, but we are out of options,” he told aldermen at the hearing.

CPS officials said they will save between $500,000 and $800,000 a year per closed school, which, at best, will take care of 8 percent of the projected deficit. Babbitz admitted Tuesday that consolidating schools is “only one piece of the puzzle,” but said it will allow CPS to provide remaining schools with better facilities, including libraries, playgrounds and air conditioning.

The Education and Child Development Committee hearing was on a resolution that calls for CPS officials to tell aldermen which schools they plan to close, how they chose those schools and why they plan to open more charter schools when the district already has excess capacity.

Committee Chairwoman Latasha Thomas (17th Ward) did not sign onto the resolution, but said she always holds hearings on school closings. She also said this is the first of several hearings that she plans to hold.

Aldermen in year’s past have had hearings on school closings and debated calling for a moratorium (but have never approved such a resolution). Because Chicago has mayoral control over the schools, aldermen have no power in realm of school district business.

At one point, Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd Ward) asked CPS officials if they would commit to putting off the opening of charter schools for at least a year, as they try to “right-size” the district.

Babbitz said he was not in a position to make that promise. CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett was not in attendance at the hearing.

Frank Clark, former Com Ed chairman who was recently appointed by Byrd-Bennett to serve on a school closing commission, also did not speak about charter schools. He said his commission was charged solely with looking at utilization and to come up with a list of schools to be closed. The commission will consider such factors as safety, transportation and the value a school has to the community.

Clark said he was not anti-charter schools, but that charter schools were not within the purview of the commission.

To that, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward) said that the commission has too narrow a focus. “Charter schools are part of the bigger picture,” he said.

Babbitz said CPS has already committed to opening up 9 charter schools next school year.

And there could be more could be approved soon. CPS put out a request for proposals for new schools in August and, through that, got 13 applications.

Charter advocates say they have been told that CPS officials will make their recommendations on new schools to the Board of Education as soon as at the December board meeting. Babbitz also said the charter operators whose proposals that are not recommended could appeal the decision to the state.

On top of that, The Chicago Tribune reported in May that CPS jointly submitted a grant proposal to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation promising to open 60 more charter schools over the next five years.

Testifying at the hearing, Chicago Teachers Union Organizer Joseph McDermott summed up the question that seemed to linger over the hearing, and perhaps the entire school closing situation.

“If we are to believe that we are closing schools for austerity and there is to be 50,000 charter seats added, are we going to be facing the same fiscal cliff in five years?” he said. “This seems like a zero-sum game.”

The hearing comes less than a week before the state legislature’s veto session at which lawmakers are expected to vote on an amendment allowing CPS officials to extend the deadline on announcing proposed school closings from Dec. 1 to March 31. Once the school action proposals are announced, CPS still will have to hold official community hearings.

Babbitz said the details haven’t been worked out, but recommendations likely won't make it to the CPS Board of Education agenda until the May board meeting—making it the latest such moves have been made.

Several aldermen and representatives from the CTU said they think that CPS should just wait until next year.

Fioretti said he has had schools in his ward close late in the school year and that parents were left in a bad situation. By then, deadlines to apply for magnet, selective enrollment and many charter schools will have passed.

Byrd-Bennett has said she plans to make sure that parents of targeted schools can still apply to these options. But she and district officials have yet to announce how that would work, especially given that acceptances to such schools will already be in place.

Ald. John Arena (45th Ward) pointed out that state law also calls for CPS to develop a master facilities plan, which isn’t set to be finalized until July. “I think you are putting the cart in front of the horse,” he said.

Arena and other aldermen pushed Clark and Babbitz about the timeline for things to happen, should the deadline be extended. For example, Clark said the commission will review utilization standards and hold community hearings in each neighborhood. The commission's first official meeting is next Tuesday.

Clark said he doesn’t know when different elements of the commission’s work will take place and even suggested it could go beyond the March 31st deadline.

“I think we can do what we have to do before March 31st, but I am not sure,” he said.

This story has been corrected.


#1 Anonymous wrote 3 days 23 hours ago

It is truely right & just to put off opening any more charters

for a year, until the district can get their act togther and “right-size” themelves and utilization list. The Il Leg shoud'nt extend the date unless CPS agrees to this in writng and at the December Board meeting.


#2 Sick of it wrote 3 days 22 hours ago

CPS should stop closings or announce them ASAP

76% of CPS schools have classrooms that are over the limit for class size.

Maybe we could be utilizing schools more efficiently and effectively if our typical class size was 24 rather than 32 students.

CPS's decision to close neighborhood schools (that have union teachers who are fighting for lower class sizes) and open charter schools (that have non-CTU teachers who can be fired if they fight for lower class sizes) is not surprising.

CPS should put a moratorium on school closings and charter openings for two years while they come up with a workable plan for the district. If they aren't willing to do that (which they aren't) they should announce their intended school closings ASAP so communities can give input and families and employees can start planning.

It seems that CPS uses chaos as a management tool... this is no different.


#3 George N. Schmidt wrote 3 days 13 hours ago

Weak reporting. Aldermen, CTU flayed CPS FNGs

Once again, corporate Chicago is well served by incomplete and dishonest reporting here. But in addition to my reporting and the astute aldermen who were paying very close attention to the nonsense from CPS, there were, by my count, more than 100 people from across the city listening yesterday. Together, I'm confident that once again the people will put together what official print deliberately distorts.

I'm looking forward to going back and forth about the versions of what took place yesterday (November 19) at the City Council hearings. The hearings lasted more than two hours, and were a follow up to others in past years that have given more and more of our aldermen experience in exposing CPS lies.

A complete report will be at, as the 100 community leaders who attended can attest. Ten aldermen made strong statements and asked pointed questions to the latest group of CPS officials who were there to engage in the usual doubletalk and fatuous talking points. But the signal fact about the hearings was that not one of the CPS officials who spoke (or the guy from the "Commission") except the aggressive Ms. Little (whose latest title is something like "Chief Network Chief Chief...") has been with CPS for more than two years -- and every alderman there knew it!

CPS has been churning its top administrators like a buttermaker for the past several years, but when Todd failed to answer one specific question, it was clear that CPS was out of its league in the face of local elected officials who actually knew what they were talking about. Every alderman who asked a pointed question -- and there were dozens -- was coming from experience in the actual schools of the real Chicago.

In response they got repeated talking points from CPS officials, and some fatuous assurances from Mr. Clark, who should never have agreed to serve as the fig leaf for Barbara Byrd Bennett's attack on the law.

Ironically, CPS hid the one man at the meeting who actually knows intimately the history of every school closing hearing -- and every facility reality -- for the past decade or more. Jim Dispensa, who until recently was the CPS demographer, was seated behind a pillar in the back. Dispensa can forget more in a day about the realities of CPS facilities than the complete army of FNG administrators could learn in a month from their rehearsals with Becky Carroll and Robyn Ziegler on the latest simplistic talking points.

Of course, the fact that four people with a lifetime's experience in the public schools spoke on behalf of the CTU and the principals was largely ignored in this version of reality Catalyst puts on the record. There were four people who spoke at the hearing's end, each with precision that CPS is incapable of: Joey McDermott, Kurt Hilgendorf, and Brandon Johnson of the CTU and Clarice Berry of the Chicago Principals Association.

At least Catalyst should have reported that Kurt Hilgendorf, who on behalf of CTU has studied every CPS budget for the past ten years, caught and outed CPS in the Biggest Lie. The Big Lie, this and in past years, is the "deficit." Kurt pointed out, on the record, that the last time CPS (back when a guy named Ron Huberman was CEO) claimed it was facing a "deficit" of ONE BILLION DOLLARS!!! at the beginning of a fiscal year, by the end of that same fiscal year (FY 2011), the system wound up with a surplus of more than $300 million. Of course, the majority of corporate hacks who report on CPS ignored the annual CAFR, which exposed that particular lie. And so it wasn't reported from yesterday's testimony.

The FY 2012 CAFR will be provided to the Board of Education, as usual, at the December meeting. It will, again, show how big the lie was told in March, April, May and June 20111, when the FY 2012 budget was being talked about. The same pattern of lies will be exposed, and the same ignorance will be shown by my brothers and sisters in Chicago's corporate media.

And then, in December 2013, we will get the FY 2013 CAFR and learn that as we speak today, CPS was, once again, lying about that current "deficit." And that crazy claim, that went as far as Moody's, that CPS had "drained the reserves" in order to balance this coming year's budget. Of course, history is never news, and a talking point is as good as any other quote when fictional "news" is being reported, as this is today.

How could Todd Babbitz know anything about CPS? As he testified under questioning from the aldermen, he's only been at CPS a few months, had no previous educational experience, and, adding insult to injury, had been badly rehearsed in his handful of poor talking points by another department of mercenaries -- the CPS "Office of Communications" under Becky Carroll and the newly crowned Robyn Ziegler.


#4 Go Family wrote 3 days 8 hours ago

Knowledge is Power

George, we should elect you as the next CEO of CPS. Thank you for your insight and update for those of us that were clueless. I assumed you are against closing schools. But, keep in mind something needs to be done now on CPS expenses. CPS is spending $10 vs $5 which is all it has in the purse. They are in the red. How do you propose to resolve this issue? We need solutions now! The tax payers are sick of bad teachers and principals in our system. The city needs to fix this once and for all. I think the new mayor is trying to do his best to do exactly that. In the following year, we will see the results of his fruits. I moved my son to one of these schools that had the principal and some of the staff replaced. I can say that alot of positive changes has taken placed at our school. It takes good leadership skills and guts to do the right things for our kids. Engaging parents to be involved with their children's education. There are parents that make alot of noise, as a front to distract from the real issues in need to be resolve. Part of the problem is that some of the parents do not see themselves as the problem and do not accept the fact that their child needs help to deal with their issues. So they blame the education system. They feel the education system can fix their children's problems. Well, that is not true. The education system can only identify there is a problem and the parents has to take the child to be evaluated by a specialist. For some reason our educators do not want to make that suggestion to the parents and continue to allow the child to continue in school with the learning or behavior issues. No one benefits from this by looking the other way. Educators are frustrated and tired. Hope this help others to understand my point of view as a parent, mentor and educator.


#5 Anonymous wrote 3 days 2 hours ago

Kurt Hilgendorf, a CTU

Kurt Hilgendorf, a CTU researcher and legislative activities staffer, spoke yesterday, November 20, 2012, at the Chicago City Council Education Committee Hearings on School Closings.

Kurt Hilgendorf taught history, economics and psychology at John Hope HS in Englewood and Von Steuben HS in Albany Park. Below is an edited version of his comments.

Executive Summary

"School closings are wrenching and demand careful decision-making. The district needs additional time to chose the schools it will close. But it must also ask for a delay in implementation of the closings. That crucial step cannot be rushed.

For that reason, we recommend that CPS take no school actions until at least December 1, 2013. The law does not require school closures, and the public is solidly opposed to them. It would be far better for CPS to take a year to develop a stable utilization plan before destroying school communities.

We are concerned that CPS has created a new commission to solicit input from the community on the closings. The existing Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force (CEFTF) was created by state statute in 2010. CEFTF represents the community and is made up of a representative range of stakeholders: legislators, CPS officials, CTU members, local school council members, community organizations, and community members

The new CPS commission, however, is a confusing duplication of effort with a focus that is much too narrow. It will avoid discussion of charter school openings on CPS utilization rates. Ordinary common sense dictates that the CPs commission must develop a plan that includes the new charters it plan to open. Also it is not possible for the community to provide the new CPS commission with useful input if the commission will not say which schools CPS will close.


There are three reasons for a hold on school actions until December 1, 2013.

First, CPS -- with more than 600 facilities -- has no master plan on how to use them. It will not have a plan in place at the end of March 2013, when CPS plans to close up to 100 schools. Without proper planning, if the district closes 60 neighborhood schools but adds 60 charters in the next few years, it will end up with the same problem it has today -- continued underutilization.

Second, CPS’ projected cost savings is minimal. Even at the inflated number of $500,000 to $800,000 per building -- savings could at most reach $80 million. That is only 1.5% of the district’s operating budget; a small gain for the large amount of distress closing 100 schools will cause.

Third, CPS created the utilization problem by aggressively expanding charter schools. Over the past 10 years, CPS added 50,000 charter seats, while Chicago lost 8% of its population. Opening charters causes underfunded neighborhood schools to lose students, and the vast majority of underutilized neighborhood schools are near charters. Even some charters are underutilized, according to CPS’s formula.

The fourth and final reason we oppose the district’s proposal is that a legislative amendment is unnecessary. School actions are not required by law. Rather than change the rules in the middle of the game, the district should take the time to do the process effectively.


It is useful to remember the following examples of problems with earlier CPS closings.

CPS has not tracked the 7,700 students who were

part of last year’s school actions. The district has little information about these students, even though state law required tracking and support. Of those 7,700 students, almost 1,000 were homeless.

School actions have been concentrated on the South and West sides of the city, and African American students make up 88% of those children affected by school actions. Remember, school actions destroy stability in school communities, and the district has targeted only certain communities.

Students displaced by school closings, especially those tied to performance, have ended up at schools that perform no better than the schools they left. The district’s actions have failed the “educationally sound” test that the facilities law established.

Truancy is a more pressing issue than school closings. During the period that CPS undertook school actions, it went without truant officers. As a recent Tribune series outlined, chronically truant students are a significant problem for the city, both in terms of worse student outcomes and the loss of millions in state funding. CPS has not proposed a reinstatement of truant officers.

CPS is asking teachers to create new curricula aligned to new tests that students must master at the same time it proposes major facility reorganization. Any of these initiatives would individually require several years to analyze the process and assess. When these initiatives are combined, the district is creating a logistical nightmare.

Despite the complexity of these actions, there is little evidence to suggest that the current leadership has the capacity to simultaneously complete a master plan, work with schools to combine instructional staffs and merge organizational cultures, develop a safety and security approach, organize new transportation schedules and routes, and solicit input from community members."


#6 Valerie F. Leonard wrote 2 days 15 hours ago

Parents, Community Groups & Rank and File Citizens Were Muzzled

I thank Catalyst for the article, and George Schmidt for providing additional insights.

I am a North Lawndale resident and Co-Founder of the Lawndale Alliance. I attended the hearing, along with over 100 activists from around the City. We were very disappointed that there was no public participation. A number of people took off work so that they could provide anecdotal evidence from the perspectives of communities that are most likely to be impacted. I am sharing the comments I would have made if I were given the opportunity at the hearing.


#7 Disengenuous Alderman wrote 2 hours 25 min ago

Aldermen take CPS to task over school closings

How can an alderman take CPS to task on school closings, especially the certain slumlords who stack in as many CHA residents as they can into an already struggling community. The alderman know for sure that when these low income families take the major standardized exam like ISAT, it will force an already struggling school into academic probation. I prefer non-charter schools and hate to see a community school shuttered, but it is also not fair for an alderman to attack CPS, if they destroy communities themselves by using CHA families to saturate a community to create a voting block for their aldermanic elections.

If poverty really does cause low performance for many low income families and the community schools are hanging by a thread in terms of academic probation, then why would an aderman usher in even more CHA to a community that already has the homeowners outnumbered and complain about schools being closed!! This seems so hypocritical to me. How can you point your finger at someone when you are a big part of the problem yourself??

First set a good example of building economically thriving coomunities that have a strong tax base of working residents who have a vested interest in their children's education. A community satured with failing low income CHA residents equals failing schools or are you too uncaring to realize this because you're busy creating your voting block for the 2015 aldermanic election.


#8 Asinine Decision Makers wrote 2 hours 4 min ago

Aldermen take CPS to task over school closings

So what you seem to be saying is certain aldermen make their own fair share of asinine decisions that impact the community, so why should they place CPS in the hot seat on school decisions when they are an equal partner in shuttering thriving communities; the slumlord one's. (LOL)


#9 Anonymous wrote 25 min 47 sec ago

The many aldermen who questioned CPS were very well informed,

on education. They were impressive: Fioretti, Arena, Wguespak, ODowell, Cochran, etc. It was clear that they had done considerable reading on a many topics, among them:

that CPS has no master plan on how to best utilize its schools;

that CPS had created the under utilization problem by opening charters that drew students from neighborhood schools;

that CPS underfunds neighborhood schools for 5 to 10 years ifit wants to close them;

that CPS wants to keep secret the schools it will close until March 31, 2013, but CPS will go full speed ahead with actual school closings;

that CPS has created a commission that will ask the community for input on closings, but the commission will not tell the community which schools it will close, making it impossible for the community to have real input; and that all this is really just a way to privatize our public schools ... to set up corporations to profit fro Chicagoans tax dollars ... since charters are not out performing CPS schools.

By contrast, the CPS staff who came said nothing of value.


#10 George N. Schmidt wrote 1 sec ago. Rose, Cawley, Sicat among the 'disappeared'?

One of the rule of reporting we try to follow at Substance when we do analytical reporting is "cite source and context." Another is that you don't know what you're seeing until you've looked at it again.

Reviewing both my notes and my 150 photographs from the City Council hearing, it was clear, rather quickly, that CPS has had -- yawn... -- another purge. It wasn't only Jean-Claude Brizard and Becky Carroll (Robyn Ziegler is the new Becky Carroll, for those who've been following the quotes from on high) who were being disappeared. Six months ago, the people giving Power Point included Oliver Sicat and Tim Cawley. A year ago those of us at the school closing hearings witnessed Sicat joined by Jamiko Rose (long since disappeared) giving Power Point at Westinghouse and Simeon.

The story I hope we can pursue next week, in addition to the fun in Springfield, will be to talk to Iris, Cynthia and Howard about how they were convinced to allow CPS to get away with this illegal attack on SB 630 -- and the work of four years. The secret establishment of the "Commission" (which somehow becomes better than the old Task Force) will really be a story worth telling and thinking about.

Of course, the official nonsense pouring from the various ministries of propaganda at both City Hall and Clark Street will include distractors. David Vitale's home during the strike. Poor Penny Pritzker's Romneyesque tax dodges being exposed and protested against. (Bit of history: A. N. invented most of those dodges that the Romneys of the USA are using to burnish their reputation as traitors, but that's a much longer story; at least A.N. appreciated public schools and thanked the one that helped him...).

'Tis the season to be optimistic. And with the recent Tribune return to reporting (and investigations) with the truancy stories, I'm guarded. Catalyst can continue to replicate nonsense like that "gazillion dollar" deficit (even during the month the CAFR comes out). But as more and more intelligent citizens -- and aldermen -- ask the relevant questions, we don't need to rely on the paid propagandists of the plutocracy to proffer their punditry as fact. This is the post Romney era, and at least for a time Karl Rove's prognostications are no longer pouring sludgelike off the Wall Street Journal's Op Ed pages. Perhaps, after a couple of decades of slavish nonsense, Chicago's "independent" journalists will also find their way back to fact, history, and context.

Happy holidays.


November 22, 2012 at 3:29 AM

By: Valerie F. Leonard

Remarks prepared for City Council

Thanks, George,for this article. I truly appreciate your attention to detail and writing in such a way that people who could not attend the meeting could feel they were there. I am a North Lawndale resident and Co-Founder of the Lawndale Alliance. I attended the hearing, along with over 100 activists from around the City. We were very disappointed that there was no public participation. A number of people took off work so that they could provide anecdotal evidence from the perspectives of communities that are most likely to be impacted. I am sharing the comments I would have made if I were given the opportunity at the hearing.\r

November 22, 2012 at 10:19 AM

By: Jay Rehak

Kurt Hilgendorf Should Run CPS Facilities

It seems clear from his comments that Kurt Kilgendorf knows more about CPS facilities than do all of the staff at CPS. Perhaps the CTU could lend Kurt out to CPS to help CPS understand the nuances of facility utilization. If Mr. Hilgendorf were hired by CPS, the community might feel reassured that CPS officials were aware of the fundamental issues involved in the opening and shuttering of schools. As many people have tried to help CPS understand over the years, STABILITY is the key to a child's learning.

Kurt's presentation is thoughtful and based on indisputable facts. CPS and by extension the CIty could use such a reasonable approach towards school closings.

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