Predatory charter marketing, sweetheart leasing deals for charter operators, decimated African American public schools now on Barbara Byrd Bennett's Hit List
A combination of outright lies, poor news reporting, and predatory charter school marketing schemes has created the latest "crisis" that Chicago Public Schools officials have manufactured in order to justify the largest mass public schools closing since Hurricane Katrina destroyed large portions of New Orleans and opened the doors to the privatization and union busting in that city. The November 27, 2012 release of a list of more than 150 Chicago public schools -- elementary and high schools -- that are supposedly "underutilized" confirms what Chicago Teachers Union offciials have been warning about for two months: the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to close as many as 100 of the city's real public schools behind a smokescreen that claims the closings will "save money" in the face of an inflated "billion dollar deficit". The closed buildings, many of which have recently been rehabbed, will then be turned over to charters.
Chicago's daily newspapers on November 27, 2012, reported an announcement by Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the latest "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools (the fifth in four years) that CPS will put in a freeze on school closings beginning during the 2013 - 2014 school year — if CPS is allowed to close as many schools as possible during the 2012 - 2013 school year while evading the law that requires CPS to publish a list of schools to be closed this year by December 1, 2012.
Byrd Bennett's latest is accompanied by claims from CPS Communications Chieftain Becky Carroll are, as usual, ridiculous. The CPS talking points for several weeks have centered around three claims, each one they have simply been repeating rather than verifying with facts:
First, CPS officials have been claiming that the school system has between 100,000 and 200,000 "empty seats" (a metaphor, apparently, for underutilization of school buildings). Not once have CPS officials repeated these claims at a press conference or provided the public with any evidence of where these "seats" are located or how the number was reached.
Second, CPS officials claim that CPS is facing -- next year, not this year -- a "billion dollar deficit." As CTU officials have already pointed out, the Board of Education has routinely exaggerated these deficit claims. The last time CPS claimed a "billion dollar" one, when Ron Huberman was CEO of CPS, the system ended that same fiscal year with a $300 million surplus according to the school system's own audited financial report.
Third, CPS officials are again claiming that closing schools "saves" money, when in fact the manner in which Chicago closes schools (and then flips them to charter school operators) has been costing the school system hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue and the rehabilitations costs that often accompany the closings just prior to the eviction of the real public school and the occupancy, at a lease fee of $1 per year, by the charter school.
The claim that CPS is facing that billion dollar "deficit" for FY 2014 has been refuted time and again. The most recent refutation came from the CTU's Kurt Hilgendorf during his testimony at City Council on November 20. Hilgendorf, a high school teacher who now works for CTU as a researcher and legislative aide, reminded the aldermen during the City Council Education Committee hearings that the last time CPS claimed is was facing a "billion dollar deficit" was before the FY 2011 budget was put through by Ron Huberman. In May, June, and July 2010, Huberman was claiming that "billion dollar deficit" figure (which he also put into his introduction to the CAFR). And yet CPS ended FY 2011 with a surplus of more than $300 million!
Critics had been pointing out that Huberman, who took office in January 2009 after Arne Duncan left for Washington, D.C., had been lying with his "Chicken Little" financial claims to Senator John Cullerton. Huberman's lie was to get a billion dollar three-year "pension holiday" of the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund, and it worked. The Illinois General Assembly voted in 2010, just before Karen Lewis and the new union leaderhship took over, to allow CPS to avoid paying $1.2 billion it owed to the CTPF. Had that $1.2 billion been invested by the pension fund during those years, the fund, given its returns since 2010, would have brought in around $200 million additional dollars and would not have been showing the stresses it currently faces. Instead, CPS lied and robbed the pension fund.
The current discussions call to mind two major books that outline the kind of reality Chicago is facing today.
On the one hand, there is the latest "Manufactured Crisis" as noted scholar David Berliner wrote in his book 20 years ago.
The Manufactured Crisis is immediately followed by some "Shock Doctrine" nonsense as reported by Naomi Klein in her book five years ago.
None of the current leaders of CPS were working in Chicago's schools when the last round of billion dollar deficit lies went viral, but though the liars may change, the lies never change.
The second bit of nonsense this morning comes from the resurrected Becky Carroll. In addition to peddling the "deficit" lie, Becky is also lying about the supposed "savings" CPS will get by closing schools. Carroll is telling reporters (while avoiding Substance, as usual) that CPS will save lots of money for each school it closes.
History is the only guide for this, and the history of Chicago school closings shows how dramatically expensive a round of Chicago closings can be.
The majority of closings in the past decade (since the "renaissance" began under Arne Duncan) are costing CPS a fortune.
CPS rehabs the school building, as a cost of anywhere from $5 or $10 million (Bunche and Morse, to take two) to $20 to $30 million (Austin and Calumet) and then closes the school as a CPS school. The reasons shift like some shape shifting zombie show. Then CPS leases the building, freshly painted and rehabbed, to a charter schools (Polaris got Morse; St. Mel's got Bunche; a couple of strange charter thingies got Austin; Perspectives got Calumet) for ONE DARNED DOLLAR A YEAR!
But that's not all.
Buried deep in the fine print, CPS is also providing the charter school that's in that building with various services, from watchman to psychologists and social workers.
Nice scam. But Becky Carroll is, as usual, lying when she claims CPS is going to "save" a penny on the closings. CPS is going to waste a fortune transferring these properties into the charter schools' "portfolios." Just as CPS had been doing for ten years. And that's why Frank Clark and Barbara Byrd Bennett are going around prattling about how the charter piece is not part of the conversation about the closing and consolidation piece. Of course not.
First they will close these real public schools, screwing more communities. And a few months later, the predatory charter operators will get another sweetheart deal on a perfectly good, recently rehabbed public building...
FOR ONE DOLLAR A YEAR.
If Chicago's daily newspapers and other corporate media took the time to drive around and look at the actual schools on the Hit List, and the charter schools, a different story would be told today. But since the game is usually played through a kind of "He said..." "She said..." reporting where the "facts" are simply quotes from people like Becky Carroll and Barbara Byrd Bennett, the facts on the ground are unlikely to get into print soon.