'Right sizing' and 'underutilization crisis' lies exposed, but still being pushed... 'Network Officers' ordering principals to stop parent protests... CPS tries to manipulate closing hearings with money from Wal-Mart

As the hearings across Chicago continue based on the claims that Chicago Public Schools face an "underutilization crisis", more and more evidence is coming in to confirm that nowhere in Chicago does Barbara Byrd Bennett have support for the massive closings she claims are necessary, and that CPS officials, orchestrated through the "Network" chiefs, are ordering principals to try and force parents and teachers to stay quiet in the face of the latest attack on public education in the nation's third largest city.

The formula for heading off real community engagement during the hearings is straightfoward, and familiar to anyone who has attended a Chicago Board of Education meeting since the Emanuel administration took over in June 2011 -- flood them with Power Point nonsense and then walk out when anyone talks about the real world. According to the CPS script, the hearings are supposed to consist of the Power Point presentations, followed by closed (to the media) "focus groups" which are being paid for by the Walton family (that's the anti-union Wal-Mart family, for those not paying attention).

The behind-the-scenes manipulations of the hearings was exposed in a lengthy bit of reporting in Catalyst on January 30 and has been elaborated since as more details from the various networks have come to Substance, to CTU officials, and to the public. Even some principals are anonymously reporting the details to Substance because they find the pressure so offensive, especially when their own schools are being targeted for "underutilization" closings. The full Catalyst article URL is:

The beginning of the hearings are presented by the "Network Officers" (all of whom are paid $151,000 per year) and Phillip Hampton (the former City Hall person who was imported to CPS by Jean-Claude Brizard after Jamiko Rose resigned last March. Hampton ($144,000 per year) and the Network people are supposed to talk out the clock and block any attempt to have an open and general discussion of the closing issues for the schools concerned. After the Power Point, the principals and network people -- along with the CPS consultants paid for by Wal-Mart -- are supposed to block any general comments, herd everyone into "focus groups," and block the media from access to the "focus groups." It hasn't worked, but they keep trying.

And while the CPS "Office of Family and Community Engagement" (FACE) is devoting almost all of its time and staff to trying to manipulate the hearings currently going on about the "underutilization crisis," most of the work that FACE should be doing is being done poorly or in such a ridiculous way as to become a sick joke for principals and others. For example, one segment of FACE is supposed to deal with attendance and truancy. Since CPS got rid of truant officers two decades ago, CPS has seen the problem continue, without any results coming from the expensive programs that have been put into place (usually demanding that classroom teachers, principals, or volunteers take on the job). But one face person is still sending around memos telling everyone else what to do: Byron Houzz, Policy and Procedures Coordinator, Attendance and Truancy Department at (773) 553-3821 may not be able to find truant officers, but like many CPS officials there is always a new Power Point.


For the Record: Walton Foundation funds community engagement

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By: Sarah Karp / January 30, 2013

Tags: charter schools parent and community engagement Walton Family Foundation

District officials have said they don’t want to link the volatile issue of school closings with the equally volatile issue of charter school openings. But a major pro-charter foundation is providing financial backing for the current crop of school closing meetings taking place around the city this month.

The district is now engaged in a community engagement process intended to provide feedback to the district as it contemplates what schools to close. That process is being underwritten by the Walton Family Foundation (a foundation run by the founders of Wal-Mart). The Walton Foundation has fueled the expansion of charter schools across the country and, in January, announced that CPS was the largest recipient of charter school grants in the country.

The Walton Foundation agreed in November to provide CPS with a grant for the community engagement process around the “utilization crisis,” according to the CPS communications office. The foundation lists a $478,000 grant to the Children First Foundation, a not-for-profit set up by CPS (Spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler confirmed the $478,000 is likely the grant for the community engagement process.)

The district had not budgeted for a “rigorous community engagement effort” and therefore needed to reach out for funding, notes spokeswoman Becky Carroll. CPS is using the grant to pay for the “independent facilitators” from the Loran Marketing Group, which is running the breakout sessions at the community meetings.

The content of these breakout sessions is not clear. CPS has banned the media from attending them.

In addition, the money is paying for robo-calls to tell parents about the meetings, mailings to parents and “other engagement and communication platforms.” Carroll stresses that the community engagement process is happening, but “not at taxpayer expense.”

“This grant is allowing us to initiate what is probably the most inclusive and rigorous outreach to parents CPS has done to include their voice at the front end of this process,” Carroll says.

Other charter voices

Other ties have made it difficult for the district to quell suspicions among parents, grassroots activists and the Chicago Teachers Union that CPS plans to replace closed schools with new charters.

The School Utilization Commission that is advising the district on closings is staffed by the Civic Consulting Alliance, a not-for-profit that does business consulting for city government. The Civic Consulting Alliance is housed in the same office as New Schools for Chicago, an organization that funds and advocates for charter schools. New Schools for Chicago also received a $220,000 Walton Family Foundation Grant.

Civic Consulting Alliance CEO Brian Fabes says his organization is doing pro-bono work for the commission. He says that New Schools and the Civic Consulting Alliance are not connected, though they share several of the same board members.

In the past, most of the closed schools have eventually become charter schools.

At community meetings that have already taken place, attendees have repeatedly accused CPS officials of wanting to close schools in order to make way for charter schools.

CPS officials, however, say that schools need to close in order to “right-size” a school district with shrinking enrollment. CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has promised not to allow any of the newly-closed schools to become charter schools, yet charter schools could still be located in the same communities as closed schools.


February 3, 2013 at 8:34 AM

By: John Kugler

Section 14 (a)(1) IELRA

Prohibits educational employers and their agents or representatives from "interfering, restraining or coercing employees in the exercise of their rights guaranteed under this Act."

Please forward any evidence that CPS is trying to stop or influence teachers or staff regarding the school closing hearings to the Chicago Teachers Union immediately.

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