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BOARDWATCH: Report on the September 25, 2013 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education... Facilities plan generates most comment, but Board's inconsistencies are exposed again

Approval of the Educational Facilities Master Plan (EFMP) and adoption of a new Information Security Policy were the main items on the agenda at the regular monthly meeting of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Board of Education (BOE), on Wednesday, September 25, 2013. Board President David Vitale, and all Board members except Carlos Azcoitia were present. Also present was General Counsel James Bebley were present. Also absent was Chief Executive Officer, Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

Todd Babbitz, Chicago Public Schools "Chief Transformation Officer," presented the Power Point supposedly explaining the ten-year facilities plan to the September 25, 2013 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. The meeting began, as usual, with a Power Point. "Chief Transformation Officer" Todd Babbitz presented the Educational Facilities Master Plan, which covered the following topics:

What is an Educational Facilities Master Plan?

Required data, information and analysis

Robust Community Engagement Preceded the Draft

Robust Engagement After the Draft

What We Heard From the Community

21st Century Learning Environments

Expansion of High Quality Options

Alleviating Overcrowding

Underutilization

Inclusion of our Diverse Learners

Preferred Grade Structures

Gap Between Where We Are and Where We Want to Be

Costs to maintain and update our buildings

Financial Challenges Limit Our Pace

Next Steps

The Power Point will be available on the Board's website as soon as the complete report on the Board meeting is published on the CPS website. Why the facilities plan? Illinois State Law (SB630) requires approval of this plan by the Board before October 1. A draft was published on May 1. The plan needs to be updated every five years. The first update would be required 2 1/2 years after approval of this plan.

Several questions raised by Board member Henry Bienen indicated he was skeptical of the Power Point information and the facilities plan. Later, he joined the majority voting in favor of the plan. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.According to Babbitz's Power Point and narrative, The community feedback included:

* Investing in neighborhood schools and a moratorium on closing facilities for the next five years is very important.

* Improvements to facilities include planned relief for overcrowding, playlots, labs for computers and science, air-conditioning, Americans with Disabilites Act (ADA) accessibility, and libraries.

* Diverse Learners will be taught in the least restrictive environment closer to their homes. Apparently, by diverse learners, the Board means Special Needs students.

* Parents favor a pre-K-8 elementary and 9-12 high school structure.

Board members Jesse Ruiz, David Vitale, and Andrea Zopp (above spread under the Board seal) listened to Babbitz's Power Point and then asked questions, without noticing that the plan was barely a plan and had so few specifics that it will be challenged for years. The vaguery of CPS planning is well known: Mayor Rahm Emanuel does whatever he wants. During the week prior to the Board meeting, he announced several major facilities actions, apparently without even having the courtesy to inform the Board members that he was already changing the plans and causing public debate about is priorities.The Gap Between Where We Are and Where We Want to Be stated that repairs will cost $3.5 billion and this does not include the cost of improvements. Not counting mobile units and leased space, 49 schools are overcrowded. Students applying to Selective Enrollment (SE) Schools find they are not being enrolled because the number enrolling exceeds the number of seats available, or they have to travel too far.

Finally, according to the Board, the budget deficit is approaching $1 billion.

Dialogue followed this presentation. Todd Babbitz said that "Southwest Side" citizens want Selective Enrollment high schools closer to them. During his answers to questions, Babbitz, who came to CPS after earning a degree from the University of Chicago, seemed unaware that he was entering a reality where code words for racism were being utilized. During discussion of the mayor's decision to add a 400-student annex to Walter Payton High School, Babbitz noted that Payton, Jones, and Northside had waiting lists -- were "overcrowded."

But he also noted that three South Side selective enrollment high schools -- Lindblom, King, and Brooks, had seats available. The difference? There are very few black students at Northside, Payton, and Jones. There are very few white students at Lindblom, King and Brooks. Board members were vague about what the code words were meaning, and nobody said that if "Southwest Side" families wanted to go to selective enrollment high schools, all they had to do was apply to Lindblom, King or Brooks.

Mahalia Hines asked Todd Babbitz questions about the racist nature of the refusal of "Southwest Side" parents to send their children to King, Linblodm or Brooks high schools. Babbaitz clearly didn't know the context in which he was discussing the paradox of vacant seats at three of the city's "College Prep Academic Magnet" high schools. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Board Member Dr. Mahalia Hines wanted to know what are we doing to help the South Side open enrollment high schools. Reflecting knowledge gotten from a questionable Tribune feature article, Board Member Henry Bienen added that some of the South Side students travel great distances to Whitney Young and Payton high schools -- and some students would prefer to stay closer to home.

Board Vice-President Jesse Ruiz asked why are we using labels for regions instead of neighborhood labels. CTO Babbitz replied that there were 70 plus neighborhood names in Chicago and that the names had been added "before highways came to Chicago." It was many of the questions that he seemed determined not to answer with specifics.

Board Member Andrea Zopp wanted to know the process for priortizing and which overcrowded schools are you going to address. Babbitz replied that 20th day enrollment will be a factor in the decisions and that $20 million per year has been budgeted for relief of overcrowding. He added that outside money sometimes is attached to certain areas of the city.

Board Member Bienen said he would rather see overcrowding dealt with than air-conditioning, but added, "that's a terrible choice, I know." In reply to Board Member Ruiz's question about a public comment list, CTO Babbitz informed him that we will refresh numbers when we have 20th day enrollment, in order to priortize. Board Member Zopp asked for transparency around the process so tht people can see how we are going around making decisions.

Board member Deborah Quazzo was appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to fill the seat vacated by Penny Pritzker. Quazzo has no record of work in public education, but ran a financial services corporation prior to her appointment to one of seven seats of the Board of the nation's third largest school system.Board President David Vitale talked about public hearings that had been held and outside money that does not always allow for discretion. He added that we understand some constraints of the transparency. He alluded to the "marketplace of our citizenry." He also wanted to know if feedback had come back to management.

Following the discussion of the Power Point, General Counsel James Bebley announced that the current information security policy would be rescinded and a new policy in alignment with Federal policy was up for adoption. The proposed policy change was on the public agenda. Adoption was recommended.

Board President Vitale reminded the public that the Board was still choosing a Junior or Senior high school student to be Honorary Board member. He said students need to apply by the middle of next week on the Board's website. He announced that office hour appointments with Board Members could be scheduled by called 773-553-1600. The next Board meeting will be on Wednesday, October 23, with pre-registration beginning Tuesday, October 15, because of the Columbus Day Holiday.

Public participation began, earlier than it had in several months. President Vitale said that several aldermen would be taken in order of ward, speaking first.

First to speak was Alderman John Pope of the 10th ward on the far southeast side. Pope thanked the Board for the promise of a new school to finally relieve the overcrowding at Gallistel. He said that because of growth in the population in his ward, the new Southeast Side elementary school had long been needed, and that protests about the overcrowding had been taking place for ten years. The population growth was especially evident at Gallistel Elementary, where there has been a 21% increase since 2003. Discussing the dramatic example of the overcrowding and disruption of a school, he told the Board that the school has three campuses: two buildings from the 1880s and early 1900s, and space has been leased on the upper floors at a Catholic high school. He added that we need quality education and a new school despite the school closings. He thanked the Board for support.

Next was Alderman Jason Ervin of the 28th ward which includes the East and West Garfield Park communities. He said most of the school buildings were aged and respectfully disagreed with Board Member Bienen about the need for air-conditioning in the schools. Noting that the children in his ward can't learn in sweltering classrooms, he reminded the Board that its decisions had to reflect a concern for the children. He thanked the Board for what they had provided.

After him, Alderman Nick Sposato of the 36th Ward on the Northwest side spoke of four overcrowded schools (he said that three are 200 - 400% overpopulated), the complaint of high taxes by his constituents, and the call that was not returned by a Board member.

Alderman Mary O'Connor, of the 41st Ward, spoke of the dangerous conditions on the far Northwest side. She remarked that, despite the dangerous conditions of over-crowding and difficult circumstances, a world-class education was being provided at Taft High School and several elementary schools in the area. She thanked the Board, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, and Board President Vitale for taking action regarding the need for additional space at Oriole Park and Wildwood Elementary Schools -- and promised improvements at Taft High School.

Board Member Bienen then asked to clarify his remarks. He said that in terms of learning, it is hard to learn in an over-crowded environment. He said air-conditioning is needed in South and Southwest side schools while relief of over-crowding is need in North and Northwest side schools. He remarked that we need to balance equity and need, adding "I think we can do that."

Michele Smith of the 43th Ward, which includes the Lincoln Park Community and Lincoln Elementary, thanked the Board for revisions to the master plan. She said a one year lease with DePaul would accommodate seven classrooms, but six teachers will have no classrooms. She added that last year, old cloakrooms were used and the library was cut up to make room for classroom students. She said that the community and school were popular. She said that some in the community don't believe an addition is needed. She asked to Board to fund an urgently-needed addition.

An LSC parent with her requested a second building close to the main building.

At 11:48 a.m., public participation began. Forty-two speakers had signed up to speak.

Before they spoke, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis spoke to the Board about her hope that the Board will not vote on this as a final facilities plan. She said that there has been a shift from under to over-crowding. She added that the 20th day figures will not give the information you need to plan for overcrowding. She said that the plan needs to be more user-friendly; it needs an index and the new community names are confusing (Rogers Park is not Ravenswood). She remarked, "I live in Oakland; [the geographic name for the community] Oakland would be gone." She wanted to know, "How do we priortize?" She said, "We need a transparent process." She said that the funding is vague; there is a general sense of vagueness. She added that she was not sure what faith-based community was used for a forum. She also expressed concern about student forums. She asked for another extension to "get this right."

Catherine Marchese, whose children go to Belding Elementary (a Level One School), asked why the Board was slashing the budget and reducing the funds year after year. She said most students at Belding are meeting or exceeding standards. She told the Board that Belding had lost an art teacher, has only one aide, and has lost after-school programs.

Joy Clendenning, who has four children in CPS and is on the Local School Council (LSC), thanked the teachers. She said that many are still unclear about what the plan (EFMP) is and said she felt the process was manipulated. She noted that the final plan had been released on Monday afternoon so she hadn't read all of it, but she asked the Board to respect all of your stakeholders.

Valerie Leonard, of the Lawndale Alliance, said that this plan doesn't begin to address the fact that you closed 50 schools. She remarked that money was spent for closings, funding was cut to pre-K, and communities were destabilized. She stated that the Gates Compact requires equal funding for charters and yet Gates only gave $100 thousand. She concluded, clearly you're not making decisions in the best interests of our students.

Michelle Villegas, a parent of two children who attended Lincoln Elementary in Lincoln Park and then Payton High School (one a graduate of Payton), felt that a middle school on the site of the former Children's Memorial Hospital in Lincoln Park was unnecessary. She said that there are more pressing problems and that the school was not that over-crowded. She added that all the schools around her have excess seats. She felt that the alderman had struck a deal. She stated that Lincoln was the 51st most over-crowded school.

Caroline Vickery, a former parent at Lincoln Elementary, felt that there was not overwhelming support for a school at Lincoln. She does not support it; she feels it is ill-conceived. She stated that Lincoln is 50th on the list of over-crowded schools and there are other over-crowded schools that deserve funding. She remarked that the privileged few were being favored for a new school at Lincoln and a new school would change the neighborhood for decades.

Benjamin Kadish, who has lived at 2429 North Burling for twenty-five years, said his children cannot go to Lincoln Elementary [615 West Kemper Place, one block south of Fullerton], because the northern border of the school district is Fullerton [2400 North] and the southern border is North Avenue [1600 North]. He said that the neighbors do not support a new school on Fullerton, Lincoln, and Orchard [site of the former Children's Memorial Hospital]. He also said that Lincoln is the 51st most over-crowded school in the city and we can use the funds in other sections of the city. He remarked that Alcott School [2625 North Orchard Street] has more capacity. He added that they do not want more expansion and there is a need for more neighborhood input.

Joanne DeSanctis, of Lincoln Elementary is opposed to taxpayer dollars being spent on a new multi-dollar middle school for Lincoln Park when multiple, financially responsible solutions exist that fit within CPS stated guidelines. She stated that Near North has more choices than Northwest or Southeast. She asked the Board to put more seats in Northwest and Southeast. She added that Southeast students don't have the same access to Selective Enrollment Schools and she doesn't support a new Lincoln Park School.

Pavandeep Sethi, of Lincoln Elementary, asked the Board to take a look at the relatively empty Alcott Elementary.

Thaddeus Wong, of Lincoln Elementary, said his daughter asked in regard to money from Springfield, "Who are we taking the money from?" He continued that Alderman Smith said, "We've got money" and his wife said, "That's tragic."

Mary Cunat, of Wildwood Elementary, ran to the mike when her name was called [some public participants are quickly considered no-shows if they do not appear instantly at the mike after their names are called]. She said that this year, we have enough classrooms. She thanked Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Board for a world-class school and asked the Board to visit.

Queen Sister, of the organization It Takes a Village, asked for blessings on the Board. She wanted to remind the Board that it was Derrion Albert Day. She held a small camera in her hand, pointed at the Board members seated in the middle. When the Board objected to the use of the camera, she asked, "Where is it in the rules that I can't video?" Board Member Ruiz said that the light was hitting him in the eye and told her, "You don't need a flash." She continued, "I am Queen Sister, God-sent, who wants to talk about "Black Faces in High Places" contributing to violence. She added that you will continue until you're caught. She informed the Board that some principals dress as if coming out of a club, spoke of a child molester, and remarked that the presence of Andrea Zopp, a Board Member who works for the Urban League, was a conflict of interest. Her last words, as she was escorted out by security, were "Black power to Black people."

Meghan Schmidt, of Chicago International Charter Schools (CICS), thanked the Board and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

Reverent Calvin Bridges, also of CICS, is an advocate for CICS. He said the graduation rate was 90%, and of that 90%, 94% are accepted into college.

Arnold Sieber, of Veterans for Peace and a Vietnam veteran, watched a parade where people represented themselves as being in the military. He said the military solution, being promoted as the American way to children, is promoting a culture of violence and that CPS is the most militarized. He said we are teaching children to be pawns and to follow orders without question. He said that instead, we should teach children to think, question, and explore. He said children should not be taught to follow like lemmings. He reiterated that we need to demilitarize.

Wanda Hopkins, a proud parent of a ninth-grader at Whitney Young and an LSC Board member, said she was asked to be an ambassador for parents of Illinois. She asked why there is only one day for Report Card Pick-Up? She said some parents have children in several different schools and that teachers would like to be able to pick up the report cards of their own children. She said that the calendar needs to be revised and the LSC calendar needs to be revised.

George Blakemore, in a well-fitting brown velveteen suit, came from the Lawndale Alliance, to express his concern about the circumstances surrounding Black children in the CPS system. He asked, "How can you have a world-class city when the school system is not?" He said this [Board meeting] was a game, a dog-and-pony shoe. He spoke of two enemies during slavery, the Master and the Black Overseer. He added [regarding time limits for speakers at the Board meetings], "the clock ticks longer for some than others." He added that the ancestors will appreciate me even if you don't.

EvAngel YHWHnewBN, of the Global Committee Commemorating King Days, reminded everyone to "kick the k word." She said that a child is not a goat or beast, and should not be called a kid. She reminded everyone that this was the 50th anniversary of the bombing of the [16th Street Baptist Church] in Birmingham. [Four young Black girls were killed.] She said it is necessary to change the brain to better the behavior. She spoke of three key principles of the civil rights movement: On January 15, wear bright colors, on April 4, wear black to advocate for non-violence, and on August 28, wear black and white to represent more principles. She would like these days put on the school calendar. January 15 represents Empowerment, August 28 stands for the "I Have a Dream" speech of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., and November represents President Obama's " Yes, We Can" motto. She concluded that we have a history of Blacks having no rights.

Ronald Jackson, of Tilden High School, asked."Where do we have to go in the Law Department?" "Where does it say I need permission to talk to a principal?" He spoke of a certified teacher who was let go while a non-certified one was kept (to teach Driver's Ed). General Counsel James Bebley responded to him.

Alfred Rogers, of the Latino Organization of the Southwest, spoke very briefly.

DiAne Schmidt, of Lincoln Elementary, a parent of a seventh-grader, who lives in Old Town near LaSalle and Newberry Elementary Schools, spoke about keeping Lincoln small and opening up magnet schools near her home. She opposes the allocation of funds to build a new middle school for Lincoln.

Darlene OBanner, of Earle Elementary School, says she attended all of the utilizing meetings. She thanked the Board for their help. She asked that the mistreatment at the receiving school be stopped. She invited the Board to come out unannounced. She referred to a Civil War Test that the students had to take over.

George Schmidt, of Substance Newspaper, questioned the Board about bringing in staff from outside the system instead of utilizing staff who have taught or worked within the BOE, and the amounts of money that were being spent on relocation expenses for new officers.

Jacqueline Casimir, a displaced teacher, said she needs to be employed. She stated that she will continue to be a thorn in the side of the Board. She wanted to know, "Where is the money coming from for building schools."

Fred Randazzo, of the Illinois American Veterans, wants Veterans Day to be acknowledged in a proper manner. He said mattess and other sales on Veteran's Day let the public know the date of Veteran's Day, but the public doesn't know what Veteran's Day stands for. He spoke of patriots who liberated continents and people. He spoke of those who served, those who are serving, and those who did not live to be veterans.

Ewa Wojciechwska, of Locke Elementary, said she believes in problem-solving. She brought a letter and photos with her. She said that the playground at Locke is in a terrible state; the surface needs to be fixed as soon as possible or serious accidents could happen. She asked that a new rubber surface be put in. She also asked for air-conditioning.

Valencia Rias-Winstead, of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, expressed concern with the Educational Facilities Master Plan. She said the plan is vague and needs to be revisited before the statutory requirements. She asked that the plan be revisited on October 1, 2014, and said that it needs to be more complete and specific. She added that some schools here today are not part of the master plan.

Yvonne Johnson, a parent of a student at Johnson College Prep in Englewood, called the school a high-quality option, which the community needs.

Rosita Chatonda, of Chicago Alliance of Urban School Educators (CAUSE), said that in 1954, there were 82,000 Black teachers teaching two million Black children. She stated that in the eleven years since, 38 thousand Black teachers lost jobs. She mentioned that Illinois is third in African-American teachers per student. She added that she is tired of the fight between CPS and CTU. She asked to work with the Board to alleviate the problems facing the community. She brought a hand-out for President Vitale. She asked, "Will there be only 9% Black teachers next year?"

Cynthia Albritten, parent of a child at Hansberry College Prep, chose to place her child in a Nobel school. She said they are the top-performing non-Selective Enrollment schools in the city.

Stacy Babich, parent of a child at Canty Elementary, said that the school is over-crowded, six to eight year-olds must walk to the main building for certain classes. She said that the school is so over-crowded that children are taught in hallways and are working on floors. She stated that there is no lunchroom, the auditorium has folding chairs in the back, and children eat with lunches on their laps. She remarked that the over-crowding is causing anxiety in the children.

Stacy McAuliffe, of the International Network of Charter Schools (INCS), said that charter schools are pushing the bar higher. She thanked CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who was absent.

Dondai Brown-Whitfield spoke of the first African-American Catholic priest in the United States [and in Chicago], Father Augustine Tolton, [a former slave]. She mentioned that this is the 123rd anniversary of Austin High School, her alma mater. She said she has volunteered for Austin, ever since she was a freshman at Austin.

At 1:19 p.m., public participation came to an end.

Comments were solicited from Board members. Board members then spoke of a need for an index in the EFMP, more information on the over-crowding and the playground at Locke Elementary, an update on the diversity of teachers and the impact of closings, Lincoln Elementary, that the EFMP is not what I would call a plan - it's a misnomer to call it a plan, that the EFMP is too general - it's not clear, the technical costs (iPads) are substantial, the regional/geographic implications of the plan, and the squeaky wheel gets the oil shouldn't be the guideline.

Board Member Dr. Mahalia Hines then made a motion that the Board go into closed session.



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