Chicago's annual privatization hearings begin with closing proposals against Davis, LasCasas

The annual hearings to close additional Chicago public schools as a prelude to turning their buildings over to private contractors, charter schools, and other "educational entrepreneurs" began on the afternoon and evening of January 26, 2009, with hearings on closing Davis Developmental Center (9101 S. Jeffrey Blvd.) and Las Casas Occupational High School (8401 S. Saginaw Ave.). Both schools serve severely disabled students. The Chicago Board of Education is proposing to close Davis and send its students to the new "Langston Hughes" school site, which is supposed to open near the old Langston Hughes site (at 226 W. 204th St.).

The Chicago Board of Education is proposing to close Las Casas, the only school in Chicago serving as a therapeutic public high school for students with severe emotional handicaps, and privatize the services for those children.

Substance covered both hearings.

The hearings on Davis began at 3:00 p.m. According to those who were present, the majority of the speakers at the hearing were skeptical about the move of the students to a site more than five miles from the school's present site.

The hearings on Las Casas began at 5:30 and all but three of the more than 30 speakers opposed the closing of Las Casas. Many pointed out that the proposal of the Board of Education to close La Casas and ship its more than 70 current students into privatized out placement had already failed, since the Las Casas students had already attended such schools and had simply dropped out.

Las Casas studdents, parents, teachers, and community supporters also questioned whether the Chicago Board of Education officials -- who claimed that the closing of Las Casas would save money -- were not simply planning to give away the building to one of the newly selected "New Schools" that CPS has announced it will open in that part of the city's South Side.

Contradicting the claims of CPS officials at the hearing that closing Las Casas would save money were a number of speakers, including the pastor of Mary Magdaline Roman Catholic Church, which leases the Las Casas space in the church's shuttered parochial school building to CPS for $250,000 per year. The priest pointed out during the January 26 hearing that CPS and the church had spent more than $2.5 million on repairs to the school since 2001, and that $1.4 million had been spent in the past 18 months. For years, CPS officials have argued when proposing to close schools a variant on the "efficient market" theory promoted by many of their economic mentors in Chicago and elsewhere. Officials claim that it is "too costly" to keep a school open.

But once the building has been closed as a public school, the building is quickly flipped and re-opened as a charter or other "New School" under Mayor Daley's "Renaissance 2010" program. This program has been in operation since July 2004 under the name "Renaissance 2010", but it began in April 2002 when CEO Arne Duncan proposed the closing of Dodge, Terrell, and Williams elementary schools, saying the schools needed what he then called (lower case "r") a "renaissance.

The current program, called "Renaissance 2010" was announced in a lengthy speech to the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club by Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2004. But the original outline for the "Renaissance 2010" plan was put forward in a lengthy attack on Chicago's public schools published by the Civic Committee under the title "Left Behind" in 2003. Left Behind was authored by Civic Committee head R. Eden Martin, who at the time was serving as corporate secretary for Aon Insurance. Since 2004, Eden Martin has been the main person responsible for approving funds doled out under the private, $50 million Chicago "Renaissance Schools Fund."


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