Chicago Schedules Capital Development Hearings so Public Can't Participate

Having just completed a series of "public hearings" on moving "new schools" into existing schools, that most of the affected public didn’t know about, the Chicago Board of Education scheduled another set of "hearings" at the last minute and in a manner that almost guaranteed that the public would be largely unable to participate in them.

Instead of holding the 2009 Capital Budget hearings in May, as the Board did last year, the Board scheduled them for April, at the last minute, and planned two of them during the school system's annual Spring Vacation. Buried in the massive agenda for the March 25, 2009, meeting of the Chicago Board of Education was a message from the Board Secretary, Estela Beltran. Entitled "09-0325-CO2 Communication Re: 2010 Capital Improvement Hearings," the message announced as follows:

One school — Chicago's Gallistel Elementary School — filled the auditorium at Morgan Park High School in May 2009 for the annual "Region Six" hearings on the Board's Capital Improvement Plan. Above, Gallistel students display a sign showing the problems at the school while parents and the school's principal (right) stand in front of the filled Morgan Park High School auditorium. Parents suspect that this year the Board scheduled the Capital Hearings to prevent such organized activities. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. "The Office of the Board has received the dates for public hearings in order to gather the public input needed for the development and production of the 2010 Capital Improvement Program. The hearings are scheduled as fol-lows:

Region 1, Thursday, April 2, 2009, Greeley Elementary School, 832 West Sheridan.

Region 2, Tuesday, April 7, 2009, North Grand High School, 4338 West Wabansia.

Region 3, Thursday, April 9, 2009, Phoenix Military Academy, 145 S. Campbell.

Region 4, Tuesday, April 14, 2009, King College Prep High School, 4445 S. Drexel Blvd.

Region 5, Wednesday, April 15, 2009, Simeon High School, 8147 S. Vincennes

Region 6, Monday, April 20, 2009, Corliss High School, 821 East 103rd St.

According to the agenda item, the sign-up time for public participation is from 4:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. and the hearings begin each day at 5:30 p.m.

The "Regions" specified in the hearing announcements are the old Vallas-era "Regions" which had divided the city longitudinally in bands from west to east and have no relationship to the "Instructional Areas" which are currently in use. For example, "Region One" stretched from Belmont Ave. on the south to the city limits on the north and from Lake Michigan to beyond Harlem Ave., east to west. The dysfunctional "Regions" were adjusted into the "Areas" after Vallas was removed from office in July 2001.

Surprise to parents, activists

The 2009 hearings took place in May and drew thousands.

The early scheduling of the hearings and the meager notification took many parent and community activists by surprise. Some also questioned why the Board was holding these important hearings during Spring Vacation, when many parents and teachers planned to be elsewhere. (Spring Vacation began on Friday, April 3, and was scheduled to end Monday, on April 1, when classes resume).

Parents from Gallistel Elementary School who had protested the situation at their school at the February 25 Board meeting contacted Substance to say they were certain that the last-minute change in schedule was to prevent people from participating in the annual hearings.

In 2008, the Capital Hearings were held in May with much greater public notice, and each was well attended, with the final one filling the auditorium at Morgan Park High School (when Gallistel brought 13 bus loads to protest the Board’s neglect of their needs).

The Board gave no reason for the scheduling of the hearings in April rather than May, nor did the Board explain why the notification was so late for the first of the hearings. Substance has requested the transcript of each of the hearings and has also asked the Board who decided that the schedule would be in April rather than May this school year. 

Posted to SubstanceNews April 12, 2009, 8:00 a.m.


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