Board launches campaign to avoid following the facilities law, refuses to issue 2013 Hit List by December 1 deadline

Less than 18 months after he began churning the top leadership of the nation's third largest school system, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, through the current iteration of his school leadership team, is attempting to evade the letter and spirit of the Chicago Facilities Law by asking that the publication of the annual "Hit List" of schools to be closed (or otherwise changed) be postponed until March 2013. The law requires that CPS hold hearings in November and post the list of schools slated for action by December 1.

Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd Bennett (above on October 29, 2012 at a media event at Lowell Elementary School) waited until Mayor Rahm Emanuel was out of town with the Obama campaign before announcing her attempt to break the law requiring the publication of the school closing Hit List by December 1. The CPS announcement came on the afternoon of Friday, November 2, 2012, as protesters were marching outside City Hall against the Hit List and charter expansion. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Late in the day on Friday, November 2, 2012, the Chicago Board of Education launched its latest attack on legality and decency by asking that it be allowed to evade the clear letter of the Chicago Facilities Law and ignore the December 1 deadline required for releasing the annual "Hit List" of schools to be closed. Ignoring its own incompetence and the constant churning of CPS staff (beginning with the hiring of dozens of people from out-of-town who know little or nothing about Chicago — including the last two "Chief Executive Officers" — to run the schools), CPS claimed in its request on November 2 that it needs more time to do an adequate job in developing the Hit List.

While one alternative is simply to admit that CPS should not do a Hit List during the 2012 - 2013 school year (a course recently demanded by the Chicago Teachers Union), instead of admitting that it can't produce a rational list, CPS officials led by the latest Chief Executive Officer, Barbara Byrd Bennett, claim that they need more time, much like a child who doesn't do homework, attend class, or pass any tests for the first 18 weeks during a semester and then cries, during the final two weeks, that it's the teacher's fault, and that the teacher should provide the miscreant with "extra credit" and "makeup work."

The CPS press release announcing the change in tactics for CPS to implement school closings was issued on the afternoon of November 2, 2012. Substance was not sent a copy of the press release, which was subsequently published on the CPS website. [Substance is planning legal action against CPS for discrimination in the issuance of press releases, other press material, and the response to Freedom of Information Act, FOIA, requests since Rahm Emanuel took over the schools in May and June 2011 and appointed former Blagojevich administration official Becky Carroll to head CPS "Communications"].


CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett to Launch Thorough Community Engagement Process On School Actions ... CEO is to seek extension of school actions deadline and appoint independent commission of expert stakeholders to guide engagement

November 2, 2012

Chicago – Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett today announced the District’s plan to seek an extension of the December 1 statutory deadline to release school actions in order to launch a rigorous, transparent and open dialogue with school communities over the next several months to help the District make more informed decisions around school actions and better invest resources that will help kids access a high-quality education.

CEO Byrd-Bennett announced the appointment of a nine-member Commission on School Utilization composed of stakeholders with different experience and expertise who will lead this community engagement process, gather information and provide a written report to guide CPS in making recommendations around school actions. CPS is asking the Illinois legislature to support its request by amending the state law that governs school actions to include a one-time deadline extension of March 31.

“I consulted with the mayor, the Board, members of my team, community members and other key stakeholders to assemble this independent commission charged with leading the work required to help our kids access a high-quality education,” said CPS CEO Byrd-Bennett. “Our goal is to give the community the respect they deserve in this process, rebuild trust with CPS and create a path for right-sizing our district so that we can better invest resources in every child and every school in our city.”

Next week, the commission will begin its work and issue a schedule of upcoming public hearings.

Members of the Commission on School Utilization are:

The Honorable Iris Y. Martinez, Illinois state senator

Frank M. Clark, a civic leader and former chairman and chief executive officer of ComEd

John Hannah, a faith leader and senior pastor of New Life Covenant Church

Terry Hillard, a safety expert and former Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department

21st Ward Alderman Howard B. Brookins

Dr. Fausto E. López, a leadership coach and former CPS principal and teacher

Earnest Gates, a community leader who heads the nonprofit Near West Side Community Development Commission

Shirley Calhoun, a CPS parent, grandparent and Fiske Elementary assistant parent coordinator, and

Deberah Perkins, a former CPS teacher.

To view complete biographies of commission members, visit

In order to extend the deadline for releasing the list of schools subject to actions, CPS is seeking a legislative measure to extend the deadline stipulated in Illinois law SB 630 that states school actions must be announced by December 1 each year. Extending the deadline to March 31 will give the commission the time it needs to rigorously engage communities and will provide schools with the time they need to focus on preparing their students for annual ISAT tests and avoid any distractions to student learning.

“We must be committed to a transparent and open process to properly engage the community around this work, and we also need to acknowledge that our District is not serving all the needs of all our children because our resources are stretched so thin,” said CEO Byrd-Bennett. “We simply can’t do what is necessary for our kids while school buildings are crumbling or provide the resources for a 21st century education that they deserve. When we consolidate schools that are underutilized or half empty, we will be able to better invest those resources across the district.”

Latest News

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett to Launch Thorough Community Engagement Process On School Actions

CPS Releases Draft School Actions Guidelines that Integrate Community Feedback


CPS to ask to delay school action announcements. By: Sarah Karp / November 02, 2012

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said today she plans to ask the state legislature to postpone by four months--from Dec. 1 to March 31--the announcement of proposed school actions.

CTU President Karen Lewis reiterated her stance that Byrd-Bennett put a moratorium on school closings for a year. She said waiting to make an announcement til March 31 doesn’t give parents and teachers enough time to prepare for a school closing the following fall.

“It is time to step back and do some analysis,” Lewis said.

But others seemed to welcome Byrd-Bennett’s desire to spend more time to get community feedback before making the announcements.

Byrd-Bennett, who just weeks ago took over the helm of Chicago Public Schools, rejected the idea of waiting a year. She said CPS has a projected $1 billion deficit and it would be fiscally irresponsible for her not to make some moves this year. CPS officials say they can save anywhere from $500,000 to $800,000 annually per school. Byrd-Bennett has refused to say how many schools she will close this year. However, the administration will hone in on servely underutilized schools. According to CPS, 140 schools are more than 50 percent underutilized.

The delay to March, Byrd-Bennett said, will give her the time she needs to engage the community in an “authentic” discussion. Also, on Friday, she appointed a nine-member Commission on School Utilization.

Commission members will be charged with holding public hearings, collecting information and coming up with recommendations about which schools to close. Byrd-Bennett did not commit to following the commission’s recommendations.

Among the commission members is State Sen. Iris Martinez, who is also co-chair of the Chicago Educational Facilities Taskforce. The taskforce, created by the General Assembly, pushed the bill that established the timeline for announcing school actions.

To get the deadline postponed, a lawmaker will have introduce a bill and it would have to be voted on during the veto session that starts Nov. 27. The other co-chair of the taskforce, Rep. Cynthia Soto, said she and her colleagues have a lot of questions for CPS before they support changing the law to extend the deadline. She said they have a meeting set up.

When the Chicago school facilities bill was approved in 2011, the timeline was seen as a major victory for activists. For a long time, they complained it was too late to let parents and teachers know in late winter or Spring that their school was to be closed.

Many times the announcement about school closings came after deadlines for parents to apply to magnet, selective enrollment and charter schools, thereby limiting their options.

This year, the deadline to apply for magnet and selective enrollment school is Dec. 14 and letters of acceptances are supposed to be sent out well before March 31. Each charter school has a different application deadline, but many of them are early Spring.

“We control the deadlines,” said Byrd-Bennett. Her team is looking at ways to make sure that students and parents will be able to apply to schools, should they learn their school is to be targeted in late March.

State Sen. Heather Steans said that after talking to Martinez she supports the delay in the announcement of proposed school actions. Martinez told her the commission will be going out to every community and talking to them about school actions.

“I think that if we can get real community input the process is going to work much better,” she said.

She also noted that when school closings are announced, schools often are thrown into turmoil. If the announcement comes later in the school year, students will experience less upheaval, she said.

But Lewis said it is not good for parents, students and teachers to be left scrambling looking for new options so late in the school year. She pointed out that it is not clear how much of a financial benefit the school district will reap by closing schools.

Some districts that have closed schools in the past have not realized big savings. Also, the savings are dependent on the school district closing schools and not opening new ones in their place. In Chicago, the vast majority of schools closed over the past decade currently house new schools, many of them charter schools.

Byrd-Bennett said she doesn’t want to entangle the discussions about closing schools and opening charter schools. “Once we have the building closed, we will look at it and talk about what goes in there,” she said, at a discussion at the Chicago Urban League Friday morning.

Byrd-Bennett said she was once anti-charter schools until she had a chance to tour one in Harlem a few years ago and was impressed. Now, she said she doesn’t care what kind of school it is as long as it is doing well by children.

Lewis said Byrd-Bennett wants to separate the discussions because having them together reveals that the policy doesn’t make any sense. “It is not realistic to say we are closing schools for under-utilization, while at the same time opening new schools,” she said.

The members of the commission are:

State Sen. Iris Martinez

Frank Clark, former chairman and CEO of ComEd

John Hannah, senior pastor of New Life Covenant Church on the South Side

Terry Hillard, former Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department

Ald. Howard Brookins, 21st Ward on the South Side

Fausto Lopez, a former CPS principal

Earnest Gates, head of the Near West Side Community Development Commission

Shirley Calhoun, assistant parent coordinator of Fiske Elementary School on the South Side

Debra Perkins, former CPS teacher


November 2, 2012 at 11:50 PM

By: Maria Guerrero

School Actions

Having experienced a school action firsthand, it is absolutely wrong for CPS to be allowed to wait until March 31st to release the school names. That means the "hearings" would not take place until April, with the final Board vote coming either at the end of April or May. That is a very unfair timeline for parents who need to find new schools , staff who need to find new jobs, and definitely not enough time to box up and clear out a school. We knew our school's fate on Feb. 22nd, and even on the last day of school we were still packing things up. Not to speak about the emotional adjustment for both parents and staff . What CPS is trying to do is avoid saying that they don't know what the heck they are doing, that the Mayor won't let them call a moratorium, and that by waiting until March 31st, they shorten the time period for protests, rallies, newspaper articles, and other things that CPS would love to avoid. Their argument that they don't want the actions to interfere with the March testing doesn't hold either - Casals had an 8% increase in its overall ISAT scores in spite of being on the list since Nov. 1st ( and compare that to the pathetic average increase of CPS of just 0.9%). The State Legislature should not fall for this and misinterpret it as some sort of compromise on the part of CPS. They should not approve it.

Maria Guerrero

former teacher at Pablo Casals

November 3, 2012 at 4:24 AM

By: Neil Flanigan

Rahm's incompetence exposed -- again!

Once again, Chicago's mayor is exposed as if his tute had fallen around his ankles -- for executive incompetence. For all the bragging Rahm did (example: that Tribune interview last year when he did his I AM AN EXECUTIVE routine), he has never actually been any kind of executive: until now.

And what he has proved since he was inauguaration in May 2011 is that he is one of the worst executives in Chicago history. Remember Jean-Claude Brizard? But now Barbara Byrd Bennett will take care of things! Sure.

Last year it was Jamiko Rose heading up the hearings on the closings (which the Board did ruthlessly despite all the evidence to the contrary). Where is Jamiko now?

Last year, it was Noemi Donoso who was doing all the stuff to make "education" the priority of Emanuel's school board. Did she go back to Colorado after they dumped her in March?

And what about the fact that Rahm is now on his third "Chief Financial Officer" at CPS. How does he explain that to Moody's and Standard and Poors when they ask the hard questions they are going to have to ask? Does he blame that mess on the teachers and the CTU, too?

The conclusion of all this is that Rahm Emanuel is the most incompetent mayor in Chicago history. And he's demonstrated that in less than two years in office.

November 3, 2012 at 10:44 AM

By: Kati Gilson, NBCT

Byrd-Bennet's version of 'trust' is untrustworthy

I watched the interview with Barbara Byrd-Bennett on Chicago Tonight this week. She kept talking about the lack of trust for CPS and how she needs to rebuild the relationship of trust. Asking for an extension is a kick in the face to the community, parents, students and teachers. Now ten teachers, parents and community members have been arrested for speaking out at City Hall. Don't think that's going to help with the trust issue. Wonder how long she'll last.

November 6, 2012 at 7:07 AM

By: Kimberly Bowsky

Byrd-Bennett's smoother way to push privatization

One of my co-workers heard some interview she did and was knock-out impressed. I had to remind him of the hatchet job she did in Detroit. We have to move residents of Chicago into expecting that essence is more important than appearance. Barbara Byrd-Bennett has more credentials than Brizard, a smoother way, and communicates calm and stability, but her mission is the same. It's like, does it matter if your nurse looks like a supermodel? You might smile when he's coming, but the shot still hurts.

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