'Utilization Crisis' another Manufactured Crisis... CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett doubles down on the lie about 'Census Loss' in letter distributed to all CPS parents on December 6, 2012

As the latest "Chief Executive Officer" of the Chicago Public Schools enters the second half of the first year of her time in Chicago, Barbara Byrd Bennett is demonstrating over and over that she would rather insult the intelligence of Chicago teachers, parents and citizens by repeating lies that CPS churns out as talking points, as if any propaganda coming out of CPS was automatically the truth. Two days after Substance and CTU researchers proved that the CPS talking point about the supposed drop in the number of school-age children was a lie, she repeated it in a letter to be distributed to all "stakeholders" in CPS.

Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale (above) denounced the Chicago Teachers Union during the November 2012 meeting of the Board. Substance photo by David Vance.While CPS has a long tradition of lying, including an escalation to what Substance has called "double- and triple-talk," Byrd Bennett's version of reality to describe this "utilization crisis" has taken some of the scripts CPS follows several steps further. Ignoring the actual decline in CPS student membership between the years 2000 and 2012, the quarter million dollar CPS CEO tries to claim that the census data (which CPS is also misstating) explains why CPS needs to close a hundred schools or more.

Utilizing Census data to talk about CPS public school membership is dubious, as the facts show. In 2000, according to CPS data (the "Racial Ethnic Survey -- Students") was roughly 435,000 children. This year, it is about 403,000. That's an actual decline, according to CPS's own figures, of 32,000 students — NOT 125,000 as Byrd Bennett is trying to claim. But even after CTU officials, researchers, and Substance pointed out the facts, CPS continued repeating their lies.

There are major issues that need to be examined about the census, but few or none have any impact on CPS.

A 201O UNDERCOUNT? It's possible that the 2010 census dramatically undercounted the school age population, especially given that the census was being conducted at the depth of the foreclosure "crisis" caused by the financial mess of 2008. Chicago and CPS saw a dramatic increase in the number of homeless students, which are most likely to be uncounted by the census. This was a significant increase from the 2000 census, which took place large before "Housing Reform" (the destruction of many of the Chicago Housing Authority projects) rendered many of the city's poorest children homeless.

DRAMATIC DECLINE IN PAROCHIAL SCHOOL ENROLLMENTS. Similarly, an increasing percentage of the school-age population has been enrolling in CPS. The primary losers have been the parochial schools (most notably, the Catholic ones). Again, it would take more resources than we have to verify that, but anecdotally, we have heard that the charters (especially UNO) have been raiding the Catholic schools as much as they've been raiding us, with Sister Barbara explaining to parents that the two virtues of UNO charter schools are (a) over the local public schools, you are less likely to have to go to school with "them" and (b) to the Catholic school families, UNO is providing the "parochial style education" but without the Catholic school tuition.

As the message from Barbara Byrd Bennett below demonstrates, CPS is doubling down on its lies about the way the census data relate to the "underutilization" stuff.

On December 6, 2012, CPS "Internal Communications Date" issued the following: Thu, Dec 6, 2012 at 3:03 PM. Subject: FROM CPS CEO BARBARA BYRD-BENNETT: Message about Utilization Crisis Facing Our District

Dear CPS Stakeholders:

Over these past few weeks, many of you have heard about the utilization crisis facing our District. Because of population declines over the past decade, 145,000 fewer school-aged children reside in Chicago today than they did 10 years ago. And, although enrollment in CPS schools has shown a similar decline, we have taken little action to address this issue. As a result, CPS currently serves 403,000 students but has space for more than 511,000. That means 20 percent of our schools are half empty.

Enrollment and space utilization data we released this week further confirms this problem. About 50 percent of our schools are underutilized and nearly 140 schools are more than half empty. Having too many buildings with too few children spreads our already limited resources thin and makes it increasingly difficult to provide students with the high quality education they deserve.

We cannot wait any longer to address this problem. The time to do so is now.

Creating a comprehensive plan to right-size the District is an immediate priority for me as CEO, and I am committed to engaging parents and communities on the front end of that process. That’s why I worked with the Illinois General Assembly to extend the deadline to announce school actions to March 31, which will give us the time we need to collaborate with parents, teachers and community stakeholders.

Difficult decisions will need to be made over the next few months. However, it is important to remember that, as of today, no schools have been identified for closure and consolidation. Even if a school is underutilized, it does not mean it will be closed or consolidated. That being said, space utilization is a factor that needs to be better understood, which is why I have tasked the Commission on School Utilization with carefully examining this issue.

As you may know, I created this nine-member Commission to engage in a rigorous fact-finding mission, gathering information and feedback from experts and school communities and holding public hearings so that no voice goes unheard. The Commission will present me with final recommendations, and I will seriously consider all input before making final recommendations to the Chicago Board of Education.

For too long, CPS has made its decisions piecemeal when closing schools. That’s why we have committed to a five-year moratorium on closing any additional CPS facilities starting in fall 2013 once a comprehensive plan to right-size the District has been implemented. This will create the long-term stability and peace of mind that our school communities need and deserve.

As a key stakeholder in CPS, I encourage you to participate in one of the public community meetings being held by the Commission on School Utilization. For more information and to view details about these public meetings, visit I welcome your input on this vitally important issue and look forward to working together as we strive to give every child the high quality education they deserve.

Sincerely, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Chief Executive Officer, Chicago Public Schools


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