CTU blasts closing 'Commission' report... 'The Commission's report does not contain a single pedagogical argument on why closing schools helps our students in any shape or form...' (Karen Lewis)

The Chicago Teachers Union on March 6, 2013 issued a response to the release of the report by the "Commission" on school closings in Chicago, reiterating the union's opposition to any closings this year and critiquing the claims that underly the Commission and CPS analysis of the "underutilization" crisis. Also weighing in immediately against the Commission were the Raise Your Hand coalition and numerous community groups. A front page story in the Chicago Tribune on March 6 challenged the logic behind the CPS analysis of "utilization."

Press coverage of the release of the actual Commission report was quick, although in most cases the talking points from CPS itself were continued without critical examination. Despite the fact that numerous groups and hundreds of individuals have challenged the Board of Education's claims both about the "underutilization crisis" and the "billion dollar deficit" since the hearings began in December 2012, the lies promulgated by CPS continue, The main lies consist of the repetition of those two points, which are repeated to have become an article of faith in official CPS statements. The press release from CPS. The press release was sent to the media without a press conference, and as usual not sent to Substance, is printed last below. Since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took over CPS in May 2011, the school district has refused to hold press conferences or submit school officials to open questioning by reporters. Instead, the press is forced to quote from emails or from the "Chief Communications Officer," a woman named Becky Carroll who has been with CPS for less than two years and who has no teaching or administrative experience in the nation's third largest school system.

The CPS program to control media coverage of the "underutilization" stories has been challenged for three months by the more than 25,000 teachers, parents, students, community leaders and politicians who have turned out for the hearings and who have denounced the school closing plans. In response to school-based demands that reporters be allowed to go inside the schools and photograph the actual usage of each building, CPS has refused to allow press access to the buildings. The major talking points and Power Point versions of reality are simply repeated, while parents, teachers and children describe how buildings called "underutilized" are in fact being used for a huge variety of educational and community programs for the benefit of children. CPS has attempted, with limited success, to make the public debate conform to its austerity claims, instead of discussing what is in the best interest of the public and the children for whose use and education these buildings exist.

Throughout the controversy, the Chicago Teachers Union has rejected CPS claims, debunked through research the numbers CPS has attempted to make the limits of public debate, and worked with groups and individuals across the city against the closings. The union's official position is in opposition to all closings this year; CTU calls for a moratorium on the closings.


Chicago Teachers Union organizer Marty Ritter (above at microphone) tells the commission that the union opposes all closings this year and challenges the "underutilization" claims of CPS. Sitting at the commission table in the rear are (left to right), Terry Hilliard (obscured in part by Ritter), Frank Clark, Iris Martiinez, and Fausto Lopez. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Stephanie Gadlin, March 6, 2013 312/329-6250

CTU President Karen Lewis says Commission report illustrates need for full moratorium on school closings... Urges, parents, teachers, students and community groups to organize for March 27th march

The president of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) said the "Final Report," issued by the school district's Commission on School Utilization further illustrates the need for a full moratorium on school closings, turnarounds and other actions until an independent body can study the impact of these policy decisions on Chicago students, neighborhoods and their families.

Following significant criticism by parents, teachers, and clergy as well as community-based organizations, the Commission has reduced its recommended number of school actions to an arbitrary list of 80 neighborhood schools. The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) initially targeted 330 and then 129 schools, respectively, in a "shock them with crisis" tactic in order to ease outrage when a smaller hit list of schools is finally announced by March 31 as required by law.

"The Commission's report suggests that CPS should continue with its intent to destabilize thousands of our students by disrupting 80-plus school communities in a single year. This is outrageous," said President Karen Lewis. "Given CPS' history, there is no way it has the capacity to shut down 13 percent of our entire school district without mass chaos. Every school that is closed impacts another in the broader community. That's one more child exposed to Chicago's rising tide of violence."

"These non-binding recommendations do not address CPS' unsubstantiated claim that school closings saves money. In reality, school closings costs taxpayer more and the city is left with abandoned buildings," she said. "CPS continues to move the target to justify why it should close rather than support our schools. These public policy measures hurt our students, put people out of work and destabilize neighborhoods. In the meantime, they want to open new charters."

The CTU president also said she will continue to urge educators, parents, students and community residents to resist disruption to their neighborhoods organizing for a march and rally in downtown Chicago on March 27 and will include the voices of many of the people whose school communities are targeted by the city for destabilization.

"City Hall must stop its war on poor and working-class people," Lewis said. "When you attack our schools you are attacking our students and our parents. In fact, class sizes will skyrocket. You're attacking the dedicated people who work there. The Commission's report does not contain a single pedagogical argument on why closing schools helps our students in any shape or form."



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Statement from CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett on Release of Commission on School Utilization Report March 6, 2013

“I want to thank the Commission for their hard work over the past few months, initiating our conversations with families and communities and taking a thorough look at the crisis we are facing. Their report definitively states that the District does, in fact, have a utilization problem. We did not get here overnight, and we are not going to fix everything overnight. But our children deserve for us to work every day to improve their chances to succeed. We are making smart and critical investments in our children’s futures along with the difficult and necessary decisions. We must focus our limited resources on ensuring every child in every neighborhood receives a high quality education in every school.”

Barbara Byrd-Bennett

CEO, Chicago Public Schools

Background on Commission on School Utilization and Utilization Crisis Facing CPS

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett appointed the independent Commission on School Utilization to begin the District’s engagement efforts with school communities on the front end of the decision-making process in addressing its utilization crisis. In addition to the 10 public hearings held by the Commission, CPS led 29 community meetings across the District and received input from over 20,000 CPS parents, principals, students, teachers, and community members. Based on community feedback, CPS developed a consistent and objective set of criteria to apply to underutilized schools, removing from consideration for closure:

Underutilized high schools

Underutilized Level 1 elementary schools

Elementary schools near efficient utilization (80% utilized or higher)

Overcrowded elementary schools

Underutilized elementary schools that are in the process of adding grades and are expected to reach efficient utilization based on enrollment trends

Elementary schools that currently have a higher enrollment than they did in School Year 2010

Elementary schools with current student populations above 600 students

Elementary schools with utilization rates between 70 – 79 percent

Elementary schools that have been a designated welcoming school in the last 3 years or were part of a co-location last year

Elementary schools that are .8 miles or further from the next closest neighborhood elementary school

Elementary schools that are surrounded by efficient or overcrowded schools

Elementary schools that are sustainable and improving in performance

Two-hundred and one of the District’s 330 underutilized elementary schools are no longer being considered for closure based on community input so far. CEO Byrd-Bennett will take additional community feedback, input from principals and recommendations from the Commission into consideration as she prepares to make her recommendations to the Board of Education before the end of the month.

Following the CEO’s recommendations, CPS will begin another round of community engagement, including two community meetings and one public hearing for each proposed action.

Chicago Public Schools faces $1 billion deficits for each of the next three fiscal years, and the District currently supports over 100,000 empty desks. Underutilized schools often do not have enough resources to provide the kind of supports essential to student success. Principals at these schools have to make difficult decisions about how to best allocate staff and other student resources. These schools are also more likely to have split-grade classrooms, which can impact a principal’s ability to provide students with a well-rounded, high quality education. By consolidating schools, CPS will be able to focus its limited resources to ensure that every Chicago public school student attends a safe, high-quality 21st century school with updated amenities, more individual instruction, and the programs they need to compete and succeed. By redirecting money from underutilized and dilapidated schools, we will free up resources to invest in quality schools, where all students can flourish with the support of a dedicated community, principals, and teachers. These new and improved schools will represent a new day for Chicago Public Schools and, most importantly, a better chance for our students to succeed and thrive.


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