Chicago Teachers Union challenges CPS claims of savings on school closings... Byrd Bennett's 'repurposing' propaganda talk challenged while the CEO talks and talks and talks

No sooner had the Chicago corporate media begun reporting as fact the claims by CPS "Chief Executive Officer" Barbara Byrd Bennett that there will be major savings when CPS closes a large number of public schools than the Chicago Teachers Union challenged the claims. In fact, the broader record of CPS school closings -- especially if reporters go to the sites of schools that have already been shuttered -- is that in most parts of Chicago (see photo here) vacant schools (a) cannot be sold and (b) become threats in the community because CPS does not provide security for those sites.

Chicago Public Schools have closed dozens of schools during the past 15 years. While some of them have been given away to charter school operators, many remain vacant. The Crispus Attucks elementary school building (the gym, above in a March 7 photograph) at 39th and Dearborn is more typical. CTU photo.One of the things that reporters ignore is that fact that Barbara Byrd Bennett is the fourth CPS "Chief Executive Officer" in as many years, yet people act as if her understanding of the system has some validity. Although Byrd-Bennett has been making the rounds of TV stations selectively, she has avoided general press conferences answering questions from people who know the system. As late as December 2008, Arne Duncan was still CEO of CPS. Duncan was replaced by January 2009 (when he went to Washington, D.C.) by Ron Huberman. Huberman was replaced in late 2010 by Terry Mazany. Mazany was replaced in June 2011 by Jean-Claude Brizard. And Brizard was replaced after the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012 by Barbara Byrd Bennett.

Byrd Bennett last year at this time was in Detroit closing Detroit schools. Since the school closing struggle began, she has tried to spin the issues claiming that the previous closings under Arne Duncan and Mayor Richard M. Daley and then afterwards were done wrong, but without sharing specifics. Reporters who first encounter her barrage of talking points forget to delve deeply into what she is claiming about a history that most of them have been in Chicago for (when she has not).

On March 21, 2013, Byrd Bennett appeared -- alone -- with Elizabeth Brackett on WTTW's "Chicago Tonight" show. Talking as quickly as possible about history she is distorting as she speaks, Byrd Bennett shows the city why Rahm Emanuel picked her. The effusions of Orwellian phrasing -- for example, "welcoming schools" is the name given to the schools slated to receive students dumped from the closing schools -- poured out when she spoke. Then she announced that she will be leaving town, just as Rahm Emanuel did during the week the closings were announced.

"Where were all the people who are so angry right now a decade ago, when those schools were beginning to fail..." was one of the repeat talking points that Byrd Bennett repeated over and over, for example, in response to questions on Channel 11. Anyone who wants to hear her round of talking points can go to the more than 20 minutes Byrd Bennett received on Chicago Tonight. The URL is


Citywide School Closings to Cost—Not Save—CPS Nearly $1 Billion

CHICAGO—Mass closings of public schools by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Board of Education will cost Chicago Public Schools (CPS) nearly $1 billion, according to Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) analysis of the CPS FY2013 budget, Capital Improvement Program (CIP) data and Board of Education reports.

CPS has claimed a “utilization crisis” and $1 billion budget deficit to justify adversely affecting 30,000 students and causing massive upheaval at 61 public elementary schools, but that deficit is nearly equal to resources purportedly allocated for school improvement and student safety.

Based on estimates from the CPS budget and the CIP, it will cost the district approximately $750 million—$15 million per school—to provide 50 schools with computer education, counseling and social work, additional safety and security, and renovations. This figure includes $129 million in CIP costs for pre-kindergarten, students living with disabilities, libraries, play lots, air conditioning and computer labs.

Safety and security is an overwhelming concern for the CTU and the thousands of families who will have children uprooted and traversing gang territories en route to receiving schools. CPS has promised an approximately $676,000 per school to bolster safety programs and add additional security guards and Chicago police support, despite concerns from some alderman that police resources are already stretched thin on the city’s South and West sides.

CPS held that more than $550 million was needed to repair the buildings that housed the schools on its hit list, which supposedly made the structures too costly to manage. But a question remains of how the district can expect to sell or repurpose the buildings without making hundreds of millions in repairs — expenses that are in addition to the resources it says it will provide for thousands of transferred children.

“CPS is making all of these promises of how it will support these students and their schools, but once again, they’re lying just to make families sympathetic to what they’re doing,” said CTU President Karen GJ Lewis. “They’re promising students all of these things which will cost a billion dollars, which is the same amount of money they’ve claimed not to have.”

The CTU contends that it is no coincidence that the $1 billion dollar deficit CPS has claimed is nearly equal to the cost of all closing actions.

“They’ve had these plans in the works for months, which is extremely insulting and demeaning to all the families and teachers who have been out here fighting for their schools,” Lewis said. “The mayor and CPS had sealed their fate from the very beginning.”



March 23, 2013 at 11:12 AM

By: Jay Rehak

There is no savings when schools are closed. See Detroit.

People need to understand that every school that is closed costs the community and city far more than if it remained open. When a school closes, surrounding properties are devalued. (See Detroit) When schools are closed, neighborhood businesses are negatively impacted (See Detroit). When businesses are negatively impacted, tax revenues are reduced and City budgets are negatively impacted. (See Detroit). People leave (See Detroit.) The only people who profit are bondholders who receive increased revenue because bond rates are increased due to the poor credit rating of the City. (See Detroit.) Bondholders generally don't live in the City they are exploiting for interest payments so they don't care what happens to the city. (See Detroit).

March 23, 2013 at 1:23 PM

By: Jean R Schwab

Closings so charters can expand?

Humbolt Elementary School is to be closed because it is underutilized. About a block away Erie Charter School is getting a whole new addition in anticipation for the closing of Humbolt. Who is paying for Erie's new addition? tax payers? It just doesn't make sense -- unless the closings are designed to push the children into the charters (again?).

March 23, 2013 at 1:56 PM

By: George N. Schmidt

Rahm Hollywood scripts, and phony numbers

When Substance began 35 years ago (more or less), the news was reported based on accuracy, not on some simplistic narrative now practiced.

Chicago had three or four major daily newspapers, the daily Defender, and reporters covering the news for every TV and radio station. The weekend talk shows -- back in the days when "public interest" programming was required -- heard from all points of view. There were probably 50 reporters beyond Substance covering Chicago news and regularly doing CPS news.

Those reporters didn't play "He said, but she said..." "journalism."

They began with accurate reporting of the facts. There was no "other" version of a story if the facts were clear.

Our friend Lu Palmer, then with the Daily News, got into trouble (but kept his job) for reporting accurately that all the bullets in Fred Hampton's bedroom were fired towards the bed where Fred was sleeping. In other words, Edward Hanrahan, the State's Attorney whose private "police" force had murdered the chairman of the Black Panther Party, was lying.

Fred Hampton had been drugged, it turned out later, by a paid police informant. That spy also provided the State's Attorney's with a diagram of the apartment on Monroe St. where those people murdered Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. Once Lu had the story straight, there was no "other side" about that murder. Fred Hampton and Mark Clark did not do a gunfight.

It took decades of neoliberal propagandizing to get us to where we are in Chicago today.

No context.

No skepticism.

If Barbara Byrd Bennett says that CPS will "save" hundreds of millions of dollars, then that's the "news" according to the way news is reported by those reporting the "news" in Chicago today. No lie is too big.

It's an irony that there are so many people vying on this 10th Anniversary for the Judith Miller award. For those with short memories, Judith Miller was the "reporter" for The New York Times who reported, based on anonymous high level sources, that Saddam Hussein had WMDs. Miller paraded around as an expert on "national security" for several years and helped get us into a vicious war that is still going on.

Her clones are spread across Chicago today.

For a year and a half, Substance reporters went to various Rahm Emanuel media events and watched how the majority of reporters for the corporate media sat primly, notebooks on lap, taking dictation from the mayor. The stuff in those notebooks, with help from the 'Mayor's Press Office," becomes "news" day after day. When there force feeding is not being done by the "Mayor's Press Officer," reporters favored by power can count on the CPS "Office of Communications" to feed them quotes, no matter how bizarre or mendacious, which will then fill the "news" columns of the print media and the column inches of pundits who owe their jobs to their value to those who rule Chicago as ruling class propagandists.

Just as the review of the lies that got us into Iraq ten years ago are now being done by the national press, so the lies of today's Chicago "news" will have to be reviewed. These are the things that will eventually be taught in journalism schools, except those completely bankrupt.

After listening to the TV and radio reports on CPS this week, I'm still waiting for one reporter to interrupt Barbara Byrd Bennett and say, "Wait a minute. Can you give me one example of the numbers that add up to what you are saying?"

Or bring out the pictures from Attucks Elementary School that Nate took two weeks ago.

Or ask how much CPS has wasted over the years keeping Near North Career Magnet High School closed.

But, today, there is no requirement for accuracy. The result is this.

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