Children's safety and morality are 'outside the scope...' of the hearings... Another 'Done Deal' on school closings... CPS lawyer blurts out the grim truth -- the 'hearings' are a sham because the hearing officer must simply affirm that CPS has followed its version of Illinois law

Reading the fine print, anyone who has been following the annual hit lists knows what CPS officials proclaimed after the hearing officers offered critical comments on the CPS proposed action. “Rather than evaluate whether the draft transition plan identifies the items required by the statute," CPS attorney James Bebley stated, "the Report forms an opinion regarding the sufficiency of safety and security and academic supports, which is outside the scope of the Hearing Officer’s statutory role and expertise.”

The chief attorney for CPS, James Bebley, told the press that the facts don't matter at the school closing hearings, because CPS is only required to prove at the hearings that CPS complied with regulations regarding the closings that CPS had previously approved. In other words, for the eleventh year in a row, the Hit List is a "done deal" and the hearings are simply cynical public theater and will be until Illinois law is changed. Substance photo from the April 24, 2013 meting of the Chicago Board of Education by George N. Schmidt.One of the reasons people shouldn't obsess about the obnoxious tyranny of Rahm Emanuel and the blather of the revolving door of chiefs at Chicago's public schools is that every time Chicago moves to close schools, it's a "Done Deal" once the Hit List is announced. It has been that way since Arne Duncan began the dealing 11 years ago and remains that way today. Why? Because Illinois law says that's how it's supposed to be. So... Once Rahm Emanuel dumped Jean Claude Brizard as his CEO and brought in Barbara Byrd Bennett following her work decimating Detroit's public schools, and once Rahm and his advisors determined that the magic number would be FIFTY, the rest was political theater. And when the Board of Education rubber stamps the mayor's Hit List at its May 22 meeting, it won't be the first time such an event has happened.

The difference this year is that the list is longer and the organized protests have been more coherent.

It didn't take long for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS officials led by the current (but soon to be leaving) "Chief Executive Officer" Barbara Byrd Bennett to proclaim that they didn't care what the hearing officers said about the proposed school closings. Chicago was going to close those 54 schools (and turnaround and co-locate all those others) no matter what the hearings showed, no matter what the facts were, and no matter how many thousands of children's lives would be ruined and families' disrupted.

Didn't everyone know that the hearings were simply meant to rubber stamp the CPS version of reality -- and the facts didn't matter? It's been that way for ten years since I began attending the hearings, and it's just a bigger that way this year. Because of the way Illinois law is written, all CPS has to do is present its "case" according to law and the deal is done.

Only one of the many news reports I've read about the latest round of closing hearings noticed that simple fact, and teased a quote from the Board's chief lawyer, James Bebley.

Thanks to Medill New Service, the obvious is once again obvious:

CPS says hearing officers exceeded their role in opposing closing of 14 schools BY KAREE MAGEE

The recommendation by independent hearing officers that 14 imperiled schools not be closed cheered parents, but Chicago Public Schools officials forcefully disagreed with the report. Chicago Public Schools officials have recommended that 54 schools be closed. The hearing officers reports were posted to the CPS website Tuesday.

“It is my view that the Hearing Officer’s reported conclusion is incorrect,” said CPS general counsel James Bebley in written responses to 11 of the 14 decisions posted on the website. Three of the reports did not have written responses from CPS.

The proposed closures that the hearing officers have opposed include: Buckingham, Calhoun Mahalia Jackson, King, Manierre, Mayo, Morgan, Near North, Overton, Williams Elementary and Williams Middle School. The hearing officers also suggested that the closing of Stockton and Stewart elementary schools be delayed until the 2014-2015 school year when a safety plan can be put into place.

“I think it’s great. The hearing examiners have looked at the facts and have come to the same conclusion that parents, teachers, and community members have that these schools should not be closed,” said Erica Clark, member of Parents4Teachers.

The public hearings were required for each school slated to be closed to determine whether CPS was complying with state statute. The hearing officers provided a variety of reasons for keeping the individual schools open, ranging from test scores to community development. Some of the officers wrote that CPS did not take into account outside factors that are not connected to underutilization and test performance.

For example, in opposing the closure of King Elementary, independent hearing officer Bernetta Bush, said that the community’s safety concerns were a factor. “The proposals by the CEO do not indicate that the CEO used any of the discretionary criteria afforded her by the guidelines in crafting the proposed plan. The plan’s failure to address these issues renders it inadequate and it thereby fails to satisfy the 2012-2013 guidelines,” said Bush in the hearing report for King.

Bebley responded in his written response, “Rather than evaluate whether the draft transition plan identifies the items required by the statute, the Report forms an opinion regarding the sufficiency of safety and security and academic supports, which is outside the scope of the Hearing Officer’s statutory role and expertise.”

The hearing officer reports and the CPS responses are available on the CPS website. The board will make its final decision May 22, and according to Bebley’s written responses, the board will take the hearing officers reports into account. “These schools should not be closed,” Clark said. “Every excuse they have used to close these schools has been refuted. There is no excuse.”


May 10, 2013 at 12:22 PM

By: Rod Estvan

Does Substance agree with Bebley’s legal analysis

I for one did not agree with the CPS General Counsel's legal analysis of the scope of authority of hearing officers. But it appears that Substance believes Bebley's analysis is legally correct. I found that interesting.

Rod Estvan

May 10, 2013 at 4:25 PM

By: George N. Schmidt

No... But the courts and legislature have work to do

We don't agree with Bebley.

And this one is simple. If a judge orders CPS not to close those schools -- maybe even not to vote on these ridiculous lists, then maybe the time will finally have arrived when Bebley's version of reality has finally ceased to be reality.

But for now...

But the fact is that for a decade CPS has gotten away with this scam, and until both the courts and the legislature stop them, they will continue doing it -- and getting away with it. There is no reason to be optimistic. Rahm Emanuel and Barbara Byrd Bennett scammed the legislators this year (with the help of Iris Martinez) in order to extend all the deadline that had been legally in place. Otherwise, Byrd Bennett would have had to produce a reasonable Hit List by December 1, 2012 and a comprehensive ten-year facilities plan by January 1, 2013. Instead, we got months of CPS orchestrated attacks on the communities, all of it heading toward the foregone conclusion. Everyone know in October (2012) that Rahm's Year Two scam was to close 50 schools, using a revolving list of nonsensical talking points. Year One, if anyone remembers, was the "Longest School Day" nonsense.

If there are to be both legal and legislative challenges to these scams -- and a final halt to them -- we'll report them. But so far, they have not panned out. Either the judges are in the tank with City Hall or the legislators cave in, as they did in October, to City Hall.

If these hearings were for real, CPS wouldn't have been able to get away with having unqualified non-entities with fancy titles reading the scripts put in front of them at the hearings. Remember Ginger Reynolds, who once posed as an expert on all things testable? Or how about Sarah Kremsner, the "Chief Accountability Officer" who developed those ridiculous multi-colored charts fixating some teachers and principal on that year's Matrix. Or Don Buglar? Was that his name: the chief of "research" who had never been to AERA (and as far as I know, didn't know what it was until I asked him whether he was presenting...).

I've disagreed with Bebley's version of reality from the days long before Bebley, having paid his dues, finally got the chief seat in the ever expanding Law Department at Clark St. And that was served up for years by others.

No... We disagree with that nonsense, but that seems to be what the law in Illinois says. Specifically, every year CPS votes to change the so-called "Performance Criteria" -- just as this year they cooked the books on the "utilization" criteria and last year they lied about the length of Chicago's instructional days.

But so far, the Bebley version of reality has been reality. If not, I would be able to go back and find real public schools in the old Morse, or Howland, or Collins, or Calumet, of Austin, or Bunche... of dozens of other buildings that have been shut down by CPS's various lies and then given away to the charter schools scams.

The difference this year is that everyone now knows that these are scams. And from one end of the city to the other, everyone knows that Rahm's been lying about key facts about CPS from the day he began his primary campaign.

But so far, the lies have had the effect of policy, just as for 75 years policy said that black people couldn't ride in the front of a bus in 13 states. That's the tradition Rahm and BBB are in in 2013, but as long as they can make their version of the law work, we will be watching tragedy -- AGAIN -- in June when those schools are screwed by this group of hypocrites (er., "Chicago Board of Education").

May 10, 2013 at 6:31 PM

By: Rod Estvan

Scope and authority of hearing officers

105 ILCS 5/34-230 the relevant statute that applies to the hearings does not limit the scope of either the enquiry of a hearing officer or the scope of the report that officer issues relating to so called transition plans related to school closings. CPS is arguing that these officers who are effectively acting as administrative law judges (ALJ) have no ability to have discretion.

In the normal role of an ALJ their reports or decisions as a practice set forth: the statement of the issues; relevant findings of fact; conclusions of law, and reasons therefor; credibility determinations, if necessary; and a recommended disposition or order. CPS' arguments are an affront to the authority of these hearing officers. I have acted as a judicial officer under the authority of a judge and I would have been very disturbed if I was selected as an independent hearing officer and told I lacked all discretion. It is one thing for CPS to argue that a ruling by one of these hearing officers constituted abuse of discretion, but to argue as CPS did that these ALJs have no discretion at all is legally simply unbelievable.

CPS once formally accused me of abuse of discretion meaning that I was accused of failure to take into proper consideration the facts and law relating to a particular matter relating to the case I was involved in. I didn't agree with the claim and the judge in the case did not support the position of CPS, but CPS made no claim that even as a very low level officer of the court I lacked any discretion. Judges are given wide latitude in making evidentiary rulings and this is exactly what the hearing officers were ruling on in their reports. CPS as Substance correctly has noted made only perfunctory evidential submissions to the hearing officers. These hearing officers said that these submissions were not enough to met the requirements of 105 ILCS 5/34-230 and they had both a right and duty to so rule.

I think Substance is effectively confusing issues here. I agree that there is limited reason to be optimistic that the rulings against CPS will cause the CPS Board not to close schools in most cases. But CPS is none the less totally wrong claiming these hearing officers that ruled against closings in any way exceeded their authority under 105 ILCS 5/34-230 and Substance should be clear in its opposition to CPS position on that issue.

Rod Estvan

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