City Council hearing ends without vote on school closings, turnarounds

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Is it better to do something that means next to nothing, or to do nothing at all?

That’s probably the question that Alderman Latasha Thomas was asking herself this afternoon during a four-hour City Council education committee hearing, as members considered passing a non-binding resolution to put a one-year moratorium on school closings and turnarounds.

Is it better to do something that means next to nothing, or to do nothing at all?

That’s probably the question that Alderman Latasha Thomas was asking
herself this afternoon during a four-hour City Council education
committee hearing, as members considered passing a non-binding
resolution to put a one-year moratorium on school closings and
turnarounds. In the end, the committee recessed without taking any
action, leaving little chance that the resolution would be passed
before the Board of Education votes on a slate of school actions
Wednesday.

Thomas had summoned CPS leaders to the meeting, with plans to hear them
out and allow aldermen to make statements and ask questions. But
Alderman Ricardo Munoz insisted that Thomas open the hearing up to
public testimony. After a recess, she relented.

Huberman—who promised more public input into future closing and
turnaround decisions—and his two top administrators left before members
of the audience had a chance to speak.

Some aldermen and members of the public noted the absence of Huberman
and his team. John Jackson from Operation PUSH said he would have hoped
they would be “courteous enough to sit and listen for a minute.”

Thomas also seemed a bit perturbed, but just pursed her lips, rather than disparage CPS leadership.

Because the schools are under mayoral control, the City Council has no
jurisdiction over Chicago Public Schools. But the resolution’s
sponsors, Aldermen Pat Dowell and Freddrenna Lyle, wanted to send a
message to CPS, as well as have an opportunity to address Huberman
about their concerns.

Several of the aldermen’s questions focused on why particular schools
were selected for closure or turnaround, while others that also met the
criteria were left off the list. More than 60 schools fit the
district’s criteria, yet only nine are still facing action after five
were taken off the chopping block last week.

The fact that the district did not specifically target schools with the
worst performance has sparked conspiracy theories among some observers
and charges that the decisions are politically motivated, several
aldermen noted. 

Huberman said only that administrators consider “many moving parts” in
making the decisions. Chief Education Officer Barbara Easton-Watkins
was more specific, saying officials look at such factors as whether
teachers are attending professional development or doing the
assessments that CPS wants them to do.

“We go beyond the performance data and look at the fidelity of the implementation of core programs,” she said.

Aldermen also had questions about the process CPS took in informing the
public and involving them in decisions. Several of them noted that,
even though they are elected officials, they only learned of proposed
closings and turnarounds in their communities a day or two before they
were announced.

Huberman committed to have hearings later this year about the process,
to get ideas about how to improve it. He also said that school
officials will hold hearings at schools on probation to inform parents
of the state of their school. Finally, he announced a new School Design
Unit, which will work on managing the process year round.

Still, members of the audience said they wanted the education committee
and the City Council at large, to vote on the resolution. Jesse
Sharkey, a member of the Caucus Of Rank and File Educators, a group of
progressive teachers, said at least then people would know where their
alderman stood on the issue.  

Thomas said she does plan on moving the resolution out of committee some time within the next 30 days.