Panel to call for transparency on capital spending, school closings

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Public hearings sent a clear message to a task force on CPS facilities:
New legislation should force the district to be more transparent about
its plans for using buildings and for closing schools. Public hearings sent a clear message to a task force on CPS facilities: New legislation should force the district to be more transparent about its plans for using buildings and for closing schools.
The Chicago Education Facilities Task Force, created by the Illinois Legislature last year, held the last in a series of public hearings last week.  The task force will take public opinion into account as it prepares legislative recommendations for the General Assembly next January. 

The specifics of the recommendations are still being hammered out, says Cecile Carroll, a member of the task force and the education organizer for Blocks Together, a West Side community group.

But in general, the public wants to know where CPS allocates its funds – most notably, the $750 million in bonds issued for school construction and renovation, backed by stimulus money – and how decisions are made on when to open, close and phase-out certain schools, Carroll says.

 

The request for more data could play a significant role in shaping the task force’s legislative proposals.

“It alarms me that the system we’re using now…is not resonating with the community as efficient,” she adds.  “These are things that, as a task force member, I know we have to improve on.”

At last week’s final hearing, Patricia Nix-Hodes, associate director of the law project at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, spoke about the damaging impact of school closings on homeless students.  A study released last week from the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness found that school closings in New York disproportionately affected homeless students, who did not receive adequate support in making the transition to a new school.

 

Homeless students “are already highly mobile, and forcing them to change schools yet another time has serious academic consequences,” Nix-Hodes said. Last year, CPS identified 12,512 students as homeless, an increase of almost 2,000 students in just the last year.

The coalition tries to make sure that displaced homeless students maintain their right to attend equal or better performing schools, the right to transportation to those schools, and transition services once they arrive. 

Carroll says she was not caught off-guard by any of the information shared.

“I’m one of the more fortunate task force members, to have sweated it out with a lot of these parents and kids,” she says. “So a lot of what came out of the hearings – people’s recommendations and experiences – was, for me, not a surprise.”

The members of the task force are:

Rep. Cynthia Soto (D-Humboldt Park, Chicago)

Rep. Esther Golar (D-Back of the Yards, Chicago)

Sen. Randy Hultgren (R-Wheaton)

Sen. Heather Steans (D-Edgewater, Chicago)

Rep. Bob Pritchard (R-Sycamore)

Sen. William Delgado (D-Hermosa, Chicago)

Sen. Dan Cronin (R-Lombard)

Rep. Skip Saviano (R-Elmwood Park)