Task force: CPS should be transparent about school repair, closings

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The Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force wants state lawmakers to force CPS to make clear to the public why some schools are being fixed, while others sit in disrepair. They also want CPS officials to spend a longer time talking to parents and others about they are planning on closing or turning around a school.

The Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force wants state lawmakers to force CPS to make clear to the public why some schools are being fixed, while others sit in disrepair. They also want CPS officials to spend a longer time talking to parents and others about they are planning on closing or turning around a school.
The task force was formed in the Spring of 2009 at the urging of community groups  that have long been frustrated and confused by the district’s criteria for closing and reconstituting schools, and they want a “master facilities plan” to guide future closings, rehabs and new construction.
At a public input meeting Friday in Chicago, the 15-member committee – made up of legislators, community leaders, teachers and parents – revealed their proposed improvements for funding and maintaining school buildings.  
Greater transparency is a key objective of the proposed legislation.  If it’s approved, CPS would have to publish a list of every building it owns online, including how much money is being spent on each property and how many students use it each day.  They would also have to give three months’ advance notice of proposals to sell or demolish a facility.
The Board would also need to revel how it determines which schools are given priority for requested improvements or repairs.  This, the task force hopes, will give communities better perspective on why some schools receive funds sooner than others.
A common issue voiced during the public input sessions involved a lack of communication about school closings and turnarounds.  To alleviate this, the task force suggested that CPS notify communities at least six months before making changes to school buildings.  Public hearings should also be mandatory, they said, at least three months before finalizing a decision.
During the planning phase, people also noted that CPS lacked transition plans when schools were phased out and combined with nearby facilities.  The task force suggested that CPS develop a year-long assistance plan for every school that is altered – students of phased-out schools, for example, should be sent to significantly higher-quality schools and have guaranteed access to bussing.
At the forefront of any new policies should be a  committee of teachers, students, and parents, the task force said.  The public should play a vital role in any long-range planning for school buildings, including a proposed ten-year master facility plan and a five-year capital improvement plan.
Two more public input meetings to review the legislative proposals will be held next week – one at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 23 at Northern Trust Bank, 7801 S. State St., and another at 5 p.m. on Feb. 24 at Roberto Clemente High School, 1147 N. Western Ave.