School closing plans kick into higher gear

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CPS is making some quick moves as leaders deal with a tight timeline for what could be the biggest closure of schools ever.

This week, CPS officials posted a Request For Proposals for logistics management services, including inventorying equipment, putting locks on doors, hiring movers and making sure that records get to the schools where the displaced students end up. CPS asked companies bidding on the job to give prices for 20, 40, 60, 80, 100 and 129 schools.

The pre-proposal is due on Friday and the full proposal is due on March 25. About a week later, CPS intends on awarding the contract.   

The district also sent out an e-mail to providers asking them to take a survey detailing the services they could offer to welcoming schools. Among the activities suggested for current and incoming students at the welcoming school are field trips, school improvement projects and team-building workshops. The survey also asks whether the provider can offer these services for free, as part of its current offerings, or would need additional funding.

The survey must be returned by Friday.  

These two requests underscore the difficulty of the timeline that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS leaders chose for this process. Much of the specific planning around the closing and welcoming schools is set to happen in April and May, before the Board of Education officially votes on which schools to close.

State law dictates that 60 days must lapse between the announcement of the recommendations and the board vote. Also, between the recommendation announcement and the board vote, public hearings are to take place where people can supposedly still try to keep their school open.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has not announced what schools she plans to close yet, which means a vote can’t take place til at least mid-May. Spokeswoman Becky Carroll has said that the recommendations are not a done deal. “These are merely recommendations by the CEO,” she said

But, even within the Request for Proposals for the logistics management team, there seems to be some confusion. The proposal says the “final list of school closings published on March 31, 2013.”

“Immediately upon award (April 3),” the logistics company is to start doing an inventory of closing schools and welcoming schools so that orders for textbooks and furniture can take place this spring, according to the RFP.

According to the RFP, locks will be changed at the closing schools by June 28, two days after the official end of school. Staff from each closing school, including the counselor, clerk, custodian and engineers, will stay on through the closure and welcoming activities.

The logistics coordinator will hire movers and packers and warehousing. One logistical nightmare: Any material bought with a grant needs to follow the students, teachers and principals participating in or responsible for the grant and shouldn’t be mixed in with other material.

These requests also confirm that closing schools will end up being an expensive process as desks, books and computers must be moved, buildings must be shuttered and services must be provided to try to create a smooth transition. In addition, Byrd-Bennett has hired ex-Marine Tom Tyrrell to help with logistics. How much Tyrell is being paid is unclear, as his hire was not approved by the Board of Education, nor is he listed as a vendor.

CPS received a $478,000 grant from the Walton Foundation to facilitate the school closing process.