School Utilization Commission says CPS can handle closing 80 schools

March 6, 2013

In its final report released late Wednesday, the Commission on School Utilization found that the district  has the capacity to consolidate 80 schools and suggests CPS leaders think about shuttering schools over two years, rather than all this year.

Consolidating 80 schools, even over a two year period, would be huge. The district has never shuttered any more than 11 schools in one year.

Later in the report, it says that the school district should not impose any drastic school actions, whether they be closures or overhauls, on more than 80 schools. So far, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has not announced any overhauls, called turnarounds, in which a school's entire staff is replaced. 

Currently, CPS leaders have 129 schools that they are considering for closure and will announce their official recommendations by the end of the month.

The report's finding that CPS can handle closing 80 schools is in stark contrast to previous anonymously-sourced stories that indicated commission members believed CPS could not handle closing any more than 20 schools. It is unclear what influence CPS leaders have over the commission, which was appointed by CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and is supposed to be independent.

Byrd-Bennett originally wanted the commission to provide her a list of schools they thought should be closed. However, soon after they started meeting, commission members said they would not offer up a list. Instead, they agreed to provide criteria that they thought should take schools off the list of potential targets.

Byrd-Bennett then initiated a series of 28 community meetings in which her staff collected feedback from thousands of people, nearly all of whom argued against the closing of any school.

Since the community meetings began in early February, the commission seemed to fade into the background.  

 In the final report, commission members make four other suggestions, all of which are things that Byrd-Bennett or other officials have talked about doing.

They are:

Only close schools where students can be transferred safely to better-performing schools.

 Consider annex space, students with disabilities and their needs, pre-Kindergarten classrooms, Head Start placements, in addition to how the school fares in the official utilization formula. Also, if communities have developed plans, consider them.

Spend the money to do it right, so that students are moved safely and as effectively as possible into better schools and so that receiving schools have the infrastructure they need for all students to succeed.

Create community-based building committees to develop plans for vacated school buildings so that the facilities remain community assets rather than become eyesores, or worse.