CPS releases draft 10-year capital plan

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On page 36 of the long-awaited draft of the district’s 10-year master facilities plan is this revelation: The district will only save $437 million in capital costs by closing schools, significantly less than the original figure of $560 million.

The updated figure is the result of new assessments being done to prepare the final version of the 10-year master facilities plan, says CPS spokeswoman Kelley Quinn. Also, the $560 million figure included some mistakes that district officials have now corrected.

The district has not published a comprehensive facilities plan in years. The advocates who pushed for the state law that required CPS to create the plan wanted it to present a forward-looking vision for the district, outlining what each community has and needs for its schools. Instead, the draft for the most part is a reiteration of the status quo, with few details about new schools that might be planned over the next decade and little specific mention of charter schools.

CPS Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley said the draft plan won’t be finalized until October and district leaders believe that, through the community engagement process, the plan will become more specific.  

The plan does state that one of the district’s “beliefs” is that families should have high-quality options to choose from.  It also says district officials might push for more co-sharing of facilities—11 are planned for the coming year–to provide “additional options to families, without adding more buildings to our footprint.”

Though 54 school closings are in the works, the plan does not say exactly how shuttered buildings will be used. However, it notes that under-utilized facilities might become homes for health centers, early childhood programs and other auxiliary services for families.

Fewer students, less cash

Two common themes repeatedly stated by CPS as a rationale for closings are also repeated in the plan: The district has fewer students and not enough money. In fact, the document opens with a letter from CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett that repeats the argument, including the statistic that the city has 145,000 fewer children than it did in 2000.

Between 2011 and 2016, only four of 30 large community areas in Chicago are expected to see any population growth and three of those four are expected to grow by fewer than 60 school-aged children. McKinley Park is expected to have 396 more students.

Keeping up with basic repairs would cost about $350 million per year, but the district only expects to have a capital budget of between $100 million and $200 million per year.  Total maintenance of the current building portfolio is $4 billion.

Over the next 10 years, CPS is predicting even more decline. However, some neighborhoods are expected to experience enrollment increases, especially the Bridgeport-Chinatown area, Reed-Dunning on the Northwest Side and the Loop. Also, the North Side communities of Sauganash and Lincoln Park are expected to have more children enrolled in their schools.

Overcrowding solutions

CPS says it won’t try to solve overcrowding in schools adding new buildings, pointing out that the price tag for a new facility is estimated at $45 million and the debt service on a bond for that amount is about $3.7 million each year for 30 years.

“To put this into context, an investment of that magnitude could fund 50 additional teachers for 30 years to reduce our class size or provide new course offerings,” it says.

The plan says the preferred method of dealing with overcrowding will be boundary changes, to limit or prevent out-of-area students from enrolling in special programs, such as regional gifted programs. District officials would also look at consolidating schools into underutilized buildings or co-locating a part of the school in another building.

Only if all schools in the area are overcrowded, based on enrollment from the attendance area, will CPS consider building a school.

The capital plan for the coming year, however, does include money for one annex: Oriole Park, on the far Northwest Side will get a $20 million addition if board members approve the proposal.

Ald. Mary O’Connor, a principal from a neighboring school, and the LSC chairwoman Colleen Schultz spoke at the most recent board meeting to beg for more space. Schultz said her school and others around it are in desperate straits, with no room for lunchrooms, libraries and old modular units filled to capacity.

“I am ecstatic,” said Tim Riff, principal of Oriole School, upon learning about the proposal. “We have a lot of students in larger classes and it creates difficulty.”

Alternative schools, military programs, other specialties

Another issue not often discussed, but brought up in the draft master plan, is the high number of dropouts and students who are school but not on the path to graduation. Some 56,000 young people under 20 years of age in Chicago are in this situation, according to an analysis included in the plan. Currently, there is space for fewer than 7,400 students in alternative schools.

Cecile Carroll, a member of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, says she thinks that the need should be addressed. But she said the future, final plan should include a vision on how to reduce the number of dropouts.

CPS also plans an expansion of junior ROTC and military high schools, which are called “service learning leadership opportunities” in the plan. CPS will add 10 junior ROTC programs over 10 years and three military high schools. The Board of Education has already approved an expansion of Rickover Naval Academy and Marine Math and Science Academy to include 7th and 8th grade.

The plan explains that there is “demand and overall interest” in these programs, with 5,400 applicants for 900 seats.

The plan also says the district will expand gifted, selective enrollment, IB, STEM program and schools, though does not offer up a number beyond what has already been announced. Several high schools will get extra career and technical education programs.