Wednesday’s meeting was a busy one. The board voted unanimously to sell three more buildings that housed elementary schools that were shuttered in the historic 2013 school closures for a total of $8.5 million. The schools are Near North, Von Humboldt and Overton. Previously, the district sold off the shuttered Peabody and Marconi schools. CPS is seeking bids for the old Trumbull site.
The Near North building in West Town is being sold for $5.1 million to Svigos Asset Management, which is planning a mixed-use residential and commercial development.
Von Humboldt in Humboldt Park is being sold for $3.1 million to IFF Von Humboldt LLC, a development firm that has committed to incorporate at least one component community members called for during community meetings. These include housing for current and retired teachers, office space, day care programs or a cafe. While another firm offered more money, CPS chose the IFF because its repurposing plan more closely aligned with community preferences, district officials said.
Finally, CPS is selling the Overton building in the Bronzeville neighborhood to the Washington Park Development group for $325,000. The site will be repurposed as a mixed-use development and incorporate either counseling or mentoring programs, career training programs, housing, retail or manufacturing space.
2. More borrowing … The Board also agreed to let CPS issue up to another $1.2 billion in bonds over the next three years in part to pay for capital projects — for example, repairing buildings or adding annexes and labs. The money would also be used to pay for offsetting some of the fees for ending costly financial swap deals, and refinancing old debt.
This comes just a month after CPS agreed to borrow $200 million and take out a line of credit to borrow another billion dollars. The district still has not released a full budget for the 2015-2016 school year, and the school-level budgets CPS gave out two weeks ago are based on $500 million in aid from Springfield that has yet to materialize.
Chief Financial Officer Ginger Ostro estimates that $600 to $650 million of the new debt would be used for capital projects — “many of which are already underway” — while $150 million to $250 million would be used to refinance old debt. Another $250 million to $300 million would be used to replace variable interest-rate debt with fixed-rate debt and pay termination fees on old swap deals.
“This is part of our broader plan to achieve long-term stability in our financing by converting to fixed-rate (interest) and moving away from swaps,” Ostro says.
CPS officials also said they’re in negotiations with banks over some of the controversial swaps, although they declined to offer details.
3. Salaries announced… New CEO Forrest Claypool will be paid the same $250,000-a-year salary his predecessors received, but unlike them he won’t be locked into a three-year contract.
Claypool, who officially takes over on Monday, won’t be working under any formal written agreement, a CPS spokesman said. That gives the mayor’s office flexibility in choosing the next CEO and prevents the possibility of a contractually obligated payout. When Jean-Claude Brizard left after just over a year as CEO, his severance package included a year’s salary, plus health insurance for him and his family.
Meanwhile, new Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson will be paid a $195,000 salary, up nearly $44,000 over her previous network chief salary. The same salary was paid to Noemi Donoso, who occupied that role before Byrd-Bennett assumed leadership of CPS and eliminated the chief education officer position. Denise Little, a senior advisor to Claypool, will receive $180,000 a year, up $5,000 from her old salary.
The district also announced four other hires: Minerva Garcia-Sanchez will become the Network 7 chief; Donell Underdue, the Network 10 chief; Paul Osland, the chief facilities officer; and Michael Moss, the budget director.
The Board unanimously passed every agenda item Wednesday, including items we wrote about earlier this week: a new form for Local School Councils to us in evaluating principals, a contract to privatize school vending and broadcast services and three contracts worth $2.2 million with Pearson, a giant education services company.
4. Kindergarten suspensions… The BGA reports that CPS suspended 368 kindergartners during the 2013-14 school year, nearly 70 percent of whom were African-American — despite the fact that these students make up less than half the kindergarten population in the district. The racial disparity has long persisted in CPS.
Kindergarten suspensions are down from the prior school year, but are “up significantly” from two years earlier.
Under new CPS rules that went into effect this past school year, students below 2nd grade are to be suspended only if they “present an imminent endangerment.” CPS tells the BGA that suspensions of young children fell this past school year, but the district stopped including charter schools in its total count, and the figures don’t include instances where there’s no formal documentation of a suspension, such as when parents are asked to pick up children from school.
5. Principal removals … Senn High School’s principal, who’d been credited with major improvements at that Edgewater neighborhood school, resigned this week following an investigation by the CPS inspector general into test score manipulation. The Sun-Times reports that Susan Lofton is being accused of lowering the test scores of special education students who had applied for Senn’s Magnet Fine and Performing Arts Program “to weed them out of the school.”
CPS data show that the percentage of students at Senn with individual education programs (IEPs) has fallen from just over 16 percent in the 2009-2010 school year to 11 percent this year. Lofton was one of several North Side principals who publicly campaigned against a proposal to move a Noble charter campus to that part of the city, arguing that neighborhood schools had been on the upswing in recent years and would struggle to compete against a charter school.
In addition, Fred Aguirre, the principal of Marine Leadership Academy at Ames, was removed from his post. Sources tell the Sun-Times that Aguirre is alleged to have violated district residency requirements; property records show he claimed a home owners’ exemption on a Cicero home during the past two years.
A few more things … because there’s been a lot happening this week. The Tribune has a story worth a read that details how a 2005 state law meant to discourage school districts outside Chicago from giving outgoing educators large raises to boost their pensions has little-known provisions that allow the state to waive penalties.
Diane Rado writes: “Dozens of districts didn’t have to pay a dime in penalties after giving hefty raises. That didn’t mean the bill for the unpaid penalties just disappeared. About $110 million was still needed to cover the inflated pensions, and the state, already struggling with massive pension obligations, had to pick up the tab.”
One interesting item pulled from Wednesday’s board meeting agenda was a $250,000 one-year renewal with Leap Innovations to pilot education technology programs at six schools. New CPS board member Mark Furlong, a retired banker, had previously headed up Leap’s board though he resigned from that position to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.
Check out DNAinfo’s Education page to see their extensive coverage across the city of how different schools are reeling from budget cuts based off enrollment projections. (Last week the online news site also dug into the new start times for CPS high schools.)
The Tribune also has a story looking at special education cuts throughout CPS, although district officials have given few details about this matter.