Take 5: Budget uncertainty, charter withdrawals, another online test

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CPS CEO Forrest Claypool says if CPS doesn't get help from Springfield it will mean more cuts, borrowing and teacher layoffs.

Photo by Max Herman

CPS CEO Forrest Claypool says if CPS doesn't get help from Springfield it will mean more cuts, borrowing and teacher layoffs.

CPS has been counting on the state to provide an extra $500 million to help the school system balance its budget, but it now seems unlikely that help will arrive before the district puts out its overall spending plan early next week, the Tribune reports.

The Illinois Senate passed a bill this week that would provide some assistance for CPS to cover pension payments, and would freeze property taxes for two years across the state. But that bill doesn’t appear to have House support, and Gov. Bruce Rauner said Wednesday that he wants the measure to include provisions that would give local governments the right to decide what benefits they would negotiate with labor unions.

New CPS CEO Forrest Claypool issued a statement saying the district doesn’t “believe that mixing labor issues into this bill will help address CPS’ fiscal situation.” And if relief doesn’t come, he told ABC, CPS “will have to make additional cuts, additional layoffs of teachers and more unsustainable borrowing.”

As contract negotiations continue with the Chicago Teachers Union, Claypool told the Tribune that teachers should pick up the full 9 percent of their pension contributions — up from the 2 percent they pay now, with CPS covering the rest — if the mayor’s plan to combine state and city teacher pension funds doesn’t work out. The city had floated that idea in earlier negotiations, but the CTU opposes such a move, noting it would amount to a pay cut and go against a long-standing agreement with teachers.

“I don’t see a solution that does not involve the teachers paying the 9 percent,” Claypool told the Tribune. “At the Chicago Transit Authority, where I was previously, employees pay 11.5 to 12 percent. No one pays 2 percent.” In the 1980s, CPS lowered employees’ pension payments from 9 percent to 2 percent in lieu of a salary increase.

2. Charter changes … Two more charter networks, Intrinsic and KIPP, have withdrawn or modified proposals to open new schools on the Northwest and the Southwest sides.

Intrinsic spokesman Solomon Lieberman says the charter board decided to scrap its proposal to open a school north of Fullerton Avenue because it had been unable to find a site. “It was challenging to engage directly with the community without knowing what our community would be,” he said.

The decision was made days before the North Side Neighborhood Advisory Council (NAC) was slated to interview Intrinsic officials about their proposal for a third school. (NACS are made up of area residents who volunteered to  review charter school proposals.) Last month two dozen members of the North Side NAC joined together to send a letter to CPS and Intrinsic officials saying that they had serious problems with the proposal and could not “support already scarce resources being poured into continuing expensive processes like NAC, nor the establishment of new charters that are not needed.”

Meanwhile, KIPP Chicago said it is no longer considering Chicago Lawn for a new elementary school — a decision hailed by some Southwest Side activists who oppose new charter schools in the area. KIPP also took its Bloom campus in Englewood off the table as a possible site for an expansion into primary grades. The network, which still has three active proposals for new schools, continues to eye Bronzeville, Woodlawn, West Humboldt Park and West Garfield Park for new elementary schools, in addition to expanding its middle school in Austin to include primary grades.

In a July 29 letter to CPS officials and members of the Southwest NAC, the charter network said it was “unable to uncover viable and affordable facility options” in Chicago Lawn or Englewood. They added that KIPP wants to pursue primary grade expansion at KIPP Bloom in the future and would be open to talking to Chicago Lawn area residents who may want a school “down the line.”

CPS will vote on all proposals for new charter, contract and alternative schools in October.

3. Rubber stamp board? … A Sun-Times analysis confirms what many CPS observers have known for years: unanimous School Board votes, even on controversial issues such as the $20 million no-bid SUPES contract, are routine. Previous board president David Vitale, for example, never voted against any CPS recommendation, while two other members, Vice President Jesse Ruiz and Henry Bienen, cast dissenting votes only once.

Vitale explained to the Sun-Times that items only reached the board meeting for action after consensus had already been reached. “So it is not surprising that your data shows relatively few no votes as significant briefing, discussion and changes to action items were frequently negotiated to develop that consensus,” he says. “Furthermore, your data would not reflect items that never came before the board for action because consensus could not be achieved.”

The virtually all-unanimous votes are not unique to the board appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. In a 2007 article titled “Rubber stamp or glue?Catalyst reported that in the previous 12 years, the board had split on only three votes. “That’s thousands of unanimous votes since 1995, the year Mayor Daley replaced a School Board nominated by a grassroots committee with today’s corporate-like oversight body,” the story noted.

Bienen, meanwhile, spoke to Chicago Magazine about the SUPES vote, saying that “if I ever regretted a vote, obviously, it was the no-bid vote.” He explained that “it wasn’t that we somehow didn’t know that Barbara Byrd-Bennett had some involvement in SUPES… Part of the reason to do it was because she was knowledgeable about it.”

Bienen also took some digs at the Chicago Teachers Union, saying it “has never met a reform it likes.” CTU President Karen Lewis fired back in another Q&A with the magazine: “We’ve never met a corporate reform that we like. That would be true.”

4. Another assessment … Illinois students in 5th, 8th and 10th grades will take a new online science test next spring, a development overshadowed by all the attention that the PARCC exam has received, the Tribune reports.

The science test, known as the Illinois State Science Assessment, will emphasize critical thinking and is based on the Next Generation Science Standards, which were developed in collaboration with scientists, researchers, education experts and 26 states.

So far, 13 states and Washington, D.C. have adopted the standards, which were finalized two years ago. Illinois adopted the standards early last year to improve the state’s science education track record, which has been plagued by dwindling science classroom time and by subpar science ACT test scores.

Nationally, many educators have praised the new standards but there also has been backlash in states that oppose the standards’ stance on evolution and climate change.

Illinois had planned to pilot the new assessment without administering it statewide, as districts were still familiarizing themselves with the new materials after a previous science assessment had been deemed obsolete. But the decision not to give any statewide science assessment during the 2014-15 school year was a violation of federal law, and the U.S. Department of Education told Illinois it had to administer a science assessment in the upcoming school year.

5. Wasteful professional development … A new study shows that despite the billions of dollars pouring into professional development efforts, school districts may be ineffective in helping teachers improve, according to a WBEZ story. The study was released by the non-profit TNTP, formerly known as The New Teacher Project, the group founded by education reform advocate Michelle Rhee).

The group surveyed teachers in three large school districts and one charter school network, all unnamed. The survey found that 70 percent of teachers showed no improvement on evaluations, and that what little improvements there were, could not be tied definitively to professional development. The findings are consistent with a small June survey of Chicago teachers on the effectiveness of professional development, released by Educators 4 Excellence. Similarly, two recent federally funded studies also concluded that “current approaches to teacher training have no significant impact on performance, the Washington Post reported.

One last thing … If you haven’t already, find an hour to listen to the powerful This American Life story about what happened when one school district in a St. Louis suburb “accidentally” desegregated. The story was reported by Nikole Hannah-Jones, the award-winning reporter who looked at the resegregation of America’s schools for ProPublica last year. The radio program will air the second part in the series on school integration tomorrow.