Take 5: Little Village protest, trouble for state universities, closed schools

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On Thursday morning, activists gathered outside a school in Little Village to announce their demand that CPS postpone a plan to co-locate three schools, and instead allow a year-long community planning process. Activists said CPS agreed to respond by Monday.

Photo by Melissa Sanchez

On Thursday morning, activists gathered outside a school in Little Village to announce their demand that CPS postpone a plan to co-locate three schools, and instead allow a year-long community planning process. Activists said CPS agreed to respond by Monday.

A public hearing over the proposed co-location of three Little Village schools turned into an hours-long sit-in late last night when about 40 parents, teachers and students refused to leave a school building until getting a response from district officials.

The group is fighting a CPS plan to co-locate the high school grades of Spry Community School into a building across the street that already houses Saucedo and Telpochcalli elementary schools. When CPS first announced the plan in December, officials said the change would allow the district to save some money by ending a building lease. But the plan came as a surprise to many staff and families who say the elementary school classrooms are already overcrowded and there is no space for another school.

Now the activists are asking CPS officials to take the proposal off the table and allow for a year-long community planning process so they can weigh in on a plan for the schools. During a press conference this morning, activists said a network chief and another district official visited the school last night, and promised to take the protesters’ demands back to Central Office and return on Monday with a formal response. In addition, the officials promised that at least one School Board member would visit the schools. “It’s a small step forward,” says Alicia Castillo, who has a daughter at Saucedo. “We are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.”

A CPS spokesman says the district “will carefully consider the supportive and concerned comments from the community.”

Last night’s hearing was the second of three that must take place before district officials can vote on any school actions. The final hearing is next Wednesday evening at Central Office, and hearings for another half-dozen proposed school actions also take place next week.

2. Missing equipment … The Better Government Association reports that CPS officials don’t know what happened to thousands of computers, desks, chairs and other equipment that were removed when 50 schools closed three years ago.

“Unfortunately, the previous CPS administration did not adequately manage or keep records on the day-to-day operations of the transition logistics,” a district spokeswoman said.

Interviews and an analysis of CPS records found that the district is unclear on the whereabouts of books, 23,500 chairs, 8,100 desks and 5,000 tables from the closed schools. Additionally, only about 3,700 of more than 9,400 desktop and laptop computers were reassigned to other schools or CPS headquarters. The district couldn’t provide an estimated value for the missing equipment.

Only 60 percent of the roughly 12,000 students displaced due to the closings transferred to schools designated for them. Now, the BGA says CPS CEO Forrest Claypool is withholding a report that shows where these students went and their academic performance. District officials say the document is still in draft form — even though it’s more than a year old — and therefore not subject to open records laws.

3. Moving special ed money … The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) is proposing to redirect $305 million in funds historically set aside for special education services to school districts in the form of general state aid — which can be used how districts see fit. The Tribune reports that 211 districts would lose state money under the plan — two-thirds of which are in Chicago’s suburbs — while 641 districts stand to gain, including CPS. ISBE already approved the plan for the coming school year’s budget, despite some concerns about how the cuts would affect special education programs. The Legislature still has to approve it.

Supporters say the plan makes school funding allocations more equitable, as wealthier districts would be targeted for cuts, while poorer ones would receive more money. It comes as lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully in recent years to reform the state’s school funding formula so that districts with greater financial need get more assistance.

Districts losing special education funds would still be responsible for providing services. Some advocates are torn about the approach. “It is that Catch-22,” the head of the Illinois Alliance of Administrators of Special Education told the Tribune. “While it scares us in some regard, we also recognize that it does allow districts hurting the most to recapture some funds.”

4. ‘Damaged’ higher ed … As the deadlock over the state’s budget continues, Chicago State University announced that it could shut its doors in March because it won’t have funds to pay employees. The South Side public school serves about 4,800 students — with black and low-income students making up 80 percent of the population — and relies heavily on state funding, about $36 million per year. But with no financial assistance since July, it has been operating on cash reserves.

“This is a crisis by every definition of the word crisis,” school spokesman Thomas Wogan told the Tribune. “We will have to find solutions to finish our semester without enough cash to operate.”

Bloomberg reports that CSU “is considering drawing up a financial exigency plan, equivalent to college bankruptcy, as soon as next month,” as well as missing bond payments to stay afloat. The college has struggled with enrollment, seeing a 29-percent decline over the last four years.

CSU has been paying for students’ MAP grants, which have also been on hold since the summer, and so far made cuts to personnel, according to the Chicago Crusader, including campus security. If the school runs out of funds in the next couple of months, it plans to ask faculty to work without pay so students can complete the semester, lay off some of the school’s 800 employees and eliminate student services. CSU students protested earlier this month to demand a budget fix.

Other public universities dependent on state funding, such as Northeastern Illinois University, are in similar situations. Last week, the presidents of these nine schools sent a letter to Gov. Bruce Rauner and legislative leaders, saying the pending closure of schools will be “catastrophic for the economy of the State of Illinois and … will shatter the dreams and lives of hundreds of thousands of Illinois students and families.”

5. Postponed early ed consolidation … City Colleges of Chicago officials have pushed back a controversial plan to consolidate its child development programs at a single campus for another two years, according to Medill Reports Chicago.

Last year students and faculty protested the plan, saying that many students from the South and West sides would likely drop out if they had to make long commutes to classes offered only at Truman College on the North Side. Some said the plan ran contrary to a statewide effort to diversify the early childhood educator pipeline with more bilingual teachers and teachers of color.

The decision to postpone the consolidation came during December’s Board of Trustees meeting, when the head of the Faculty Council asked administrators to “keep the ‘community’ in our community colleges.” Also during that meeting, the Board approved a plan to move the dental hygiene program now located at Kennedy-King College in Englewood to the new Malcolm X campus in the Near West Side.

A few last notes… Yesterday’s news that Republican lawmakers want the state to take over CPS and the option to declare bankruptcy has drawn some comparisons to another Midwestern city: Detroit. State officials say the Detroit Public Schools system could run out of money by April and are floating the idea of bankruptcy. Schools have already been under the control of an emergency manager since 2009. Detroit is also in the news because teachers have been calling in sick en masse in protest of crumbling buildings infested with rodents and roaches. Meanwhile, enrollment in the schools system has fallen by more than two-thirds since 2005, with many families opting for charter schools that operate outside of the traditional school system.

The Sun-Times raised two red flags after taking a closer look at the district’s claim that the $950 million college scholarship haul for last year’s graduating class was record-setting. First, it wasn’t immediately clear how much of the money was from the new Star Scholarships that provide free tuition to City Colleges for select CPS graduates. And in years past, the tally did not include money won by charter high schools.

And the National Journal has this look at a new report that calls on elite colleges to use a “poverty preference” to boost the enrollment of low-income students. Right now, they make up just 3 percent of student bodies at the most competitive colleges.

  • Concerned Parent

    Can anyone fond a board of education report on the acceptance of the Spry high school? I looked to get background. Isn’t there supposed to be one?

  • Concerned Parent

    Funny -not really-how, CPS blames the past CPS administration on the missing and cost of the closed schools’ missing equipment and learning materials. They really think we don’t realize that the past administration is the same as the current one: Rahm Emmanuel! Well done BGA.

  • Concerned Parent

    A forensic audit MUST be done for all CPS. Reported in the Trib. today and yesterday, seems Claypool cannot be trusted.