Mayor Rahm Emanuel in Chicago plans to close as many as 100 public schools because they are under enrolled. But he also plans to open dozens of new charter schools. It is the dynamic of privatization: as public school close, privately managed charters open, accelerating the destruction of neighborhoods and public education. The charters, of course, will almost all be non-union.

“Kurt Hilgendorf, a CTU researcher and legislative activities staffer, spoke November 20, 2012, at the Chicago City Council Education Committee Hearings on School Closings. Kurt Hilgendorf taught history, economics and psychology at John Hope HS in Englewood and Von Steuben HS in Albany Park. Below is an edited version of his comments.

“Executive Summary

“School closings are wrenching and demand careful decision-making. The district needs additional time to chose the schools it will close. But it must also ask for a delay in implementation of the closings. That crucial step cannot be rushed.

“For that reason, we recommend that CPS take no school actions until at least December 1, 2013. The law does not require school closures, and the public is solidly opposed to them. It would be far better for CPS to take a year to develop a stable utilization plan before destroying school communities.

“We are concerned that CPS has created a new commission to solicit input from the community on the closings. The existing Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force (CEFTF) was created by state statute in 2010. CEFTF represents the community and is made up of a representative range of stakeholders: legislators, CPS officials, CTU members, local school council members, community organizations, and community members

“The new CPS commission, however, is a confusing duplication of effort with a focus that is much too narrow. It will avoid discussion of charter school openings on CPS utilization rates. Ordinary common sense dictates that the CPS commission must develop a plan that includes the new charters it will open. Also it is not possible for the community to provide the new CPS commission with useful input unless the commission will identify which schools CPS will close.

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“There are four reasons for a hold on school actions until December 1, 2013.

“First, CPS — with more than 600 facilities — has no master plan on how to use them. It will not have a plan in place at the end of March 2013, when CPS plans to close up to 100 schools. Without proper planning, if the district closes 60 neighborhood schools but adds 60 charters in the next few years, it will end up with the same problem it has today — continued underutilization.

“Second, CPS’ projected cost savings is minimal. Even at the inflated number of $500,000 to $800,000 per building — savings could at most reach $80 million. That is only 1.5% of the district’s operating budget; a small gain for the large amount of distress closing 100 schools will cause.

“Third, CPS created the utilization problem by aggressively expanding charter schools. Over the past 10 years, CPS added 50,000 charter seats, while Chicago lost 8% of its population. Opening charters causes underfunded neighborhood schools to lose students, and the vast majority of underutilized neighborhood schools are near charters. Even some charters are underutilized, according to CPS’s formula.

“The fourth and final reason we oppose the district’s proposal is that a legislative amendment is unnecessary. School actions are not required by law. Rather than change the rules in the middle of the game, the district should take the time to do the process effectively.

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“It is useful to remember the following examples of problems with earlier CPS closings.

“CPS has not tracked the 7,700 students who were
part of last year’s school actions. The district has little information about these students, even though state law required tracking and support. Of those 7,700 students, almost 1,000 were homeless.

“School actions have been concentrated on the South and West sides of the city, and African American students make up 88% of those children affected by school actions. Remember, school actions destroy stability in school communities, and the district has targeted only certain communities.

“Students displaced by school closings, especially those tied to performance, have ended up at schools that perform no better than the schools they left. The district’s actions have failed the “educationally sound” test that the facilities law established.

“Truancy is a more pressing issue than school closings. During the period that CPS undertook school actions, it went without truant officers. As a recent Tribune series outlined, chronically truant students are a significant problem for the city, both in terms of worse student outcomes and the loss of millions in state funding. CPS has not proposed a reinstatement of truant officers.

“CPS is asking teachers to create new curricula aligned to new tests that students must master at the same time it proposes major facility reorganization. Any of these initiatives would individually require several years to analyze the process and assess. When these initiatives are combined, the district is creating a logistical nightmare.

“Despite the complexity of these actions, there is little evidence to suggest that the current leadership has the capacity to simultaneously complete a master plan, work with schools to combine instructional staffs and merge organizational cultures, develop a safety and security approach, organize new transportation schedules and routes, and solicit input from community members.”