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CHICAGO—Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is planning to close and consolidate upwards of 100 to 120 neighborhood schools due to a manufactured “underutilization” crisis. CPS has claimed that because of an overstated drop in the student population, an overstated number of “half-empty” schools and an overstated budget deficit, school closings are both necessary and imminent. However, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has learned that a new commission tasked with the responsibility of collecting community input on CPS school actions has dubious ties to charter operators.

The Commission on School Utilization was formed earlier this year to collect community input on school actions, even though the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, created three years ago by state law, had already been overseeing school facilities decisions. The so-called “independent” commission curiously shares the same office as, and has strong ties to, the Civic Consulting Alliance, New Schools for Chicago and the Renaissance Schools Fund—all stalwarts for charter proliferation. Despite a claim from commission chair Frank Clark that its work has nothing to do with charter expansion, the evidence, however, suggests otherwise:

The school utilization commission is studying a problem for which the answers are readily available.

  • CPS claims there is unused space for 100,000 students, but the district added capacity for 50,000 additional students over the last 10 years.
  • The district’s utilization formula assumes that classes should have 30 students. Schools are considered overcrowded only if their classes average 36 students. Changes to the formula dramatically reduce the number of so-called underutilized schools.
  • The current student population in CPS is only 30,000 less than it was in 2000.
  • School actions have been an unfair policy directed only at students and families of color:
    • Black students represent 88 percent of students affected.
    • Schools that are more than 99 percent students of color (“apartheid schools”) have been the primary target of CPS school actions—representing more than 80 percent of all affected schools.
    • Black communities have been hit the hardest—three out of every four affected schools are economically poor and intensely segregated African American schools.
    • Underutilized schools are overwhelmingly located on the South and West sides of the city, and most are located within a couple blocks of a charter campus.

The school utilization commission is tightly linked to hard-core charter advocates.

  • Noble Street’s Rowe-Clark campus is named for John Rowe and Frank Clark. Rowe is the chief executive officer of Exelon; Clark is the retired chief executive officer of Exelon subsidiary ComEd. (Rahm Emanuel was an advisor to the merger of Unicom and ComEd that created Exelon.) Rowe is the chairman of New Schools Chicago. Clark chairs the School Utilization Commission.
  • Phyllis Lockett is the president of New Schools for Chicago and a spokesperson for charter proliferation in Chicago. She is also on the board of the Civic Consulting Alliance.
  • Bruce Rauner is the on the Board of New Schools for Chicago, and a Noble Street campus is named after him. He has also proposed to buy 100 public schools and lease them back to charters and chairs the Education Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago.
  • R. Eden Martin and Ty Fahner sit on the boards of both the Civic Consulting Alliance and New Schools for Chicago. Martin and Fahner have also served as president of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago. The Civic Committee’s 2003 report “Left Behind” became the blueprint for Renaissance 2010, the massive charter proliferation and school action program started under Mayor Richard M. Daley and continued under Mayor Emanuel.
  • The Civic Consulting Alliance recommended that CPS hire Todd Babbitz as its new “Chief Transformation Officer,” even though Babbitz had never previously worked in education. Babbitz is charged with leading the district’s reconfiguration.

CPS continues to pour resources into a counterproductive model for school reform, and at the same time they are planning to close neighborhood schools for underutilization, they continue to open new charter operations. This is a glaring contradiction. The proliferation of charter operations and the destruction of neighborhood schools have not helped in the creation of quality schools for all students.

 “With strong ties to the charter operators and school reform leaders, taxpayers should ask the mayor if his new commission is just a front group for further school privatization,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. “Why didn’t the commission disclose conflicts of interest up front? How can we trust the commission to be fair when its chairman and key advisors have such a clear agenda? Taxpayers, parents and the public school educators of Chicago deserve clear answers.”