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My name is Valerie F. Leonard, a North Lawndale resident and Co-Founder of the Lawndale Alliance, here on Chicago's West Side. The Lawndale Alliance is a group of residents who have come together to address issues of concern in the community, including TIF funding, education, mortgage foreclosure and the impacts of the state and local re-districting process. We thank you for having this forum and for allowing us the opportunity to express our concerns. We respectfully request that the Chicago Education Facilities Task Force advocate once more for a moratorium on school closings until the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has a master facilities plan in place. We also request that you introduce legislation for an Illinois Education Facilities Planning Board. According to the Commission on School Utilization's Interim Report, released January 10, 2013, Chicago lost 144,035 school age children between 2000 and 2010, going from 843,398 to 699,363. This represents a 17% decline in the number of school-aged children in Chicago. During the same 10 year period, Chicago Public Schools enrollment declined 22,741 students, from 431,750, to 409,279 (WBEZ). This represents a 5% drop. Since 2010, CPS enrollment has continued to decline, to an estimated 403,461 in SY2013 (WBEZ). While enrollment declined, CPS continued to add schools. Between 2000 and 2010, CPS added 80 new schools, primarily in African American neighborhoods with declining populations, great need (as defined by school performance), and limited school choices. Very little attention was given to whether or not the community demographic trends indicated that new schools could be supported or sustained over the long term. As a result, CPS has over 100,000 more seats than students. Nearly half (48%) of CPS' schools are reportedly underutilized. Seventy-three percent (73%) of the under-utilized buildings are in African American neighborhoods. CPS finds itself in a position in which they want to "right size" the district, and reportedly will close up to 140 neighborhood schools while opening 60 new charters. We are especially concerned about the North Lawndale community, which has 24 schools. Approximately 29% of our schools are deemed efficiently utilized, with 71% deemed under-utilized. Approximately 8% of our schools are Level 1; 29% are Level 2; 58% are Level 3 and 4% are not rated. Likewise, 25% of Chicago's schools are Level 1; 34% are Level 2; 33% are Level 3 and 8% are unrated. All but three of our Level 3 schools are under-utilized, which make them most vulnerable.
North Lawndale Schools % Schools Under Utilized % Schools Level 1 % Schools Level 2 % Schools Level 3 % Schools Unrated 71% 8% 29% 58% 4%
Chicago Public Schools 48% 25% 34% 33% 8%
Data Source: CPS School Utilization SY13 Spreadsheet
We are very concerned by the recent trend of massive school closings and rapid expansion of charter schools--not because we're against charter schools, but because school quality and long term sustainability of all schools in the community is threatened. Many charter schools are expanding at a faster rate than can be sustained financially or academically. As a result, some charters have not been able to sustain the academic progress or operating stability they experienced in the past. At least one of our local charter schools consistently ranked among the top performing schools in the city. When they began to manage several campuses, they were not able to scale their successes. Now, several of their campuses are on academic warning. Likewise, the wholesale closure of public schools has caused a shock in the system that extends beyond the classrooms. Financial stability is a serious concern. A study by Catalyst Chicago found that half of charter schools in the City of Chicago experienced serious cash flow issues in recent years, and two thirds could not cover core expenses without assistance from private foundations. A significant number of charters are having difficulty making state mandated pension payments on time (Substance News). A report by the Center for Education Reform indicated that 15% of charter schools around the nation have closed for performance since 1992. If charters are being encouraged to expand without having the necessary capacity to sustain themselves over the long term, CPS is defeating their stated purpose of expanding quality choices to under-served communities. They are, in effect, de-stabilizing communities. The social and economic costs of these disruptions outweigh any savings to be gained. These costs include disruption to students' learning; increased violence; displacement of teachers; reduction in salaries and costs of starting up new schools and disposing of public assets (which could be better spent in the classroom). It should be noted that rapid expansion of any type of school--whether charter, selective enrollment, magnet or neighborhood--without the financial capacity or sufficient population will result in failure. Chicago Public Schools has already demonstrated that, if left to its own devices, they will not plan properly. Not only have they opened new schools in African American communities with declining populations, the data they are using to make decisions are incomplete and inaccurate. A review of several documents produced by CPS and the Commission on School Utilization reveals discrepancies in school enrollment figures, unmet capital needs, capital maintenance and upgrade costs and projected budget deficits. A report i n yesterday's Sun-Times indicated that CPS anticipates a $1 billion budget deficit by summer. However, the Official Statement from CPS' December 13, 2012 bond issue indicates that CPS will run a deficit of less than half that amount---$431.8 million for SY 2013. The Official Statement also mentions that CPS got $194 million in SY2012 that they expected to have received in SY2013. As a result, SY2013 projected revenues will be decreased. However, there will be a corresponding $194 million increase in the SY2012 fund balance, which will be
available to help offset expenses for SY2013. These adjustments will not be formally made until the audited financial statements (CAFR) are completed. The Commission on School Utilization Interim Report indicated that the costs for maintaining CPS school buildings is $313 million per year (as compared to professional service costs of $411.8 million for SY2013). Additional analysis is needed to see how this compares to the $37.2 million in the Building and Sites costs outlined in the December 13, 2012 CPS Official Statement. Although CPS has indicated that they could save up to $800,000 per year per school that they close, they have yet to reveal any operating costs associated with running individual facilities. They have instead, provided estimates of capital upgrades and maintenance that, more often than not, are at odds with the figures in the CPS properties database. A number of community groups have also applied some of the CPS utilization methodologies to their own facilities and found significant differences. In spite of the concerns raised, CPS has refused to alter their methodologies to accommodate unique situations that could adequately address the needs of disadvantaged and disabled students. CPS has only recently engaged a firm to help them complete a master facilities planning process. The study--which will only include half of CPS's school buildings-- will not be complete before June, 2014. In the meantime, CPS will proceed to close schools without a master facilities plan in place. A list of the schools they intend to close will be released by March 31, 2013. We have also noticed that CPS has included performance data for all schools on its utilization spreadsheet. However, they have indicated the number of years on probation for neighborhood schools while omitting these data for charter schools. This is critical, in as much as some schools have been on probation for more than 10 years. This information is a matter of public record, and it should be included for all schools. We also believe that all struggling schools, regardless of whether they are neighborhood, or charter, should be given ample opportunity and support to improve. No school should be given unfair advantage in the process of considering school actions. The consequences of closing schools are significant, and should not be taken lightly. Students stand to initially lose 6 months' academic achievement as a result of transferring to different schools. Unfortunately, the replacement schools often perform at the same levels or worse than the schools that close. New schools take at least 5 years to fully develop. On top of that, a study of Chicago charter school finances revealed that approximately half have had significant cash flow problems in recent years, including challenges funding state mandated contributions to teacher pension plans. This does not bode very well for long term sustainability for some charter schools. Unfortunately, the children who are most likely to be impacted are the ones who can least afford the disruptions. In closing, we respectfully request that you continue to advocate for a moratorium on CPS school closings until the master facilities plan is completed. We also ask that you recommend that the Governor and the Illinois Legislature create an Illinois Educational Facilities Planning Board to regulate the development and expansion of schools in the State of Illinois. School districts should be able to demonstrate 1) financial ability to complete the proposed construction or expansion project; 2) the capacity to operate the school and make contributions to teacher pension funds or other retirement plans; 3) market demand, as evidenced by demographic trends, number and types of schools, available seats and educational goals and objectives of the district. We thank you for your time and consideration. Valerie F. Leonard, Co-Founder, The Lawndale Alliance email@example.com,773-925-5298
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