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My name is Valerie Leonard, the Co-Founder of the Lawndale Alliance. We are a group of residents who have come together to address issues of concern to the community, including education, TIF reform and mortgage foreclosure. We are also members of the Committee to Save North Lawndale Schools and Westsiders Against All School Closings. We are here today to provide our thoughts on the 10-Year Educational Facilities Master Plan, dated May 3, 2013. First of all, we would like to commend CPS on drafting the 10-year educational facilities master plan. We thank the Illinois Legislature and the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force for creating the legislation and mechanisms for accountability in the development of such a plan. While we are very encouraged that the planning process is being institutionalized, we remain concerned with certain assumptions and key elements of the plan. As we have learned from the utilization crisis, the decisions that are made are only as valid as the data that are being used to inform them. If we are not careful, the Educational Facilities Master Plan will continue along the same vein as the school closure process. Having said that, I will share our general impressions, and make specific comments and recommendations. Ideally, the Educational Facilities Master Plan should be a representation of how the District's facilities (including property, plant and equipment), boundaries and school actions support the overall educational strategic plan for the district. The educational strategic plan should be driven by assessments of the latest developments in education, state and federal education policies, the local environment, changes in the various communities and the individual schools and the needs of students and parents. While this plan shares some of the assessment tools and results, it is not clear from reading this document how these data were used to develop the strategies. This plan could be significantly strengthened by sharing the overall mission, vision, goals and objectives for the education plan and the facilities plan; expected outcomes; the rationale for developing the stated strategies; a schedule and estimated budget within which to implement the strategies. The same is true for the community level plans. A cursory review of the Educational Master Facilities Plan does not give us comfort that the data being used to ultimately drive decisions is accurate. CPS continues to emphasize in this
plan that the number of school age children in Chicago has declined by 145,000 between 2000 and 2010. They also assert that "there are approximately 65,000 fewer students enrolled in neighborhood elementary schools in areas that are underutilized today than enrolled 10 years ago." However, a review of the enrollment data presented in official statements from bond issues dated May 15, 2013 and April 24, 2008 indicate that the enrollment for Chicago Public Schools declined by 39,134 between 2003 and 2013 for the entire district. CPS asserts in the Educational Facilities Master Plan (dated May 3, 2013) that after making the appropriate adjustments, they estimated costs to maintain its current portfolio of school buildings to be about $4.04 billion. As of November 29, 2012, CPS estimated the same exact portfolio to cost approximately $7.2 billion to maintain. (when the underlying book value of CPS' buildings was about $4.3 billion at the time). Such a drastic adjustment gives credence to the community's assertions that CPS inflated capital cost estimates, which in turn, inflated cost savings for closing schools, making the decisions more palatable to the general public. After all is said and done, CPS will not save any money from school closings, but have actually spent $363.6 million-$329.7 million of which is being financed through bonds, and $33.9 million of which is being financed through TIF funds. When the bonds are finally retired, tax payers will have spent over $560 million to pay for 2013 school closings. It is not clear that CPS' closing binge has ended. In all, CPS took away over $260 million from local public schools through school closings and reduced individual school budgets. The impact weighed most heavily upon schools in poor, overwhelmingly African-American neighborhoods. In spite of the fact that closing the schools freed up over $150 million in cash, CPS reduced funding to local schools by $110.6 million for 2014. A study by the Center for Tax, Budget and Accountability shows that in spite of the reduction in local school budgets, charter schools as a group, will see a budget increase of $80 million. Overall, CPS enrollment will increase by 4 % with a corresponding reduction in school funding by 3%. Of the 50 schools that closed, 23 were on the West Side. In all, the West Side lost $63.8 million from school closings. The fact that the West Side accounted for nearly half the closed schools, but only about 43% of the associated capital costs underscores how under-resourced the West Side schools were relative to their counterparts on the South and North sides. The 121 West Side schools that remain open lost $25.1 million from reduced budgets. CPS has just issued an RFP in hopes of opening 52 new charter schools, ostensibly, to ease over-crowding in targeted neighborhoods. A review of the population trends in these targeted neighborhoods indicate that the majority of the communities targeted for new schools have experienced a reduction in population. CPS has, ostensibly, used the so-called utilization crisis and subsequent school closures to justify transferring educational assets from marginalized, low-income African American communities to other areas. In effect, CPS has deemed such communities unworthy of significant investment, as the local community facilities plans show. Reading CPS' description of the community engagement process during school closing hearings gives one the impression that CPS has worked very closely with the community as partners, and has sincerely taken our input to heart, and incorporated it into their decisionmaking process. This could not be further from the truth. They have had over 100 formal and informal public meetings with members of impacted communities. Principals, teachers and parents have reportedly felt intimidated, and their ideas ignored. The North Lawndale CAC put
together a strategic plan highlighting ways to improve local schools, with particular emphasis on schools targeted for closure. CPS essentially ignored the plan. The Committee to Save North Lawndale Schools provided a community-based alternative to school closings focusing on ways to align community resources with local schools to develop bona fide community schools, and that plan was ignored. Community members and parents highlighted errors in utilization data, and CPS proceeded as planned, without making any corrections. In fact some errors remain in this draft facilities plan. As a member of the North Lawndale CAC, I have sent several requests to CPS asking them to provide an overview of school budgets and the funding formula, and that request was ignored. I sent another request asking for data that would help us to better understand the impact of school closings on local school budgets, curriculum, performance, et cetera, and that was ignored. We are denied basic information that would help us better advocate for our local schools, while Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley willingly met with parents on the North Side to answer their questions. We were underwhelmed by the plan for North Lawndale. Clearly, CPS has extremely low expectations for the North Lawndale community. The plan did not give any specifics on how school policies, the local community dynamics and space constraints impacted the selection of curriculum, extra-curricular activities and after-school programming. The discussion was limited to expected population growth and new housing units to be brought on line by CHA. Yet, CPS has indicated that they want to take an urban planning approach to finding new uses for the shuttered school buildings. North Lawndale experienced a 24.7% decrease in children aged 0-19 between 2000 and 2010, while enrollment increased 12% for K-12 between 2006 and 2013. CHA is expected to bring on 311 new units of housing by 2017. This new development is expected to increase the number of students enrolled in North Lawndale schools by 4%. The plan does not give any indication of where the new housing would be built, or how CPS will respond to changes in enrollment. Pope School and the Henson School were recommended for closure, ostensibly to better focus the district's resources and enable reinvestment in North Lawndale's children and facilities. Unfortunately, it is not clear exactly how this would be achieved. The education strategies for North Lawndale include maintaining the status quo and offer nothing beyond a simple listing of program offerings at 6 of the community's 25 schools. This includes early childhood programs for all elementary schools; full day kindergarten for all schools; a Specific Aptitude program at Lawndale Elementary; an IB Primary Years Program and IB Middle Years Programme at Ford Charter High School; a fine arts and technology magnet cluster at Crown Elementary and a technology magnet cluster at Dvorak and AP courses in English, political Science and US History at Collins and North Lawndale College Prep. There is no mention of strategies to improve access to math and science education beginning at the elementary level. Nor is there any mention of attempts to align the curricula of the elementary feeder schools with the local high schools, or the alignment of the high school curricula with requirements of colleges and universities or local employers. There is no mention of vocational education, cultural enrichment, civic engagement or service learning. Most striking, it is not clear how the stated education strategies relate to the space allocation or investment in facilities in North Lawndale, or anywhere else, for that matter.
None of the North Lawndale programs are new or innovative, or include descriptions as to how they would improve educational outcomes. There are no stated goals, objectives, strategies or rationale for the strategies. There is no timeline; no outline of roles and responsibilities to ensure that the plan is realized. Even more disappointing is the continued reliance upon data that appeared to be out of date or incorrect. For example, the Chalmers school is listed as underutilized, when further discussions between the former Chalmers principal and CPS revealed that characterization to be inaccurate. In closing, we thank you for your time and consideration. We look forward to providing additional feedback in the future. Sincerely,
Valerie F. Leonard Co-Founder, Lawndale Alliance
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