Change for more transparency

By Vanessa Morton

The Humboldt Park community came together on Oct. 18 to voice its concerns and address questions about the future of its schools to Illinois legislators and Chicago Public Schools’ officials.

Rep. Cynthia Soto (D-Chicago.), a member of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force; and Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago), also a member of the CEFTF, co-hosted a “Chicago Public Schools’ Actions and Facilities Policies” town hall forum at Humboldt Park Field House, 1440 N. Sacramento Ave.

The meeting featured a two-part discussion by guest speaker Tim Cawley, CPS chief administrative officer, who presented CPS’ 2012 portfolio and budget proposals focusing on steps toward improvement and how CPS will decide to delegate its funds in a transparent way.

“The prior administration did things that made the communities upset because they were not reaching out to [us],” Martinez said. “Today we have a new administration that I believe will talk to us and introduce great things.”

Martinez said this wouldn’t have been possible without a piece of legislation signed into law in August 2011. The law, drafted by the community, in part, requires District 299, the Chicago school district, to conduct more thorough, comprehensive and transparent planning around school facilities and its interconnected relationships to school actions, like closings, consolidations and phase-outs.

“Frankly, this new bill should have been something Chicago schools should have never needed,” Cawley said. “But, unfortunately, in the past we haven’t been open and sharing with the community and as thoughtful in creating a plan.”

Cawley said there was much for CPS to do, and broke its goal into three missions: quality, choice and alignment. CPS’ goal is to get every child into school so he or she has an opportunity to be college ready. He referenced these as “seats,” to which children should have access.

Cawley explained that CPS needed to work on having a more efficient forecasting system. Currently CPS has an extra 30 percent of seats in a district with approximately 400,000 students, he said.

“We have to close the gap, and it’s unacceptable that we’ve fallen so far behind, and unfortunately most schools are overcrowded, so we don’t have enough buildings in some areas to accommodate the growth,” he said. “But we also have lots of seats in other parts of the city, with not enough children to occupy [them].”

CPS currently has a budget deficit of $241 million, and Cawley said CPS can expect a $351 million budget for next year. However, CPS is still figuring out how it’s going to delegate money to the most needy schools. He said CPS will use a filter process that will help sort by priority. Priorities range from safety, comfort, positive environment, over-crowding, school performance and potential building investments.

“[The school] has to have a compelling lead in order for it to become a priority to filter,” Cawley said. “Determining how much will be facilitated to each school may sound easy and many would think we could evenly distribute, but guess what—the problems in each area aren’t evenly distributed.”

CPS plans to create guidelines that would call for closings, phase-outs and consolidations. However, this did not sit well with members of the audience, who raised questions about the consolidation of two schools and didn’t understand why they would need to relocate their children to other schools.

“I’m tired of hearing we are losing other teachers, but here we are opening up other schools,” said Rafael Dejesus, an audience member. “These people aren’t here to help us, they’re here to tell us, ‘get ready, we’re going to close your school down.’”

However, Martinez said despite the broken promises from past administration, all she can really do is stay tolerant.

“I’m going to be very patient with this new plan, and there needs to be transparency between CPS and the communities,” Martinez said. “Now I’m not saying I believe, but I’m going to try as much as I can.”