Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Look what's In Byrd-Bennet's 'hidden drawer' -- The real school-closing plan

Angelique Harris, a member of the Bronzeville Community Action Council, attends a hearing on school closings Monday at the Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church in Chicago. Harris has a child enrolled at Wells Preparatory Elementary Academy. (Warren Skalski, Photo for the Tribune /December 17, 2012)
"Unless my staff has a hidden drawer somewhere where they've got numbers in there, we don't have a number." -- Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett in November.
Pretty clever of the new school boss to slip in that escape clause when responding to media questions last month about how many and exactly which "underutilized" schools CPS planned to close. When it inevitably comes to light that Rahm already knew back in September, which schools and in which communities (nearly all black and Latino of course) they were going to close, she could always point back to her "hidden drawer" escape clause, as in "I told you there might be numbers in a hidden drawer."

The latest problem for Rahm, Pritzker, Vitale and BBB is that one of their very own has leaked the contents of the hidden drawer to the Tribune.
An internal Chicago Public Schools document obtained by the Tribune shows for the first time that the Emanuel administration has weighed how many elementary and high schools to close in which neighborhoods and how to manage the public fallout.
Yes, managing the public fallout, or as David Vitale is fond of saying, "reining them in," is always the number-one problem when you have the mayor running the schools and when CPS is made a wing of Tammany City Hall. 

The 2010 state law requiring the district to release the list of school closings every year by Dec. 1 created the need for the drawer and for CPS officials to ask for an extension to March 31 for the next round of closings and charter school openings. That would supposedly be followed by five years with no closings — but only if CPS got its extension from the legislature. They did, by hiding the fact that the list already existed. All the B.S. about "community input" and establishing a new fact-finding commission proved to be exactly that. 

The secret document, prepared three months ago, when J.C. Brizard was still around and 30,000 Chicago teachers were going on strike, discusses how to deal with public reaction to school closing decisions, with ideas ranging from establishing "a meaningful engagement process with community members" to building a "monitoring mechanism to ensure nimble response to opposition to proposed school actions."

But Brizard proved to be incapable of "meaningful engagement" and nimbleness was never part of his skill set. Thus, the back-door entry of the more nimble, if not meaningful, Barbara Byrd-Bennett. 

As you might expect, BBB and her crew are now running as fast as they can from the secret document. As CPS' always nimble liar-in-chief Becky Carroll put it, "this plan was proposed by past leadership at CPS and is not supported by CEO Byrd-Bennett. In terms of whatever document you have, I don't care when it's dated, as of today there's no list and there's no plan."

Carroll's lips are moving so you know she is lying.

Back in November, Robert Starks, director of the Harold Washington Institute for Research and Policy Studies at Northeastern Illinois University, told Rahm's rump commission that he was deeply concerned about the possibility of mass closings, especially in poor African-American neighborhoods. "People out there right now, in this community … they are saying that this is a done deal," Starks told the panel.

Commission Chairman Frank Clark, retired chairman and CEO of ComEd, responded, claiming that his panel had requested information on all CPS schools to start working on recommendations. "I have not seen, nor do I believe any member of this commission (has) seen, any prescribed list of schools designated to be closed," Clark said.

Starks (and the community) had it right. Clark was blowing smoke. 

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