Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Wendy Katten's letter to BBB

Letter sent to CEO Byrd-Bennett on Space Utilization: 1/2/2013

January 2, 2013
CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett
Chicago Public Schools
125 S. Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60603

Dear Ms. Byrd-Bennett,

We are sending this letter because we have made numerous requests through various staff members at CPS to set up a meeting with you to discuss our space utilization findings presented at the last CPS board meeting and have not yet received a response. We also presented to the CEFTF and at Horner Park space utilization meeting where Frank Clark called our analysis "excellent" and stated that he does not refute our data findings at all.

As Chicago parents we are concerned that CPS is still using a flawed formula that exaggerates underutilization, under-reports overcrowding and ignores other factors reducing classroom size such as percent of special education students served and on site community partnerships. We are also deeply troubled by the lack of transparency in the process that CPS is using to make decisions around school actions this year.

For months, CPS and the City have told Chicagoans that our district has too many underutilized schools requiring it to be “right sized.” In recent weeks however, numerous sources have refuted the key arguments and data that have been used to bolster the school closing strategy. As parents and taxpayers, we deserve facts and an open, honest discussion.

On several occasions, you have pledged to rebuild trust in CPS among parents, teachers and community members. We agree this is a critical first step toward moving our district forward. To that end, we respectfully ask for answers to the questions on the attached sheet prior to the January 23rd board meeting and a date time we can follow up and meet with you personally.

Thank you,
Wendy Katten
Raise Your Hand for Illinois Publici Education

Raise Your Hand "Apples to Apples" School Utilization Data Questions

1)      Why does the CPS utilization formula continue to assume 36 students as the maximum limit allowed in a homeroom when determining a school’s utilization rate, despite the class size guidelines of 28 to 31 students? By using this formula, CPS has claimed that 330 of our schools are underutilized and 140 are half-empty.  We do not believe this reflects the reality as it is based on a formula that adds 20% to recommended class size limits.

2)     At the Horner Park space utilization meeting, Frank Clark said that he does not refute our "Apples to Apples" data and called our analysis "excellent." Will CPS soon change their formula to reflect these findings, adjust the numbers they have put out to the press this year, and share corrected data with major news outlets?

3)      Why did CPS exaggerate its lost enrollment? CPS blames its underutilization on the city’s loss of 145,000 school age children over the last decade. According to a WBEZ analysis of census data however, CPS lost just 31,500 students during this period. Also during this period, CPS created some 50,000 new seats at charter schools.  In 2000, CPS had 432,000 students and 597 schools. This year, CPS has 403,000 students and 681 schools. The district has added 84 schools during a period of declining enrollment and plans to add another 13 schools next year. This is highly irresponsible and as taxpayers we are alarmed at these decisions.

4)      Does CPS or the School Utilization Commission plan to do any physical assessments or walk-throughs of schools labeled underutilized? If so, what is the schedule?

5) Many schools have high special education/bilingual populations which are not taken into account in your utilization formula and many schools rent out space to community organizations which are not taken into account. How are the committee and CPS factoring this into the decision making process?
6)      What are the specific criteria CPS will consider when closing schools this year? In September, you said utilization would be the only criteria. But in recent weeks, other CPS representatives, including Becky Carroll and Utilization Commission Chairman Frank Clark, have said CPS will consider other factors. Guidelines were due in November 2012, so how can you change criteria at this later time?

7)      Please explain the specific process the School Utilization Commission will use to prepare its recommendations. You’ve said the commission will be preparing a list of schools for closure. But it's been reported that the commission chair has said it will only be providing a list of policy recommendations. Please clarify who will report what to the public.

8)      When will you provide an analysis of the specific impacts of last year’s 17school actions on the 7,700 effected students? Any actions taken in the future should be informed by lessons learned in the past. Information regarding prior year school actions would be invaluable to ensure best possible outcomes foraffected students, especially given that even more schools may be closed this year with no clear vision of costs and benefits. Parents across the city need totrust and believe you will ensure the safety and academic stability of students with any action.

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