CPS parent group wants investigation into school closure decision process

February 12, 2013

Scott Kanowsky

Scott Kanowsky/WBEZ
Parents 4 Teachers co-founder Erica Clark speaks to reporters at a press conference Tuesday.

A Chicago parent group said Tuesday it has filed a complaint against the process Chicago Public Schools administrators use to determine a preliminary list of school closings.

The complaint was filed with the office of CPS Inspector General James M. Sullivan, according to a statement released by the group, called Parents 4 Teachers. It is asking for an independent investigation into the procedures used to decide which of the district’s schools will be shuttered.

“Someone from the outside needs to come in and shine a light on what’s going on at central office, they need to see what’s going on behind closed doors and make that information available to the public,” said CPS parent and group co-founder Erica Clark.

Sullivan’s office could not be reached for comment or to confirm if they had received the complaint.

At a news conference Tuesday, Clark alleged that the CPS-appointed commission tasked with reviewing utilization of district schools is “fraught” with conflicts of interest.

“The so-called ‘independent’ commission has numerous ties to charter [school] backers. They share the same offices, they’re being advised by organizations that are in business to promote charters,” Clark said.

In a statement, Parents 4 Teachers said the complaint “cites instances of employee misconduct, conflicts of interest and misleading the public about the facts on school closings.”

The group said it is considering filing a similar complaint with the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

In response to these allegations, CPS officials said in a written statement Tuesday that it has 145,000 fewer students enrolled now than it did during the “last decade.”

“Now CPS has too many empty classrooms and too few students to fill them. This is stretching our limited resources too thin and depriving children at all schools of critical investments they need to be successful such as air-conditioning, playgrounds, technology and computers, librar[ies], art and music,” a statement from a CPS spokesperson read.

“Once CPS combines schools and resources, we will be better positioned to provide every child in our schools with a well-rounded high-quality education they deserve.”

The district has said it plans to release a preliminary list of school closings on Wednesday. School officials have said CPS is facing a $1 billion dollar budget deficit and needs to close some school buildings in order to “right-size” the district.

However, no one knows exactly how many schools will be closed.

Enrollment is expected to play a key role in that decision—currently, CPS figures indicate that 136 schools are currently half-empty. A CPS spokesperson has said each closed school could save the district $500,000 to $800,000.

In January, the CPS-appointed commission charged with recommending closures said high schools, schools with more than 600 students and schools labeled high-performing should be spared.