School-closings panel has conflicts of interest, group charges
BY LAUREN FITZPATRICK Education Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org February 12, 2013 2:12PM
Updated: February 12, 2013 6:36PM
The day before Chicago Public Schools is set to release the list of schools in danger of closing, a group of parents asked the CPS Inspector General of Chicago Public Schools to investigate the district’s closing process.
Parents 4 Teachers, which has strong ties to the Chicago Teachers Union, filed a complaint alleging conflict of interest, saying the district is motivated to close schools not by a budget deficit but by a desire to expand charter schools.
The letter dated Feb. 12 cited ties between the independent commission appointed by CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett to research school closings, and the Civil Consulting Alliance, which has ties to charter-school boosters. It also pointed to a $478,000 grant to CPS from the charter-supporting Walton Family Foundation to pay for breakout sessions at school closing hearings.
“They share the same offices,” Erica Clark of Parents 4 Teachers said of the commission. “They are advised by organizations that are in business to promote charters.
“These are clear conflicts of interest that have to stop,” she said.
Clark and her group also allege that CPS has misled the public into believing that school closings will help bridge a deep budget gap.
Byrd-Bennett has so far accepted a few of her commission’s initial recommendations for determining which schools to close come June.
Those recommendations, including sparing high schools and high-performing elementary schools, leave at least 190 schools at risk of closing, according to a Sun-Times analysis.
Byrd-Bennet is slated Wednesday to announce any others she may follow, along with a CPS-produced list of schools still at risk.
Schools inspector general James Sullivan could not be reached immediately to confirm he’d received the complaint. CPS is closed Tuesday for Lincoln’s birthday.
CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said in a statement that the district has lost children over the last decade.
“This is stretching our limited resources too thin and depriving children at all schools of critical investments they need to be successful such as AC, playgrounds, technology and computers, library, art and music,” she wrote in an email. “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.”
Ziegler said the grant from the Walton Family Foundation let CPS stage the hearings without using taxpayer money “to engage parents in this conversation at the front end of this process and allow them to have a voice in the critical decisions that need to be made to address this crisis.”