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New CPS chief Bennett seeks delay in school closing list release


Barbara Byrd-Bennett

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Updated: December 4, 2012 6:09AM

Acknowledging that Chicago’s parents have nofaith in the process, Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett wants to delay providing a list of schools to close or consolidate. The list is due Dec. 1, but she plans to ask the state Legislature for an extension until March 31.

Byrd-Bennett appointed a nine-member independent commission to start a five-month community engagement process to advise her on school closures or consolidations, she said Friday in a speech to the Chicago Urban League.

“We need to acknowledge that the community simply does not believe what we say we’re going to do,” Byrd-Bennett said. “We need to build trust. I’m not even talking about rebuild — I don’t know if the ‘re’ was there. We need to build trust, we need to build respect and we need to build transparency.”

The delay in announcing school actions, which state law mandates by Dec. 1, would give the district “the time we need to rigorously and respectfully engage our communities in those authentic conversations,” she said to applause.

“I am trying desperately to say to community members, and I hope not long as a lone voice, the schools belong to citizens and community,” she said.

The March 31 deadline would fall after CPS students complete standardized tests so they won’t be distracted by news about their schools, Byrd-Bennett said. It would be after the deadline to apply to charter, magnet and selective enrollment schools, churning up another set of complications for parents that Byrd-Bennett said she hadn’t yet figured out.

The unpaid panel members include a variety of , community members: former Chicago Police Supt. Terry Hillard, who won the security contract for the NATO conference; Frank M. Clark, the former chairman and CEO of ComEd appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to the McCormick Place Board; John Hannah, senior pastor of New Life Covenant Church; Ald. Howard B. Brookins (21st); retired Bowen High School Principal Fausto Lopez; Earnest Gates, who heads the Near West Side Community Development Commission; Shirley Calhoun, a CPS parent, grandparent and assistant parent coordinator at Fiske Elementary School; retired CPS teacher Deberah Perkins, and state Sen. Iris Y. Martinez, (D-Chicago).

Martinez sponsored the state law that now needs changing. “Dec. 1 is around the corner,” she said. “I always want to give the benefit of the doubt to the new person. I think extending the deadline to March is a good idea right now given that she just got here.”

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who had been informed of the plan before Byrd-Bennett’s speech, said Friday sheapplauds the thoughtfulness going into Byrd-Bennett’s plan, but she doesn’t approve delaying the date set by the Legislature to ensure that parents and teachers would have ample notice of major school changes.

“She clearly would like to take some time and make some decisions better, but I don’t believe we should change the law because they had a change in leadership,” Lewis said. “This is my fourth CEO in two years.

“If Dec. 1 comes and you haven’t made a decision, then the decision should be you shouldn’t do any school closings this year.”

On Friday afternoon, the CTU held a rally at City Hall to protest school closings for the 2013-14 school year. On Thursday, the CTU announced its House of Delegates had unanimously approved a resolution for a one-year moratorium on drastic school changes.

But Byrd-Bennett will not consider putting off school closings another year, citing a looming $1 billion deficit facing the district by summer. Neither will Emanuel, who says education is a signature part of his administration.

Byrd-Bennett said she would ask the Legislature to take the matter up during its veto session at the end of the month. Senate President John Cullerton seemed amenable to such a request.

“Given the leadership change at CPS, extending the deadline to allow the new CEO to evaluate the process and work of the commission before proceeding seems reasonable. Cullerton would consider proposals for the veto session,” Rikeesha Phelon, Cullerton’s press secretary, wrote in an email.

Contributing: Dave McKinney, Fran Spielman

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