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Karen Lewis: CPS Using Pro-Charter School Group's 'Playbook' for Closings

By Lizzie Schiffman Tufano | April 4, 2013 10:00am | Updated on April 4, 2013 11:09am
 "It's not over, brothers and sisters, until we say it's over," said Karen Lewis at a recent CPS school-closing protest. "On the first day of school, you show up at your real school."
"It's not over, brothers and sisters, until we say it's over," said Karen Lewis at a recent CPS school-closing protest. "On the first day of school, you show up at your real school."
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DNAinfo/Erica Demarest

CHICAGO — In closing what it says are 53 underutilized schools, Chicago Public Schools officials are following a "playbook" that was drawn up by a pro-charter school foundation, the head of the teachers union says.

"If you read [the Broad Foundation's 'School Closure Guide'] you will see everything [in Chicago] unfold the way this guide tells you to unfold school closings," Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said.

"We just find it extremely interesting that CPS doesn't bother to tell people what they're really doing," she said.

The guide was published in 2009 by the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation, which says its mission is to "to prepare strong leaders of public school systems" by "transforming urban school systems."

The foundation's long list of partner organizations features numerous initiatives focused on expanding charter school programming.

The guide maps out a 12- to 18-month plan to close schools "as a means for addressing budgetary challenges." The guide offers advice that Lewis finds similar to CPS statements, including:

• "Use the urgency generated by the discovery of a budget shortfall to begin a planning process for a comprehensive right-sizing plan to be implemented in the following school year."

• "Frame the dialog with the community around how these difficult decisions are being made, with the long-term goal of creating the best possible educational options for families, given the limited resources available."

A hypothetical example in the Broad Foundation closure guide projects a savings of $502,500 per school year for a single school closure, which matches the low end of projections from CPS: $500,000 to $800,000 in annual savings per school, which would shave $43 million off the district's budget yearly.

Since 2002, the foundation has operated the "Broad Superintendents Academy," which has trained the superintendents at 21 of the nation’s 75 largest districts, including former CPS chief Jean-Claude Brizard. The district's current CEO, Barbara Byrd-Bennett,  previously was an "executive coach" at the academy.

Lewis said she worries the Broad Foundation's possible influence, combined with the role other large foundations have played in the closure process, unfairly pits the district against teachers and parents who want to keep more schools open.

"The Walton Foundation funded the facilitation of the [community engagement] meetings, the school closings guide is done by the Broad Foundation, and CPS has already signed the Gates Compact to open up 60 charter schools," Lewis said.

"So these are the three main foundations that are on a destructive path for publicly funded public education, and they're right in the middle of the school closings, down to managing people's expectations [and] the talking points that the School Board is using to justify this," Lewis said.

CPS spokesman Dave Miranda said the district never has received money from the foundation and that all closure decisions were made on a case-by-case basis.

"CEO Byrd-Bennett's recommendations are the direct result of four months of rigorous community engagement," Miranda said. 

"Concrete criteria," Miranda said, came though feedback from more than 20,000 community members and parents, and recommendations of the Commission on School Utilization.

Miranda said the process removed 267 of 330 underutilized schools from immediate closure.

The final list of 53 schools to be closed — the district calls one additional closure a "program"  "also falls well below the recommendation of the commission, which concluded that the district has the capacity to close up to 80 schools," Miranda said.