Mayoral challenger Paul Vallas released his education plan on Friday. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Vallas vows to ‘right-size’ a CPS system with 150K more seats than students

SHARE Vallas vows to ‘right-size’ a CPS system with 150K more seats than students
SHARE Vallas vows to ‘right-size’ a CPS system with 150K more seats than students

Mayoral candidate Paul Vallas vowed to “right-size”a Chicago Public Schools system with 150,000 more seats than students — by “re-inventing” schools with declining enrollments, “re-purposing” shuttered schools and closing others after community input.

In a sweeping education plan — released in a detailed position paper Friday — the former CPS CEO calls for implementing “system-wide career and technical education and work-study programs for juniors and seniors” in every neighborhood high school.

Neighborhood schools would also get more dual-enrollment, early college, International Baccalaureate and “magnet-type” programs.

In addition, Vallas said he would develop a long-term financial plan for CPS and revamp the system’s capital program to focus on “repairing and modernizing existing schools” instead of building new ones, as Mayor Rahm Emanuel has done.

RELATED: Vallas unveils 5-year financial plan

He would also nix Emanuel’s plan to use $175 million in unsecured state funding on preschool for 4-year-olds in favor of spending a “fraction” of that amount on a universal “cradle-to-the-classroom” program.

Vallas pioneered the concept during his tenure as CPS CEO from 1995-2001 and duplicated it in other cities. It’s grounded in the notion that the majority of brain development occurs during the prenatal period through the third year of a child’s life, “so that’s where the focus needs to be.”

The program would begin by identifying all pregnant teens in Chicago, assigning each a “parent coach” and providing universal prenatal care to make certain the babies are born healthy, Vallas said.

Mother and child would then be guaranteed continuing access to health care. Children would get training in early literacy, vocabulary and numbers.

Mothers and fathers — if dads can be identified and involved — would continue to get coaching from the prenatal phase until the child enters kindergarten.

Trained parent-coaches, supervised by early childhood administrators and teachers, would provide much of the “home outreach” on how to be skilled parents capable of meeting a child’s nutritional and educational needs.

Controversial element

The promise to “right-size” CPS is certain to be the the most controversial element of Vallas’ education plan.

The Chicago Public Schools have 150,000 more seats than students. Much of that excess capacity is located in South and West Side neighborhoods hard hit by a black exodus from the city. Pressure is building for another round of school closings now that a five-year moratorium has expired.

Other mayoral candidates have run from the issue of school closings, well aware of the political price that Emanuel paid for closing a record 50 public schools.

In the position paper, Vallas vowed to confront the issue head-on.

Noting that CPS enrollment “grew by almost 30,000” students during his tenure, he promised to develop a long-term plan for “right-sizing the district to reflect demographic changes.”

“Existing schools with declining enrollments need to be re-invented by adding high-quality magnet programs, like IB or giving them a new focus,” the Vallas paper states.

“A declining school on the West Side could be converted into an already needed agricultural science school. A struggling high should could be re-invented as a first responders academy. Closed schools or schools on the verge of closing could be re-purposed as adult high schools via funding available under a state law or Alternative Schools.”

Vallas stressed that “any decision to close or re-purpose” a school would be made only “with the input and approval of the community.”

And his “primary strategy for shuttered buildings” would be to re-open them as “community centers” offering “adult education and occupation training to tens of thousands of displaced adults.”

Most of them are “men of color” between the ages of 17 and 50 who are “high school drop-outs, chronically unemployed or ex-offenders,” he said.

Chico snubbed

The education plan is in Vallas’ wheelhouse.

When the Illinois General Assembly gave former Mayor Richard M. Daley control over CPS in 1995, Vallas was dispatched to the schools in a dream-team pairing with fellow mayoral candidate Gery Chico.

Last week, Chico released a slick digital ad highlighting his six-year tenure as school board president without mentioning that Vallas was his partner, drawing a sharp rebuke from Vallas.

RELATED: Gery Chico takes a bow for CPS

Vallas argued then that it was “extraordinarily dishonest” for his former partner to “take credit for my nationally recognized record of success” as CPS CEO.

But the position paper he released Friday similarly snubbed Chico.

It also calls for restoring school patrols and gradually turning jobs now held by CPS safety and security officers to the Chicago Police Department.

“CPS will pick up current costs for security while CPD will cover the difference,” the Vallas paper states.

“This will make over 500 additional CPD officers available for special duty — 165 days of the year when schools are not open, saving additional tens of millions” in police overtime, he said.

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