Despite promises by Chicago Public Schools to reinvest in classrooms the money saved by closing a historic number of schools one year ago, the Chicago Teachers Union says that the district spent most of those millions elsewhere.
The union’s report, released Wednesday, says that contradicts the victory speech CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett made in March, when she told the Board of Education that the closings made the district stronger.
The CTU based its findings on CPS documents and interviews with teachers at seven of the designated “welcoming schools” that took in children from schools that were closed: Chopin, Courtenay, Dett, Earle, Nicholson Otis and South Shore Fine Arts.
“They did the school closings under the guise of getting more resources for these schools — there were several narratives, saving money, getting more supports to these schools — and then they put all this money into the transition supports,” CTU researcher Pavlyn Jankov said. “They still haven’t fixed the problem that these schools are underresourced relative to other schools.”
Every welcoming school was promised a library, a computer lab, iPads for every third- through eighth-grader. Four new libraries were installed, and several others were upgraded, but only 38 percent of all the welcoming schools have a librarian, compared with 55 percent of elementary schools districtwide, according to the CTU.
Computer labs were upgraded, but only a fifth of these schools have a technology teacher, the report said, and iPads were purchased but without many related training opportunities for teachers. Courtenay has a science lab but no science teacher; Dett’s science lab serves as a fourth-grade classroom.
The CTU estimates that the district spent at least $285 million on costs related to the school closings, not including time spent by many central office staffers dedicated to the process.
Of the $83.5 million spent on transitions in 2013 and 2014, only $9.3 million of that went directly to schools, with the bulk paying for the “web of supports made necessary to manage the chaos of the largest school closures the district, or any school district, has ever undergone,” including $30 million to a logistics company, the report says.
“School closings have done nothing to improve the education of CPS students, nor have they saved money, but the same policies that led to massive closures continue to be implemented,” the report says.
Byrd-Bennett disagreed with the union’s findings, calling attention to the district’s analysis at mid-year of welcoming schools from the closed 47 elementary schools showing misconduct incidents down slightly; grade point averages had risen; and the much-touted Safe Passage routes between the closed and new schools saw no major violent incidents when workers were at their posts.
“These results reaffirm the District’s commitment to investing so heavily in the transition process, from making needed facility improvements to equipping Welcoming Schools with additional social and emotional supports to put students on the path to success,” she said in an emailed statement.
In addition, the welcoming schools received the same amount per pupil as other schools under student-based budgeting, so it fell to their principals to decide whether to spend their money on hiring librarians or technology teachers, spokesman Joel Hood said in an emailed fact sheet.
“CTU continues to look back to the old quota model where the type of staff in each school is dictated by someone outside the school,” he wrote. “The SBB model means that principals make choices about where to direct their resources.”