Two years after Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed a record 50 schools over low enrollment, officials say they don’t know where many of the computers, desks, books and other items from those buildings ended up.
After being pressed for more than six months on what happened to the classroom equipment, Chicago Public Schools officials now say they don’t have an answer.
They blame bad record-keeping under Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Emanuel’s disgraced former schools chief, who awaits sentencing after pleading guilty in October to steering millions of dollars in CPS contracts to her former employer in exchange for what prosecutors said were promises of kickbacks.
“Unfortunately, the previous CPS administration did not adequately manage or keep records on the day-to-day operations of the transition logistics,” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner says.
Byrd-Bennett couldn’t be reached for comment. Like her successor, Forrest Claypool, she reported to Emanuel.
The 50 schools were shuttered in a cost-cutting move that caused an uproar on the South Side and the West Side, which felt the brunt of the closings.
The principals of schools that received the 12,000 displaced children were able to go to warehouses and choose equipment that had been moved out of the closed schools, according to Bittner.
But CPS record keeping was lax in charting what was moved out of the closing buildings and where it ended up, according to interviews and CPS records that show:
• CPS says it has no records on what happened to any of the books from the closed schools.
• There are more than 9,400 desktop and laptop computers listed on inventories of schools that were closed. Of those, 3,724 were “redeployed” to other schools or to CPS headquarters, according to CPS, which says the rest were “disposed” of — though how or where isn’t clear.
• More than 33,000 chairs and roughly 12,000 desks and 6,000 tables were listed in good condition in the closed schools, CPS records show. About 9,500 of those chairs, 3,900 desks and 1,000 tables apparently were moved to other buildings. It’s unclear where the rest went.
“There are so many under-resourced schools that it is just a tragedy for stuff to go to waste,” says Jackie Leavy, the pro bono adviser for the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, a state task force.
Two people who were involved in the logistics of the school closings, speaking only on the condition they not be named, say they tried to get equipment to schools that were getting displaced students or to other buildings that could use the materials but that there was so much to move, poor inventories and not enough time.
“A handful of schools, we could have moved, no problem,” one of the sources says.
Only 60 percent of the students from the 50 closed schools ended up at the schools that had been designated for them. The rest ended up at schools throughout the city.
When fewer displaced students than expected ended up enrolling at the “welcoming schools,” the principals had movers come back and pick up items they had just dropped off, according to one of the sources. Other schools got more students from the closed schools than expected, then asked for extra equipment, according to that source.
CPS couldn’t provide a dollar value for the equipment from the 50 closed schools.
The school system originally awarded an $8.9 million contract to Ohio-based Global Workplace Solutions to move materials from the 50 schools and handle other logistics. But taxpayers ended up paying the company far more, records show — about $25 million. CPS officials have said the cost soared because there were more items than anticipated.
Robert Faillo, chief financial officer of Global Workplace Solutions, says he can’t discuss specifics because of a clause in the company’s contract barring it from disclosing such information.
The school closings were supposed to save $43 million a year in operating expenses and hundreds of millions of dollars more in future capital costs. CPS has yet to itemize the projected savings, though.
Frank Clark, the former Commonwealth Edison chief executive appointed by Emanuel last year as president of the Chicago Board of Education, chaired a mayoral commission in 2013 that found CPS could close as many as 80 schools. Clark did not respond to requests for comment.