Fuzzy math? Austin advocate questions draft guidelines for school actions

November 2, 2012
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Chicago Public Schools just released its draft guidelines for school actions as required by state law.  The draft guidelines can be reviewed here.

After reviewing the guidelines, I had to take a shot of vodka because of the blatant lie that the CPS community engagement process resulted in CPS adding the space utilization criteria.

CPS poorly attempted a facade of community engagement in the drafting of the 2012 School Actions Guidelines by providing a confusing online survey for the public to comment on the 2011 guidelines and organizing orchestrated community roundtable meetings in which participants were only given 24 to 48 hour notices of the meetings.

During our roundtable meeting at Malcolm X College, the participants were unanimous against using space utilization as a criteria for school actions. CPS has been touting under-utilization since the teachers strike was resolved. The CPS utilization formula was not presented and not discussed.  There was no opportunity to discuss utilization and alternative uses of school buildings.

I was recently taken on tours of Horatio May, Oscar De Priest, Louis Armstrong, Francis Scott Key, and Spencer Technology schools by Local School Council members. Much of the CPS utilization reports contained inaccurate data.

May School has an annex separate from the main building where the primary grades (K-3) are housed. The primary grades use all eight rooms in the annex.  If May were to close the annex and move primary students to the main building, Mays’ utilization increases from 45 percent to 55 percent based on CPS’s utilization formula.  However, each school may use Title 1 funds to reduce class size.  I do not have the exact class sizes of each school, but May might have purchased additional teachers with Title 1 funds to “effectively utilize” the main building.

It is an example like this that CPS is not considering as unique circumstances for each school.  CPS can chose to eliminate the physically separate annexes of schools to reduce capacity.

Also the YMCA uses six classrooms of  the third floor of the newer section of May.  If the primary grades were moved to the building, the YMCA would have to move out.  Because the YMCA ceased recreation and programming at its former facility at Central and Race, Austin could potentially and totally lose the valued resources the YMCA provides.

Spencer School per the CPS Space Utilization Report is 66 percent utilized.  Based upon our count, Spencer has 51 classrooms, not 54 per CPS.  This increases Spencer’s utilization to 71 percent.

CPS gives each school one ancillary (labs, parent resource room, meeting space) use of a classroom for every four classrooms. Spencer is allocated 13 classrooms for ancillary use, but Spencer is only using five rooms for ancillary use. Therefore Spencer is using eight of its allocated ancillary classrooms for actual classrooms.  Spencer, like May, might also be using its Title 1 funds to reduce class size. With CPS’ formula of 30 children per classroom, is CPS stating that using Title 1 funds to reduce class size in communities serving students from improvised, high crime, high unemployment communities a “bad thing?”  Spencer, I know my analysis is not CPS policy, is “effectively using” its space.

Key School is listed with having 24 classrooms housed in two separate buildings. The LSC member and me counted 21 classrooms between the two buildings. Like Spencer, Key is “effectively using” its space. Based on the CPS formula, Key can use five classrooms for ancillary use. Key is only using three classrooms for ancillary use. Therefore, Key is using more classrooms for instruction than CPS allows. We recalculated Keys’ utilization to 64 percent, not 55 percent.

Key, like Spencer is “effectively using” the space in the building for classroom instruction.

In summation, CPS is attempting to manufacture a crises that does not exist. CPS is not discussing the fact that the mayor wants to open an additional 60 charter schools over five years.  How can CPS cite excess capacity, but, yet CPS plans charter school expansion? There are plenty of tax dollars sitting in the TIF fund, which can prevent massive school closings.

Also noted is CPS’ misuse of the word the word “quality.”  CPS believes that ACT/KIPP, a level 3 performing charter school operator, is a quality option for the Austin community.  If CPS is concerned about excess capacity, ACT/KIPP should be the first school on the closing list.

We must also demand that CPS redirect the additional funds allocated to the unproven private operator of turnaround schools, Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL), be redirected to neighborhood schools.

We all must demand of CPS to provide the itemized costs (heat, electricity, engineer, and principal) of operating each building.

In summation, CPS calculation of school utilization is another manufactured justification to provide African-American students with privatized substandard low-cost education while providing additional funds to magnet and selective enrollment schools.

It is interesting that magnet and selective enrollment schools serve 40 percent white students who make up just 8 percent of the CPS student population. Those schools receive an additional $135,00 to $254,000 from CPS.  What kind of math is that!

Dwayne Truss is a board member of Raise Your Hand and an organizer with the Progressive Action Coalition for Education.

4 thoughts on “Fuzzy math? Austin advocate questions draft guidelines for school actions

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