Community groups urge CPS to halt all school actions

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Chicago Citizens United to Preserve Public Education recently filed complaints with the inspectors general for Chicago Public Schools and the U.S. Department of Education, asking them to investigate the relationships between Chicago Board of Education members and the Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL).

CPS’ inspector general was asked to examine the Board of Education’s last votes to hand over Ronald E. McNair Elementary and two other schools to AUSL for turnaround:

  • to determine if there were any conflicts of interest among board members and AUSL;
  • to analyze the relationship – if any – between political contributions to Mayor Rahm Emanuel from AUSL board members and the significant increase in the number of Chicago Public Schools turned over to AUSL on a no-bid basis;
  • and to determine if AUSL turnarounds are the most cost-effective solution given their less-than-stellar results.

“We believe that, given the fact that two of the five board members present and voting during the April meeting have apparent conflicts of interest stemming from relationships with AUSL, that the vote should be nullified,” said Valerie F. Leonard, a spokeswoman for the group.

David Vitale was chairman of AUSL’s board before assuming his position as president of the Chicago Board of Education in May 2011. Vitale did not recuse himself from voting to turn over the three schools to AUSL for turnaround.

Board member Dr. Carlos Azcoitia is employed by National Louis University, which is the exclusive trainer for AUSL teachers. Azcoitia voted to reconstitute the three schools but abstained from voting on the underlying AUSL management contract to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

“It stands to reason that if one has a conflict of interest in voting for the AUSL management contract, then he has a conflict of interest in voting to reconstitute the school – especially if he knows that the only option for school improvement at the time is an AUSL turnaround,”Leonard said.

Board member and Vice President Jesse Ruiz indicated in a Catalyst Chicago magazine article that the board  “should always critically review all of our contracts … We should always be reviewing alternatives to make sure we provide the best for children and the city of Chicago.”

That same article indicated that board member “(Carlos) Azcoitia says he would like for CPS to develop its internal capacity to overhaul struggling schools. He notes that with budget constraints, the district’s new Office of Strategic School Support Services, known as OS4, is less expensive than contracting out the service.”

“If Mr. Ruiz and Dr. Azcoitia are serious, they would go to (this week’s) board meeting and make a motion to reconsider last month’s vote to turnaround three  schools,” said Carolina Gaete, a member of Chicago Citizens United to Preserve Public Education. “They should vote – not on whether the schools should be reconstituted – but instead to improve the schools through a community-teacher driven process.”

Dwayne Truss, also a member of Chicago Citizens United to Preserve Public Education, added, “What CPS is doing is wrong on so many levels.

“We have come up with a list of nine recommendations going forward. The first order of business for the board should be to nullify last month’s vote, followed by an intensive review of the Board’s ethics policies. The practice of reconstituting schools should be abolished altogether, because it’s expensive, and the results are questionable.

“In fact,  the biggest winner in the whole process is not our students, but AUSL,” Truss said.

Other recommendations include having:

  • elected officials host public hearings and independent reviews to investigate the CPS process for evaluating AUSL costs and effectiveness;
  • CPS support community-teacher led change initiatives;
  • a moratorium on all school actions, including closures and turnarounds;
  • an elected, representative school board that is accountable to the citizens of Chicago (and not appointed solely by the mayor)

Chicago Citizens United to Preserve Education is a coalition of grassroots community based organizations and individuals, including:

  • Blocks Together, Educational Village Keepers Parent Teacher Student Association
  • Valerie F. Leonard, co-founder of the Lawndale Alliance
  • Dr. Pauline Lipman, Teachers for Social Justice
  • Dr. Grady Jordan, retired CPS administrator
  • Yvette Moyo, co-founder of Real Men Charities Inc. and Real Men Cook
  • Dr. Carmen Palmer, president of Educational Village Keepers Parent Teacher Student Association
  • Parents for Teachers
  • Dwayne Truss, PACE
  • Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE)

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