PSAT for 5-17-11: One more push for SB 620

What we’ve done so far seems to be working! SB 620, the bill providing a fair, open facilities planning process for CPS schools, has been given an extra week (until this Friday) to pass out of committee. Here’s what State School News Service’s Jim Broadway told me yesterday:

“Something good may be happening. The House committee deadline for SB 620 has been extended by a week, to May 20. That is plenty of time for the bill to emerge from committee and get a third-reading vote. Even if it is amended in the House, the Senate would have lots of time to concur, or to non-concur and resolve the differences with the House through a conference committee.”

What that means is that we all need to make one more call to our House legislators TODAY. Ask them to support SB 620 and make sure it moves out of committee this week.

Here’s the letter I sent to every Illinois House and Senate member last week:

Time for reform in CPS facilities decisions


You still have an opportunity to support a bill that favors open, transparent, RESPONSIBLE democratic decision making about school capital planning and spending in Chicago.

We hear that the General Assembly is about to kill SB 620, which would have required the Chicago Public Schools to create a 10-year facilities master plan and a 5-year capital improvement plan with significant public input.

SB 620 did not emerge out of a vacuum. CPS has failed to be open, transparent, or responsible about facilities expenditures for years. Unlike most major school systems, Chicago currently has no public capital plan. That’s one of the reasons why so many of the district’s decisions about school closings, consolidations, etc. have seemed arbitrary, causing school communities to rise up in anger.

Here are some facts and figures from a 2007 Catalyst analysis:

  • Nearly $50 million of $265 million in renovations now underway are being done in Renaissance and charter schools, according to April reports from area offices. That’s about 19 percent of renovations taking place in buildings that house just 4 percent of students.
  • Renaissance and charter schools are getting repairs completed or funded at a faster pace than traditional schools: 62 percent compared to 45 percent, respectively.
  • For every $1 already spent, CPS needs to spend another 61 cents to finish renovations in buildings housing Renaissance schools. But in traditional schools, the district needs to spend another $1.21—nearly twice as much—for every $1 already spent.

Public outcry over the unfairness and disruption of CPS’s capital decisions became so loud that some of your colleagues initiated a series of hearings last year to learn more about the problems and to identify some solutions. Hundreds of people have testified about disruption and corruption in the process.

For example, one teacher talked about what happened when CPS moved a new magnet school into the same building with a school the district was planning to phase out. The area of the school set aside for the magnet school was given new lighting, new floor tile, new window shades, new whiteboards, upgraded bathrooms, and a new library. Asbestos was removed. Students from the “old” school were forced to enter through a back entrance and were not allowed to use the new drinking fountains put in for the magnet school students, none of whom was a student of color. Chicago called this a school Renaissance.

Perhaps the most famous recent example of community outrage at the unfair manner in which Chicago doles out capital funds was the Whittier Mom’s month-long sit-in to protest their school’s lack of a library.

SB 620 doesn’t cost a penny. In fact, a more transparent, truly prioritized process for deciding how scarce facilities funds should be used will most likely save a lot of money and make it more likely that funds will go to projects that are needed the most.

That’s got to be better for students.

You can still do the right thing. We’re told that the bill can still be called. It’s time to bring sense and fairness in Chicago school capital planning.

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.