Take 5: Pension pickup, vanishing vendor lists, Noble proposal

Forrest Claypool attends his first Chicago Public Schools board meeting as CEO of CPS on July 22, 2015. (Photo by Max Herman)

Take 5: Pension pickup, vanishing vendor lists, Noble proposal

AUGUST 13, 2015

Forrest Claypool
Photo by Max Herman
CPS CEO Forrest Claypool wants to gradually phase out the 7-percent contribution the district makes toward teachers’ pensions. Already, the district has said it will phase out this payment for non-union employees.

CPS announced Wednesday it would phase out its 7-percent “pension pickup” for 2,100 employees  in Central Office, network offices and other support roles over the next three years. Because these employees aren’t unionized, the district can unilaterally make this change.

But CPS CEO Forrest Claypool wants the Chicago Teachers Union to make a similar concession. “Everyone has to sacrifice if we’re going to get through this,” Claypool said at a Wednesday press conference. “No one is excluded.”

Recognizing the extent of the district’s financial woes, CTU President Karen Lewis sounded like she might not be completely opposed to phasing out the historic pension pickup, in which the district “picks up” 7 of the 9 percent of employees’ salaries for pension costs. “If my members are [supportive], I am,” she told WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight. “But again, it’s nebulous right now… So we have to bring it down and make it look like real numbers. Because you can’t make good decisions on incomplete data.”

Later the union issued a statement reiterating its earlier stance, saying the elimination of the 7-percent pension pickup amounts to a pay cut that “is still unacceptable and still strike-worthy, even if done in phases.”

Meanwhile Crain’s Chicago Business reports that the recently expired contract contains what could be interpreted as a sunset provision on the pension pickup that could allow CPS to phase out its contribution without bargaining, though the union disputes this interpretation. The language: “This pension pick up will not constitute a continuing element of compensation or benefit beyond Fiscal Year 2015 or 2016 should this Agreement be extended for one year.”

2. New education laws … Gov. Bruce Rauner has signed more than half of the education bills we featured in our round-up last month, though several that would have a significant impact — on school discipline, high school graduation requirements and the hiring of school employees with certain criminal records — have yet to become law.

Rauner signed measures that make it easier for out-of-state teachers and administrators to work in Illinois, allow school boards to discuss safety and security matters behind closed doors and protect student athletes believed to have suffered a concussion.

Provisions from the state’s waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act are now written into law and Illinois will have to determine which standardized exam both tests students’ college and career readiness and is accepted for college admissions. No such test exists right now in Illinois, as the PARCC has yet to be accepted by colleges and the ACT doesn’t test what’s learned in the classroom.

Charter schools are now required to comply with health and safety requirements that apply to district-run schools, and applicants for charters must disclose if they are being investigated in a criminal or civil complaint.

And today Rauner signed into law a measure that guarantees high school graduates will receive college credit at public universities and community colleges in Illinois for Advanced Placement exam scores of 3 or higher, starting in the 2016-17 school year.*

3. Southwest Side charter … Noble has withdrawn its second of three proposals to open new charter high schools and is now setting its sight solely on one site, at West 47th Street and California Avenue. The network withdrew its first proposal earlier this summer after meeting with resistance from activists in Rogers Park. Officials from Noble gave a presentation about their remaining proposal on Monday at a packed Neighborhood Advisory Council (NAC) hearing. Although another group that wants to open a charter school in the area — called Stars Project Engineering Academy — also gave a presentation, most of the attention was on Noble. Some activists and neighborhood school leaders have organized a campaign against Noble in the past few weeks.

Noble brought dozens of its own supporters, including staff and former alumni, who crowded the hearing at Daley Community College. In an email sent to staff earlier this week, Noble officials said the meeting “is going to be really high stakes – both for this 47th and California campus and Noble’s general political position in the city.” So many Noble supporters showed up on Monday that opponents couldn’t find seats inside, according to a story in the Gate Newspaper. Later, NAC members said they’d hold a second hearing next Tuesday at Kelly High School so that more people could attend.

The proposed Noble site is about five blocks south of Kelly High School. A Noble spokesman said the network is looking into buying the property and constructing a new school — which would include a basketball gym and soccer field — for about $25 million, all privately raised. Earlier this summer the district announced it would no longer provide start-up funding to charter operators looking to open new schools. Separately, the Sun-Times reports that Jack Elsey, who oversaw charter schools for CPS, was laid off last week as part of a move to trim Central Office staff.

4. Vanishing vendor lists under investigation… The CPS inspector general is looking into why the district recently removed vendor lists from its website after Cassie Creswell, an anti-testing activist, and others brought attention to the issue, the Sun-Times reports. CPS now says it will upload current information online “as soon as possible.”

The annual postings dated back to 2001, Catalyst found, and included vendors’ names, addresses and how much each company was paid. They covered contracts signed by individual schools as well as those approved by the Board of Education. Creswell says the regularly updated lists were helpful for tracking which companies were making inroads with principals, especially those that provided education technology, test prep and testing services.

CPS officials say the vendor lists were removed last year when the district updated its website, but the information could be accessed through web bookmarks (You can still find the information through Internet archives, which are current through April).

The city’s most recent ethics ordinance mandates that a list of contractors who did business with CPS over the last four years be made available to the public online.

5. Specializing at City Colleges … The BGA has a story out this morning about how City Colleges is quietly consolidating more of its programs in an effort to save money. Upper-level accounting courses, which used to be offered at six of the seven colleges, will now be offered only at Harold Washington College in the Loop. Meanwhile, advanced manufacturing will be consolidated in the Daley campus in the South Side and information technology at Wright College on the Northwest Side.

Previously the BGA had reported that child development courses will be consolidated at Truman College in the North Side, although City College officials are now considering offering some of these courses online to keep students from dropping out of the program.

These changes are troubling because of how far some students will have to travel to get to classes — and critics worry that many will simply drop out. It’ll be a lot tougher for a low-income South Side student to pursue a more lucrative career path in, say, information technology if necessary classes are all housed at Wright.

“Until now, students have been able to dabble in many subjects at each of the main City Colleges campuses,” the BGA’s Sarah Karp notes. “Some prerequisite and general courses still would be spread around the campuses, but higher-level and degree-specific courses are seeing increasing consolidation at select City Colleges sites.”

A few last notes … Check out the second story that This American Life aired last week about school integration. The piece looks at how Hartford, Connecticut has used well-resourced magnet schools to attract white suburban families to the inner city. Make sure you listen to the end, when reporters question U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan about why the president’s Race to the Top initiative didn’t include incentives for school integration.

And coming this Friday, The Tampa Bay Times will tackle a similar issue: how black students in one Florida county were left behind after the school board abandoned its integration program. You can see some interactive charts on the project here.

Finally, budget hearings are next Tuesday. Three meetings will be held simultaneously over the $5.7 billion CPS operating budget at the Malcolm X College Theater, 1900 W. Van Buren; Olive-Harvey College gymnasium, 10001 S. Woodlawn Ave; and Schurz High School, 3601 N. Milwaukee Ave. The two-hour hearings start at 6 p.m., although registration begins one hour earlier.

*This story was updated at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 13 to reflect the signature of the law regarding credit for AP exams.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.