CPS School Budgets


On Monday, July 13, 2015, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) released preliminary spending plans for the 2015-2016 school year. Many schools face significant budget cups. We made a simple [news app to let users explore how different school budgets changed](http://apps.chicagotribune.com/news/local/cps_school_budgets/).

Additional coverage:

* [CPS Budget: Deep Cuts For Neighborhood Schools, Cash Infusion For Charters](http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20150713/loop/cps-student-budgeting-holds-steady-but-schools-will-feel-pinch) (DNAinfo Chicago)
* [Chicago Public Schools’ budgets spend $500 million district doesn’t have](http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-chicago-public-schools-budgets-20150713-story.html)

My first Divvy ride

I was riding to a party at a friends house when I heard a clattering below me. I looked down and realized that three spokes had broken, likely casualties of a winter of moisture and corrosive salts and a springtime of crater-like potholes.

I needed to get around the West Side to run a few errands and get a new wheel, so I decided to try Chicago’s Divvy bike share service as there were a number of stations that popped up around my neighborhood.

I was originally skeptical about the service because the price tag ($7/24 hours, $75/year) seemed a bit steep compared with the price of the service that I had used in Milan over the summer. But, for the utility it gave me, $7 felt pretty fair. I think the price is still steep for avid cyclists who might be visiting the city for more than a few days and wish there was a weekly option available. Similarly, the yearly pass is a good deal, but you have to wait for the service to mail you a fob. It would be nice to be able to buy a yearly membership and use it right away.

The bike felt heavy and slow compared to my usual ride, but the thick tires and upright riding position felt good and easy to navigate the craggy streets. Even though I’m short, the seat heights were set extremely low on many of the bikes at the station (if not stuck, they’re adjustable with a quick-release skewer) and I wonder how many Divvy users are losing a lot of efficiency by not adjusting the seatpost. The tires were pretty well inflated and the disk brakes worked well. It struck me that for many riders, the Divvy bikes likely offer a more comfortable, fun and safe riding experience than the poorly constructed or badly maintained bike in their garage. In some ways, the yearly membership is a good option for someone who doesn’t want to worry about purchasing, maintaining and securing a decent bike. Hopefully, the service will do a good job of maintaining the bikes.

I took a quick look at the system map and found that there were stations really close to where I needed to go. The stations are pretty visible, so I had some sense of where they were from my usual routes around the city. My favorite thing about using the Divvy bike was the way it changed my usual patterns. Since I couldn’t go directly to my destination, I was forced to walk down blocks I wouldn’t usually visit. While the primary goal of a transit system should be to get people where they need to go efficiently, I like public transportation because it’s another way to experience the city. I appreciated the interruption to my routine that having to find and dock the bikes at the stations offered.

While I enjoyed my experience with the service, I am concerned about how the service and its expansion exists within broader development dynamics in Chicago. It’s a highly visible asset that makes the city more livable to some, while big, tough problems like public education, access to affordable mental health care and residential segregation continue to persist. Meshing transportation is a need for many city residents, and Divvy could be a platform, just like other transit systems, that brings together Chicagoans from different parts of the city and different cultural and economic backgrounds on relatively equal terms. Unfortunately, there are a number of factors that mediate Divvy as a node in a social mesh for Chicago. Having nearby stations, having a credit card, having Internet access to find information or sign up, having $75 to spend all at once, having the physical ability or experience and comfort to ride in city traffic. If there are efforts to address some of these things, I’d love to know more. While these shortcomings aren’t a reason to completely hate on the service, I can’t think of the service without thinking about city priorities and who they privilege.

New metrics

A friend posted an image on Facebook related to the Chicago Teacher Strike that said:

Legislators want teachers to be paid according to their effectiveness as evaluated by student test scores.

How about paying legislators according to their effectiveness — as evaluated by job creation and economic growth?

To unpack this a little, I’d say that job creation and economic growth suck as metrics for whether governance is working as much as test scores work as metrics for thriving schools. The problem with the debate over teacher evaluation is both in tying pay to performance in a really punitive way, but in a larger sense, the very metrics used to gauge performance.

I like things working well. I like accountability for the foundational institutions of our culture. What I don’t like is a data-driven world where the metrics most directly reflect the needs of corporations and not working and middle class people. When we talk about test scores or jobs or GDP, we’re talking about numbers, not the livable reality that we actually want.

A job or economic growth could look like a private prison, or a deregulated industry devastating the environment where its workers live, or a crazy tax deal (at the expense of worker rights) for a corporation to attract them to a state. These are the moves that legislators are making now either in an earnest failure or a cynical charade to be accountable to their constituents.

I’m not anti-metric, but as people most affected by public schools or job creation, we need to think about the metrics we really want and not just accept the ones being offered to us. Off the top of my head, these are some ones that reflect measurable outcomes in a world I’d like to live in:

  • Number of high school students who vote or otherwise engage in some civic process
  • Average number of paid family sick days and vacation
  • Number of people with health insurance or other access to health care
  • Number of years a household is able to stay in the same dwelling
  • Racial and income dissimilarity index for a neighborhood

Chicago Teachers Strike Context

I’m trying to compile articles that describe why the teachers are striking because CPS and the mayor’s talking points tend to collapse those reasons and miss a lot of important reasons. As much as teachers are fighting to be able to make a living practicing their profession, they’re also fighting for a vision of education that’s a civic good and not controlled by corporations.

  • Training Teachers to Embrace Reform
    Other trajectories for relationships with unions than what we’re seeing in Chicago.
  • Teacher X: Why I’m striking, JCB

    When you take 18-25 days out of the school year for high stakes testing that is not even scientifically applicable for many of our students, that hurts our kids.

    When you spend millions on your pet programs, but there’s no money for school level repairs, so the roof leaks on my students at their desks when it rains, that hurts our kids.

    When you unilaterally institute a longer school day, insult us by calling it a “full school day” and then provide no implementation support, throwing our schools into chaos, that hurts our kids.

    When you support Mayor Emanuel’s TIF program in diverting hundreds of millions of dollars of school funds into to the pockets of wealthy developers like billionaire member of your school board, Penny Pritzker so she can build more hotels, that not only hurts kids, but somebody should be going to jail.

    When you close and turnaround schools disrupting thousands of kids’ lives and educations and often plunging them into violence and have no data to support your practice, that hurts our kids.

  • Chicago teachers strike: In ’31, school board just stopped paying teachersI feel strongly that teachers feel like they need to stand their ground because of being undervalued in Chicago, and in the United States in general. This goes way back, apparently.

    If the Chicago teachers strike, now in its second day, seems contentious, perhaps it’s worth looking back to the summer of 1931.

    That’s when the school board stopped paying teachers in cash, defaulted on 24 payrolls and offered to pay teachers in scrip instead.

See Click Fix for civic processes

Growing up, I was lucky enough to be able to walk or ride my bike to my school.  When I was a bit younger, and lived farther away, the district had door-to-door bus service.  This isn’t the case in Chicago.  Students who go to magnet or selective enrollment schools have to, in many cases, figure out their transportation.  At O’s school, there is a school bus that picks students up at her school and then drops them off at neighborhood schools closer to where they live.  It’s still a few miles from her house, but slightly more convenient than having to have an adult go to her school for a pickup.

Yesterday, she called her mom to say the bus wasn’t running and she needed a pick up.  I’m picking her up today and called the school to find out if I should meet her at the bus stop or if I have to pick her up from school.  The school said the bus wasn’t running all week, but when I called the bus company, they said it ran yesterday and was running today.  This kind of communication problem, between the bus company and the school and between both entities and families sucks and there are lots of similar problems with big, bureaucratic systems like Chicago Public Schools.

SeeClickFix is a useful platform and idea for engaging different stakeholders in reporting civic problems and getting them fixed.  I’ve heard that a Code for America team will be working with Chicago’s government to implement Open311.
This is also awesome, and ultimately a move in the right direction for not only getting problems identified and fixed, but also helping people living in cities understand how governments work (or don’t work).  However, both these platforms address problems mostly dealing with infrastructure.  For many in the city, the bigger problems are issues with process: how a licensing application flows through the city, how children get picked up to and from school, income verification to get food stamp benefits … EveryBlock sometimes surfaces these issues, but its model is based around conversations and doesn’t have an accountability model or visualization of how a civic system works built into the system.

I’d really like to see a web platform and supporting on the ground community for identifying and fixing problems with the process of civic institutions.  Web platforms are often a panacea for civic problems, but I think its important in this case, just to have a document of “this is how the system is supposed to work”, “this is how it actually works”, “this is who is responsible”, “this is when a problem was identified” and “this is what was done about it.”

Lakeview Wal-Mart

I’m pretty interested in reports that Wal-Mart may be trying to open a location in my neighborhood.

I read a report in the Red Eye that said the retailer had signed a letter of intent on a location.

This is Ald. Tom Tunney’s (44th) response to this and similar reports:

On Thursday, December 9, I heard reports in the media that Wal-Mart may be interested in renting a location here in the 44th Ward.  This was surprising as I had not seen any conceptual plans for a proposed store in Lakeview.

After follow-up on my part, Wal-Mart issued the following statement on Monday, December 13:

“Contrary to media reports, Walmart has not executed a lease or a letter of intent with the developer to locate a store on the property known as ‘Broadway at Surf,’ at 2840 North Broadway in the Lakeview community of Chicago.  The company is evaluating a number of potential opportunities across the city of Chicago, and will continue to work with elected officials, business groups, community associations and key stakeholders to ensure that sites and formats are compatible with the communities we seek to serve.”

Maggie Sans – VP Public Affairs and Government Relations
702 Southwest 8th Street
Bentonville, AR 72716-0350

If any plans come forward in the future, it will be vetted through a rigorous community process.  As a small business owner, I understand the impact any big-box retailer would have on our neighborhood.  We will work together, residents and businesses, to continue to make our community a better place to live, raise a family, shop and own a business.

New address, same concerns

I contributed a bit of reporting to this story written by Ian Fullerton.  It was originally published in Skyline on September 29, 2010.  I covered the closing of the original location of Pie Hole Pizza Joint for the Medill News Service in May 2010.

New address, same concerns
Pie Hole Pizza Joint gets chilly welcome from new neighbors
09/29/2010 10:00 PM
By IAN FULLERTON, Contributing Reporter


Doug Brandt never expected that his pizza shop would become a refuge for the city’s gay black youth. But now that it has, he’d like to keep it that way, despite the protests of some Boystown residents and local businesses.

Brandt is the owner of the Pie Hole Pizza Joint, a popular Lakeview restaurant soon to be reopened at 3477 N. Broadway.

Pie Hole previously had sat for years at the corner of Roscoe and Halsted, in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer mecca known as Boystown. Brandt, a 39-year-old marketing major from Iowa with experience in sales, bought the struggling pizza joint in early 2007, with the hopes of revitalizing the shop through smart, often sexually charged advertising and innovations such as “drag delivery,” which is exactly what it sounds like.

Tired of catering to the late night set, Brandt looked to target the early evening dinner crowd, the not-yet-too-drunk demographic that seemed a better fit for the 15-seat restaurant. And so Pie Hole started running a weekly karaoke night, which caught on. Soon after, the shop started hosting open mic nights, aptly titled “Soul at the Hole.”

The events quickly attracted a younger following — vocalists, spoken-word artists, musicians and a variety of other performers, mostly high school and college-age youth from all parts the city — who flocked to Pie Hole once a week to take to the stage.

“It wasn’t a huge money maker,” said Brandt. “It was just a really cool, chill night with amazing talent.”

And while the open mic and karaoke drew a wide array of participants and spectators, it soon became clear that Pie Hole’s customer-base was rooted in the cluster of LGBTQ African-American youth who came from around the city to Boystown.

Population estimates compiled by the Metro Chicago Information Center, based on data from EASI, Inc., a demographic research company, show that African Americans make up only about 5 percent of the population of Lake View, the community area that includes Boystown.

These same statistics show 12- to 17-year-olds make up the smallest age segment. Together with 18 to 24 year olds, they make up about 17 percent of the community area’s population, which is still less than half of the percentage of 25 to 34 year-olds, the group that dominates the neighborhood.

These numbers may come as a surprise to anyone strolling on the main drag of Boystown around Halsted and Belmont, where African-American youths gather in droves, not in the bars and clubs, but on the streets.

The city’s young LBGTQ African-American population from elsewhere in the city is attracted to Boystown in part because of the protection that the neighborhood provides, said Ryan Erickson, a community relations and outreach manager at the Center on Halsted.

“It’s one of the most prominent places in the city where you don’t have to really worry about how you’re sexual orientation is going to be received,” he said. “I think that certainly offers a degree of security.”

A few months after opening Pie Hole, Brandt had started to volunteer at the recently opened Center on Halsted, a community center for LGBTQ persons based in Boystown. At the Center, Brandt took a training course and was assigned to the youth program, where he mentored a young man.

“It felt kind of cool,” said Brandt. “It kind of clicked that this could be the cause for Pie Hole; this could be the thing where we could say ‘yes, we give back to the community.’”

The restaurant began donating pizzas to youth organizations such as the Broadway Youth Center and the South Side-based Youth Pride Services, while inviting kids from the programs to hang out at the shop.

“It quickly became apparent that a lot of the kids didn’t have a place to go,” he said.

As the popularity of the performances at Pie Hole grew, so too did the crowds. The atmosphere at times shifted from a sit-down pizza joint to that of a standing-room club, with groups sometimes pouring out on to the sidewalk in front of the restaurant.

What followed was inevitable. Nearby residents, businesses — and sometimes Brandt himself — began calling 911 to complain of noise disturbances, loitering and fights outside the shop and in the neighboring alley.

Brandt hired some of the teens to act as security guards at the events, a service that further drained his pockets, but the performance nights became more financially unfeasible, as most of the audience wasn’t buying anything.

“It got to the point where I was paying $400 or $500 to have karaoke night, but I wasn’t making that back,” he said. Eventually Brandt had to shut down the karaoke, a decision that came down hard on the teens who frequented the event.

In May 2009, Brandt’s lease on the property expired, without an option to renew.

To memorialize the closing of the hangout, teens from the Youth Pride Services program put on a drum-line performance outside of the shop, a final hurrah that drew sneers from a few neighbors who didn’t appreciate the evening procession, Brandt said.

But while he realized he couldn’t keep the shop at Roscoe and Halsted, Brandt knew that he wanted to keep Pie Hole alive somewhere. He started to look for a new location, preferably one with a layout that would allow him to better supervise the audiences and keep out non-paying customers. The location on Broadway fit that need, he said.

Situated between a Save Rite pharmacy and a laundromat, the space, though only a few blocks away from the old shop, is in a markedly different environment.

Brandt learned this the hard way when, two weeks ago, he received an e-mail — not sent to him directly, but on which he was copied — regarding the reopening of his business in the more residential part of Boystown.

The e-mail, sent by the resident group Belmont Harbor Neighbors to Alderman Helen Shiller (46th), described community concerns that the relocation of Pie Hole to its new location might be an unsettling prospect, referencing the 911 calls made at the Roscoe spot.

“Belmont Harbor neighbors believes that behaviors should be confronted or stopped,” the letter read, “not shifted away from the Halsted entertainment strip to a more residential strip within the BHN boundaries.”

The author urged to Shiller to invite Brandt and the building’s landlord to appear before the group’s board of directors to present a business plan for the new Pie Hole, and to discuss how they intended “to prevent a recurrence of problems as experienced at the previous location.”

The following week, Brandt made his presentation to a group of about 20 people, mostly business owners. Among other questions, he said, they asked him what he would do if lines of customers formed outside of his shop.

“I hope I have a line down the block and around the corner 24 hours a day,” Brandt said, recalling the meeting.

A few days later, Brandt received another e-mail — again, not addressing him directly — from the president of a homeowner’s association at a nearby building.

“We don’t need or want bad actors in our residential area,” the letter read. “We are sure that our neighbors, including business owners feel the same.”

Brandt said he understood that people would have concerns about a late-night establishment, but recognized that a few vocal opponents made up a small minority of the neighborhood.

“We’re in a position to reopen, which is good for the economy and good for the neighborhood,” he said. “We’re employing people, putting out a product and giving options to the neighborhood.”

Brandt said he expected Pie Hole to retain its clientele, and promised that the open mic nights would also return, though not immediately.

The shop’s Facebook page, which boasts 1,763 followers, displays daily comments from friends and residents hailing the shops return.

“I think we’re going to pick up right where we left off,” said Brandt.

The reopening of Pie Hole Pizza Joint at 3477 N. Broadway is slated for Oct. 1.

44th Ward Electronics Recycling

I use a lot of technology and end up having a lot of unused or broken electronics and I have to figure out what to do with them.  The 44th Ward is having a electronics recycling pickup day on September 11, 2010.  This is what the alderman had to say about it in an e-mail blast:

On Saturday, September 11, our office, in conjunction with PC Rebuilders and Recyclers, will be conducting an electronic recycling pickup day. Anytime before 8am, residents can place electronic equipment in front of their homes to be picked up and taken to a recycling facility. Items to be collected include computers and computer equipment, TVs, DVD Players, VCRs, MP3 players, video equipment, and mobile phones. Additionally, residents can drop off electronic recyclables on this date between the hours of 8am and noon at the 44th Ward Streets and Sanitation office (1501 W. School St.).

I go to school at Northwestern University who also has an e-waste recycling program for students.  The city also has a drop-off facility at 1150 N. North Branch Street.  But, if you have functioning computers, I think the best place to donate them would be FreeGeek Chicago, a “not-for-profit community organization that recycles used computers and parts to provide functional computers, education, internet access and job skills training to those who want them.”

While it’s probably better to recycle computers than to send them to the landfill, I just saw a photo essay in the New York Times Magazine that showed the reality of what happens to e-waste at one site in Ghana.

Additional information

Photo by Mosman Council via Flickr using a CC-BY-NC-ND license.

Foundation, politicians support housing proposals at Rogers Park meeting

Community members filled the pews at Rogers Park Presbyterian Church Sunday, but not for a worship service, though people passing by the church might not have been able to tell the difference.

“If you are moved to say ‘Amen’ or to clap, please don’t hold back,” said  the Rev. Debbie Paton, pastor of the church.  “Do not sit on your hands.  They were made for celebration and that is the first rule of this meeting.”

She chaired a meeting about proposals aimed at combating the loss of affordable rental housing in Rogers Park and the impact of foreclosure on neighborhoods.  The meeting was sponsored by two community organizations and brought together residents, clergy, politicians and foundation representatives to build support for the proposals.

“I can’t begin to tell you,” Rogers Park resident Arletha Gary, who attended the meeting, said when asked about the number of people she knew who had moved from Rogers Park because of disappearing affordable housing.

Gary said that in the more than 20 years she had lived in the neighborhood, she has seen housing costs rise and subsidized apartments turned into condominiums, forcing many neighborhood residents to move  to the west and north and even as far as Englewood.

Speaking from the pulpit in support of a proposed rental improvement fund, Brian White, executive director of Lakeside CDC, expressed similar concerns: “Simply put, we need affordable rental housing in our community.”

“Amen,” the audience replied.

White said the neighborhood lost more than 3,600 rental units during the peak of the recent housing boom.

“Families were uprooted and pushed from one spot to another or else pushed out of the community altogether,” White said.  “Much of the remaining affordable rental housing is in buildings which need repair to make them livable and cost-effective.”

The rental improvement fund proposal would establish a new TIF district–where a portion of property taxes are diverted to fund grants for landlords to make improvements to multi-family rental housing. Landlords would receive grants of up to $350,000 on the condition that they maintain rents at affordable levels for 10 years.

The next step for the proposal is an eligibility study, required by the state law before establishing a new TIF district.  While the city has sanctioned the study, White said, outside funding is necessary.

Mijo Vodopic, program officer for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, said the foundation was interested in a continued dialogue about the rental improvement fund, but stopped short of  committing funds to move the proposal forward.

“We were very encouraged to have the rental improvement fund brought to our attention,” Vodopic said, noting that the idea originated from community organizations with an understanding of the neighborhood’s housing needs.

Vodopic said the foundation looks forward to a full proposal from the improvement fund’s organizers.

“What happens when a couple of homes on just one block go into foreclosure?” Pam Riedy, a Northside POWER leader who spoke at the meeting, asked.  “We see our community struggle to maintain their roots while we are forced to uproot and transition into a new neighborhood.”

“Do you ever get the feeling that banks got bailed out and we got sold out?” Riedy asked the the audience.

“Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!” voices responsed.

After the meeting, Riedy linked foreclosure and affordable housing, saying that owners of smaller rental properties offering affordable rents are much more vulnerable to factors such as the loss of a tenant.  If these factors lead to the landlord entering foreclosure, affordable housing could be lost.

Supporters of measures designed to alleviate the impact of foreclosure on communities found support from Illinois State Senator Heather Steans and Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin at the meeting.  Both politicians said they would support state legislation that provided for foreclosure outreach, mediation and vacant property maintenance.

The proposed foreclosure legislation includes a $1,000 fee, paid by the seller of a foreclosed property, that would fund outreach and mediation programs similar to a Cook County program that started April 12.  Authorization of local governments to hold owners, trustees, and mortgage-holders responsible for maintaining and securing vacant properties is also a part of the proposed legislation.

Riedy said lawmakers in Springfield are circulating  drafts of legislation containing the provisions supported by Northside POWER, but to her knowledge, none had been introduced.

Even if legislators don’t get to the foreclosure proposals until the fall, Riedy said, supporters would still push for the legislation.   “We are going to be knocking on doors all summer,” she said.

Read more about the Proposed 49th Ward Rental Improvement Fund.

Originally published April 20, 2010 as “Foundation, politicians support housing proposals at Rogers Park meeting” at Medill Reports.

Asian-American groups weigh in on state redistricting process

Asian-American groups are pleased with Illinois Senate approval of a constitutional amendment to change a redistricting process that has split the community’s political power. But they haven’t stopped their advocacy yet.

Group representatives had testified Monday in Springfield  before the State Senate Redistricting Committee, which  passed the proposed measure Monday, and the full Senate approved the amendment Wednesday.

CW Chan, chairman of the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community who testified before the committee, said he endorsed the measure, championed by State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), because it included language protecting the interests of minority communities.

The amendment, if approved by state referendum, would “provide racial and language minorities who constitute less than a voting-age majority of a district with an opportunity to control or substantially influence the outcome of an election.”

Chan said the expanding Chinese-American community that now includes 59 contiguous precincts on the city’s Near South Side has been particularly hard hit by past redistricting.  While community organizing efforts increased the number of registered voters from 2,000 to 6,000 in the past 10 years, Chan said, the political power of these voters has been diluted by redistricting.

“We’re scattered all over the place,” Chan said, “We would like all of these voters to be included in the same district.”

Rebecca Shi, a community organizer with the Chinese American Service League, said the Chinese-American community in the Chinatown, Bridgeport and McKinley Park neighborhoods is split between four city wards, four state representative districts, three state senate districts and three U.S. congressional districts.  As a result, Shi said, elected officials can’t be held accountable.

“Any problem that we face, we have to go to multiple legislators,” Chan said. He cited an overcrowded public library, a shortage of recreational facilities and long waiting lists for subsidized housing as community concerns that had been neglected by elected officials.

Ami Gandhi, legal director of the Asian American Institute, also testified about  her concerns with the current redistricting process and its impact on Chicago’s Asian-American community.  The process, Gandhi said, “lends itself to politicians picking their voters rather than voters picking their representatives.”

While the institute is still evaluating the ramifications of the Senate measure, Gandhi said, “It is definitely a step in the right direction for minority voting rights.”

Gandhi said the institute is advocating for redistricting reforms that would include greater protection for minority communities that make up less than 50 percent of an area to elect the candidate of their choice.  The institute would also like to see more  hearings about proposed maps to allow more community input on the redistricting process, Gandhi said.  Removing a requirement that two state house districts be nested in a senate district would give map drawers greater flexibility to reflect the needs of communities, she said.

Gandhi said the institute was working with non-Asian-American communities to ensure that redistricting changes that would benefit Asian-Americans  would not harm other communities.  Still, she said, Asian-American communities may have different needs than other groups who share political districts, citing the need for multilingual and culturally relevant social services as an example.

Chan said a meeting with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan was planned for Saturday to encourage House passage. Chan said his goal was to help the legislature know about his community’s situation: “Recognizing the problem is the first step to rectifying it.”

Read the text of the state redistricting amendment

Originally published April 15, 2010 as “Asian-American groups weigh in on state redistricting process” at Medill Reports.