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)

Tribune analysis: Cops who pile up complaints routinely escape discipline

Activists bearing posters of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police Superintendent Garry McCarthy protest police treatment of residents during a demonstration in front of the mayor’s City Hall office in February 2015. (Nancy Stone, Chicago Tribune)

This is a story that Jeremy Gorner and I wrote from police complaint data that Gorner got from an FOI request. Read the story, Tribune analysis: Cops who pile up complaints routinely escape discipline

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.

Baby It’s Cold Inside

It feels as if I’ve lived in a lifetime of cold houses. As a child, the thermostat was a battleground between my parents (a battle that, if the warmth of my parents’ house on my last visit was any indicator, has been won by my mother).  While I’m sure there was some genuine concern for thrift, it feels keeping the temperature low was a way of saying that we weren’t the kind of family that was so privileged as to throw away money for excessive comfort.

My first house in Bloomington was freezing.  Despite covering all the windows in plastic, it never felt warm, the pipes froze, and when we finally crawled under the floorboards into the muddy crawlspace, we found that most of the ductwork was disconnected.

During the polar vortex, the temperature in my Chicago apartment dipped below 50 degrees.  It still felt warm compared with the outside, but it wasn’t exactly pleasant.  I was pissed at my landlord for neglecting the cranky radiators in the apartment, but also felt like a whiner, knowing that others in the city were probably in a worse situation.  In general, it felt like one more thing that was bigger than me.

My best stab at dealing with the crazy weather, and the discomfort, was to wire up an Arduino to a temperature sensor and push the temperature readings to Xively.  The Arduino code is here.


I made a micro site called Baby It’s Cold Inside, to share the readings and link to resources about landlord responsibilities for keeping apartments warm.  In the future, I might try to incorporate data about no heat 311 requests that I FOIAed last year.

This project didn’t make the apartment any warmer, but it was a way to acknowledge my situation and create something out of that situation.

About Hoops

A homemade basketball hoop in a Humboldt Park alley.
A homemade basketball hoop in a Humboldt Park alley.

Hoops is a project that I’m undertaking to find and document, homemade basketball hoops in Chicago. I became interested in these structures when I saw a couple of guys playing in an alley near my house in Humboldt Park. Around the same time, a schoolyard basketball court in the neighborhood had been inexplicably removed and I was feeling frustrated about its loss.  Space for childhood never feels easy in this city and the ad-hoc hoops felt like an interesting facet of the way youth in the city navigate changing resources and geographies.

You can help me with the project by finding and submitting DIY hoops in your neighborhood. I’ve created a mobile web app at http://apps.terrorware.com/hoops/ that you can use from your mobile phone, or you can share photos using the #diyhoop tag on Instagram.

“A/B testing” the impact of school closures using crime data

This weekend, the Knight Lab is sponsoring a hack day focusing on Chicago Crime Data as made available by the Tribune’s crime data portal and API.

I’m a little wary of crime data first because crime data does not equal a resident’s experience of safety.  It’s easy to think of situations where crimes go unreported, or where increased community cohesiveness might lead to an increase in crime reports.  Second, the way crime stats are framed and parsed by Chicago residents often seems to be alarmist and often further stresses racial and economic tensions in gentrifying communities rather than offering a space for increased community collaboration or developing progressive solutions to neighborhood safety.

Are there uses of crime data that contribute to a different civic discourse? One idea that came to me is based on this current moment where Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is slated to close a number of schools.  One issue raised by critics is the safety of students who may have to cross gang boundaries to reach their new “welcoming school”.  CPS’ proposal to provide resources for students who must attend a new school after their school has been closed, includes an expansion of the “Safe Passage” program which partners with neighborhood organizations to help increase safety for students on the way to and from school. From my knowledge as a caregiver of CPS students and as a frequent news consumer, I don’t have much sense of how successful this program has been so far.  After the closures happen, how will CPS and city residents know how school closures affected students on their way to and from school?

I hypothesize that we might be able to use crime data as one way to see changes in communities after schools have been closed.  I also think this is a general case of “how does crime change along with some policy event”.  I imagine a web platform where residents can define an “experiment” by looking at a specific geography, types of crime and time period.  Crime data would then be compared before and after the test time period to see how crime changed.

In general, I think it’s important to frame these experiments as “what changed” instead of “did this work” because I think the crime data set probably isn’t enough on its own to determine


  • What kind of crimes would be indicators of school commute safety? Or, should we look at crimes from specific time periods before and after school?
  • What methods do sociologists use to do these kinds of comparisons?
  • Which schools/communities currently participate in the “Safe Passage” program

Other use cases:

  • Neighborhood cleanups
  • Proposed city legislation targeting liquor stores
  • “Positive loitering”
  • Negative outcomes for heightened targeting of youth by police

Public schools + artist studios, music practice spaces and startup offices

Chicago is filled with grand neighborhood school architecture, but the infrastructure doesn’t always match up with current population demographics.  Schools may be closed due to low enrollment or converted to charter magnets, or if open, have large portions of the building unused.

Schools have space and Internet connections and are often only used during school hours. Schools could rent unused space at an affordable cost to artists needing studios, musicians needing practice space, or startups needing offices.  This tenancy would provide a new dimension of connection between public schools and their neighborhoods, particularly in the case of magnet cluster schools where the student body comes largely from outside the neighborhood.  Bringing more people into the schools on a regular basis offers the opportunity for resource sharing or leveraging the tenants for mentorship or cocurricular activities.  Though these relationships could be formalized, it would be an awesome experiment to see what kind of relationships evolve organically just from sharing space.

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.