Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Thursday March 21st, 2013, 4:15pm

How The School Closure Moratorium Bill Got Kicked Down The Road

A bill to put a to put a temporary moratorium on school closings advanced in the Senate Education Committee Tuesday, however it was “shelled” and all language was stripped out, according to a spokeswoman for Sen. William Delgado (D-Chicago), the legislation’s chief sponsor.

The bill, SB 1571, was changed because the votes in the committee weren’t all there for its approval and its language needed to be strengthened.

Lawmakers were also feeling the heat of getting bills out of committee by this week’s deadline, the Associated Press reported.

Stacy Davis Gates, legislative and political director for the Chicago Teachers Union, which sent members to Springfield to testify on the moratorium’s behalf, said stripping the language was a “legislative maneuver,” because if it stayed in committee, it would be dead.

“The biggest part is it’s alive,” she said. “Had everything stayed in as is, it probably wouldn’t have gotten out.”

It’s also been rumored that Delgado was pressured to change the bill by leadership; to which CTU’s Gates said, “I’m not going to deny what you heard is true.”

Senate President John Cullerton’s spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon declined to comment about the rumor but did say, “I don’t know anything about that."

The previous language in the bill looked to immediately put a stop on school closings until the end of the 2014-2015 school year and require the Chicago Public Schools to establish a clear school reform plan.

“The closing or opening of schools, as well as school repairs, school additions, school phase-outs, school consolidations and school boundary changes, often have profound impacts on education in a community,” the bill reads. “These decisions should be carried out only according to clear system-wide criteria with the genuine involvement of local school councils, parents, educators, and the community in decision making.”

CPS is required by state law to provide a facilities master plan, but it has not done that, Gates said.

“They don’t have to,” she said. “There is no penalty.”

For CPS not to have a clear plan before following through with school actions is “ridiculous,” Gates said, and it jeopardizes the education and safety of children that attend Chicago’s public schools.

Ald. Nicholas Sposato (36th) who supports the moratorium and was at the committee meeting said shelling the bill was a “draw.”

“We didn’t win, we didn’t lose,” he said, adding that the bill will proboably be dragged out without a moratorium passing anytime soon.

Even so, “CPS didn’t look too happy,” he added.

Sposato said during the hearing when it was CPS’ turn to testify, district officials brought up a big binder of paperwork to present to the committee.

“I’m an alderman. It would have been nice if I had that binder a while ago,” Sposato said, adding that it’s disheartening that aldermen haven’t been well-informed during CPS' school action process.

“I haven’t seen any one’s that’s seen (the plan). If you have it, then reveal it,” he added.

Brian Sleet, chief of staff for Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), said the alderman submitted testimony to the committee on behalf of a moratorium.

The written statement called for CPS to take more time and have a facilities master plan in place before shutting down any schools, Sleet said.

“There are going to be empty buildings, and we don’t know what they are going to do with them,” he said, adding that empty buildings are dangerous eyesores for the community.

When asked what schools CPS said it would target in the 6th Ward, Sleet said, “We’ve had the schools in our ward released to us, and right now we are weighing the next steps.”

He added, “Still, our hope is that they will slow this process down.”

Gates said the coalition of aldermen pushing for the bill helped to move it forward. In addition to Sawyer and Sposato, the aldermen include: Ald. Ricardo Muñoz (22nd), Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), Ald. Toni Foulkes (12th), Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) and Ald. John Arena (45th).

The moratorium bill’s next step is to come back to committee with an amendment, and negotiations are underway, said Delgado’s spokeswoman Mary Shaw. But she said an amendment doesn’t yet exist.

After the bill was shelled, Delgado acknowledged he didn’t have all the votes needed in the committee to pass the measure, the Chicago Tribune reported.

For example, State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, vice-chair of the Senate Education Committee, was out sick, and Delgado couldn’t count on her vote, Gates said.

But the victory, Gates said, is that vehicle for change remains alive.

Delgado “is going to make it stronger by putting in language that has enforcement capabilities,” she said.

Image: CTU.net



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