The CPS Board of Education is slated to vote Wednesday on a series of proposals that would change how Local School Councils (LSCs) evaluate principals, allow the district to borrow more money and potentially create new revenue from sponsorship deals.
Here’s a look at some of the important votes the Board will be taking.
Principal evaluations… For LSC member Jose Hernandez at Kelly High School in Brighton Park, it’s been frustrating waiting for CPS to update the form that LSCs use to evaluate principals annually.
Two years ago, CPS rolled out new principal evaluations for network chiefs, ones that were aligned with new teacher evaluations that rely half on observations of performance and half on school progress, including student test scores. (It’s still unclear what consequences principals face if they perform poorly on network chief evaluations, but LSCs are supposed to take them into consideration when they do their own.)
But Hernandez says CPS delayed putting out a new LSC evaluation form, and he questions how much input LSCs had in the revision process.
“It’s really unfair,” he says, to expect LSCs to conduct thorough principal evaluations when the old form mentions standardized tests no longer in use and other outdated information.
LSCs assess how principals are performing on a variety of tasks, ranging from how well they communicate with parents and develop staff, to whether they’re running an orderly school and producing a budget on time. At the end of a principal’s four-year contract, the evaluations play a key role in helping LSCs decide whether to renew a principal’s contract.
The updated LSC evaluation form was posted in June, then pulled from the Board agenda. The form that showed up as part of the July agenda was revised to include additional details – mostly examples of how principals can meet required standards. Carlos Azcoitia, whose term on the Board ended last month, says he thinks the delay let CPS gather more input from principals and LSC members.
Slated to be used for the coming school year, the new form is simpler and includes 42 fewer “key behaviors” – down from 70 – that LSCs have to rank. Among those professional practices, most weight is given to actions that help improve a school, help teachers collaborate to implement the Common Core State Standards and help students prepare for college and careers.
LSCs are asked to rate a principal based half on their professional practices and half on the school’s performance rating, which is calculated by CPS and takes into consideration test scores, student growth, attendance, school climate and metrics like freshmen on track, graduation rates, drop-out rates and college enrollment.
In the past, LSCs gave two separate ratings – one for professional practices and one for a school’s performance – that determined whether a principal was exceeding, meeting or not meeting standards. Now principals will ultimately receive one grade that rates them as “excellent,” “proficient,” “developing” or “unsatisfactory.”
Troy LaRaviere, the outspoken principal at Blaine Elementary in Lakeview, says he values the feedback LSCs offer in their evaluations, but he doesn’t see the overall rating as helpful. He wishes the process was less like a formal evaluation and more like a continuous review with feedback over a school year.
More debt… CPS is seeking permission to borrow $1.16 billion in general obligation bonds that would be used to pay for building projects, refinance old debt and pay fees to end some interest-rate swap deals that raised alarms in a Tribune series last fall.
But the resolution doesn’t spell out all the potential uses for the new borrowing, and as the Tribune notes, it’s unclear if the money will be used to cover pension payments or operating costs.
A CPS spokeswoman tells Greg Hinz at Crain’s Chicago Business that “the majority” of the money will be used for school improvement projects and that more detail will be available at the Board meeting.
Hinz reports that the bonds could be issued all at once or in chunks, with some sales expected to start this fall. Either way, the borrowing won’t plug the district’s operating deficit for the coming school year.
(CPS will hold a public hearing about the proposed bond sale at 9:30 AM Wednesday, an hour before the board meeting, at Central Office in the Loop.)
Money from sponsorships… In November, CPS put out a request for proposals to find a company that could help it find and manage sponsorship deals – at the district level and for individual schools – in the hopes of generating more revenue.
The district said it was looking for an agency “that will bring industry expertise and advise on generating revenue through sponsorships, broadcasting, advertising, promotional materials, naming rights, branded paraphernalia and idea generation.” According to the Tribune, that could include shoe, jersey and equipment deals, as well as corporate naming rights for stadiums, fields and auditoriums.
The district is now poised to award a three-year contract to The Public Private Network, based in White Plains, N.Y., that’s worth up to $2.4 million.
CPS says the company will put together a district-wide approach to help the district make money on vending machines and broadcasting services, as well as help the district meet federal nutrition requirements governing what snacks and drinks can go into school vending machines.
The company would take a commission from CPS’s earnings, ranging from a high of 18 percent in the first year to 16 percent in the final year of the contract. If the contract is renewed, in future years the commission would be 15 percent.
CPS says that commission is based on work the company did for the New York City Department of Education, but documents show the company is charging that district lower commission rates for similar services: 15 percent for vending sponsorships and broadcast rights.
The company has a five-year contract with the New York City district – worth $833,000 a year – but the district has nearly three times as many students and schools as CPS, which could pay out up to $800,000 a year for similar services.
David Bober, who heads the company, declined to comment without permission from CPS.
Pearson contracts… The education company NCS Pearson Inc. is up for three contract renewals worth $2.2 million. All are related to technology that tracks student data and academic performance – an issue that has, in recent years, caused alarm among some parents and data privacy activists.
The largest is a two-year contract worth $1.15 million to help CPS maintain and track a range of student growth and assessment measurements from a variety of tests. The proposed contract also asks Pearson to help CPS administer the teacher evaluation system.
In addition, Pearson is up for a $525,000 contract renewal to maintain and provide support services for the district’s student database and other software.
Finally, the Board is set to vote on giving Pearson a two-year, $250,000 contract for support services and maintenance for an online “Gradebook” used by CPS teachers and parents to track student performance.
New faces… The Board also is expected to make a number of high-level appointments that were announced last week but aren’t on the agenda. These include new CEO Forrest Claypool; chief education office Janice Jackson; and a special advisor to the CEO, Denise Little.
A CPS spokesman says these personnel matters will be discussed during the Board’s closed session before returning to the open meeting for a vote.
In addition, the Board is expected to accept David Vitale’s resignation as president. Last week Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he’d chosen Frank Clark, a retired ComEd executive, to lead the Board.
Wednesday’s meeting will have other new faces, including four new board members. These include: Mark Furlong, a retired banker; Gail Ward, a retired principal, Dominique Jordan Turner, president of Chicago Scholars; and Rev. Michael Garazini, retiring president of Loyola University of Chicago.
The Board also plans to vote to name Furlong and Ward to the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund Board of Trustees. They replace former CPS Board members Carlos Azcoitia and Andrea Zopp on that 12-member board. A spokesman for the pension fund says the new board members will be sworn in during the Aug. 20 meeting and would serve two-year terms.
Catalyst reporter Melissa Sanchez contributed to this report.