Updated High School Report Card

As promised earlier this morning, The Bulldog has updated its popular Chicago Public School High School report card.

The report was updated following the release by the Chicago Public Schools of the School Progress Reports.

Below you’ll find all the selective enrollment high schools for the North Attendance Area and all the neighborhood schools serving Ravenswood students.


Download the PDF of the spreadsheet

New and improved North Side Schools scorecard

Below you’ll find a new and improved North Side Schools map.

What happened? Soon after the previous map was issued the Chicago Tribune issued its summary of the ISAT scores. Frankly there wasn’t any new information there. (Although some of the data visualizations may make the report useful).

And the Chicago Public Schools issued its School Progress Report.  This was full of great information and we wanted to update the map based on what was there. Make no mistake, though, as we reported a few weeks ago, the so-called “comprehensive map” is not so good.

We proud to give you what a parent needs to make decisions.

We’ll update the high school map shortly.



Download a PDF of the spreadsheet (With a big tip of the hat to reader Kim McCarten for helping us see our shortcomings).


Ravenswood Community Council management under scrutiny— again

Management of the Ravenswood Community Council is under scrutiny again. An award winning series by The Bulldog in January and February noted that the charity, which runs Special Service Area 31, almost failed financially in the period 2005-7.

The series went on to criticize the SSA for failing to provide basic snow clearance following the heavy snow fall. It contrasted the failure in the SSA with successful clearance efforts in other areas that did not have SSA funding available.

SSA stands for Special Service Area. Created by the city, SSAs collect a property tax levy to fund “enhanced” services such as cleaning snow and trash from sidewalks. The RCC manages SSA 31 for the city.

As the manager of the SSA the RCC receives a management fee from the city. In addition it manages the services provided in the area, principally snow removal and street cleaning, but also promotion.

Although the SSA eventually cleared the sidewalks, it was a failure of the city’s Streets and Sanitation Department to clear the streets of snow on Ravenswood, while streets were cleared on industrial streets such as Rockwell and Bradley, that led to issues, according to the story, in ordinary commercial work and the efforts of charities such as the Night Ministry to maintain services.

The series is credited with being a key element in the election loss of Ravenswood Community Council President Tom O’Donnell in the aldermanic election.

A recent spat between a blog and the council has raised the issue again.

CSJ Report has errors

The post, found here at CenterSquareJournal, says the RCC is a tool of Schulter. “Current board members with political ties to Schulter include (Tom) O’Donnell, the former president of the 47th Ward Democratic Party, (Bill) Helm, the current president of the 47th Ward Democratic Party and Marty Casey, who was 47th Ward Streets and Sanitation Superintendent under Schulter.”

The inside scoop

The news that the RCC is a political tool of Schulter is not news. Sadly missing from the list of members with political ties to Eugene Schulter is Rosemary Schulter, listed by the RCC on its website as a director. Rosemary Schulter is married to Eugene Schulter.

The CSJ report goes on to confuse SSA revenue, describing $368,000 received as applied to “administering the Special Service Area #31 contract.”

The inside scoop

As noted by RCC Executive Director Chris Shickles in a reply, “RCC will receive about $50,000 in service provider compensation for managing the SSA which is in line with other similar sized SSAs throughout the city.”

The remainder of the funds are directed to efforts such as signage (the hanging banners you see on light poles), snow clearance, litter removal and landscaping. Much of that work is done by independent contractors.

The post says the RCC experiences high administrative costs.

 The inside scoop

As The Bulldog noted months ago, administrative costs at the RCC have historically ranged up to 143.14 percent of revenue in 2007. The Bulldog also pointed to HRAIL as a program with glaring inefficiency. During a four year period the RCC administered HRAIL program repaired ten homes each year for $241,538, excluding the administrative costs.

    • HRAIL is a program of small home repairs intended to maintain senior citizens in the community.
    • HRAIL has been superceeded by the SARFS program: Small Accessible Repairs for Seniors.

And The Bulldog noted that much of the revenue received was spent on independent contractors and employees, not community efforts.

Despite the financial meltdown the RCC avoided, it continued on with O’Donnell at its head. On the one hand, the RCC headed into a serious financial meltdown under O’Donnell’s leadership. It was also a hands-off leadership, The Bulldog found. O’Donnell was only present at one SSA meeting over a two year period.

Since that initial examination of the SSA minutes, O’Donnell has continued to be absent from each SSA meeting.

The issue is not just that RCC has high administrative costs, but whether the city should even fund these entities. For one thing, RCC is not the only political creature in city that receives money. As Tom Tresser, a former candidate for Cook County Board President, noted if there is a need for these services there is nothing to prevent neighborhood businesses from getting together to provide them.

The services provide a means of cloaking city services. Few property owners and fewer voters understand whether they are covered by an SSA and how to influence them. There must be a more efficient means of administering SSA services than through chambers of commerce.

Plus, the creation of a relationship between the chamber and the city creates a dependency relationship that stifles political dissent.

In essence, the chambers become tools of the city, they lack transparency and accountability to the public.

Finally, the post says there was testimony that the RCC was “politically motivated.” And the post says a hire has “alleged connections to organized crime.”

The inside scoop

The assassination of people based on association is broad. Sheila Pacione, a new employee of RCC, is correctly noted by the blog to be a former staffer of Shulter for example.

Dan Stefanski, another employee, is painted by the blog as a childhood friend of “convicted” former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Stefanski parlayed that childhood friendship into a position in the Blagojevich administration.

And the post says he was fired from the Illinois Department of Transportation for drunk driving. AND Stefanski has a past as a bookie, the report says.

According to a 2005 Chicago Sun-Times article cited online by other web sites but no longer available, an International Brotherhood of Teamsters team of investigators named Stefanski is a friend of reputed mobsters Robert Abbinanti and Nick “The Stick” LoCoco. Stefanski, according to the report, issued a statement offering a $20,000 reward for the address of a mob informant.

Stefanski does not deny keeping company with alleged mobsters, according to the report.

In the spirit of full transparency, The Bulldog itself has ties to RCC. The Bulldog sponsored an event with RCC in September, “The Bells of Ravenswood.”

As noted last month, Michael Fourcher, the publisher of the CenterSquareJournal, is a prolific entrepreneur. According to the CSJ post, Fourcher was a contributor to the post.

Fourcher was associated with the politically connected Haymarket Group, Podesta Associates, former Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson and ran a political consulting firm as recently as last year, overlapping with his creation of the CenterSquareJournal blog. Fourcher’s political interest in ward politics remains unknown.

It is a “politically motivated” piece according to a reply to the article by Democratic ward boss Eugene Schulter.

According to social media, Schulter is running again for the 47th Ward Democratic committeeman position. Schulter has not formally announced his run.

*** UPDATE Nov. 13, 2011 @ 10.30A We added two paragraphs to explain the roll of SSAs and how they receive their funding. Go to the new text ***

*** UPDATE Nov. 13, 2011 @ 11.05A We moved two paragraphs to the end of the post to provide better flow to the story. And we added an explanation of what the HRAIL program is. ***

North Attendance Area High Schools report

***Dec. 2, 2011 @ 4.09P An updated map and spread sheet on this subject is available. ***

How would you rank our area public schools?

In the next week parents will be sent a new report by the Chicago Public Schools. According to media reports, the ‘progress reports’ will accompany student report cards starting today.

The reports will emphasize students reaching benchmarks to go to college, according to the Chicago Tribune. Other indicators will include “teacher and staffing information, graduation rates, school climate, leadership and parent satisfaction,” the report says.

All of these measures are available through independent sources gathered here for you by The Bulldog.

Using surveys published within the past 18 months by Newsweek and Chicago Magazine, test scores compiled and analyzed by the Chicago Sun-Times, input from parents, students and community members on GreatSchools and in a University of Chicago survey and finally data provided by the Chicago Public Schools, The Bulldog set out this week to understand our public school system.

It is a difficult system to navigate. In the Ravenswood area there are four area public high schools: Lane Tech, Amundsen, Lake View and DeVry. In addition, a high school student has a wide choice of other schools. And a small part of our coverage has attendance at other schools, Roosevelt and Senn.

Mistakes made by parents and adults are paid for by children.

And we find this very frustrating: virtually no one in politics takes responsibility for the problems. They blame unions, parents, ‘the schools.’ We might look no deeper than the TIF issue to understand how this sorry situation has been twisted to benefit long-time politicians.

The Bulldog chose to start by creating a database that presents in one place a place for you to examine all the information on your school choices. We’ve presented this information to you as a searchable Google map and as a spread sheet that you can use to sort, filter and examine the information.

Today, we move on, providing information gathered about area public high schools.

In addition, we’ve added an outline so that parents who don’t live in Ravenswood or the North Attendance area can follow along and develop their own database. (For questions, see our report on elementary school posted yesterday.)

Did you have a suggestion? Did you see an error? Drop it in the comments and we’ll try to deal with it.


*** Update to table on Nov. 8, 2011 @ 11.24A. ***

A sharp-eyed reader asked about the ACT scores for Amundsen. We checked all the ACT scores and discovered that Amundsen and Lake View were incorrect, based on the CPS.edu site. In addition we added the ACT score for Northside Learning. The table has been corrected and the map should reflect the new results going forward.

We apologize for the error.


Mashup of Public High Schools for Ravenswood students


The Ratings and Rankings


Further Notes on the Schools

The instructions to follow regarding locating your neighborhood high school’s attendance districts are similar to those presented for the elementary schools. However the maps are in a different location. So, for instruction, finding information on schools not in our report follow these links to see a map of high school attendance districts.

North: http://www.cps.edu/SiteCollectionDocuments/Zone%20maps/HS_North_Near_North.pdf

West/ Central and South: http://www.cps.edu/SiteCollectionDocuments/Zone%20maps/HS_West_Central_South.pdf

Far South: http://www.cps.edu/SiteCollectionDocuments/Zone%20maps/HS_Far_South.pdf

Ravenswood and North Attendance elementary schools scorecard

***UPDATED 12/2/2011 A more recent version of the map and spreadsheet are available.***


How would you rank our area public schools?

In the next week parents will be sent a new report by the Chicago Public Schools. According to media reports, the ‘progress reports’ will accompany student report cards starting today.

The reports will emphasize students reaching benchmarks to go to college, according to the Chicago Tribune. Other indicators will include “teacher and staffing information, graduation rates, school climate, leadership and parent satisfaction,” the report says.

All of these measures are available through independent sources gathered here for you by The Bulldog.

Using surveys published within the past 18 months by Newsweek and Chicago Magazine, test scores compiled and analyzed by the Chicago Sun-Times, input from parents, students and community members on GreatSchools and in a University of Chicago survey and finally data provided by the Chicago Public Schools, The Bulldog set out this week to understand our public school system.

It is a difficult system to navigate. In the Ravenswood area there are four area public high schools: Lane Tech, Amundsen, Lake View and DeVry. In addition, a high school student has a wide choice of other schools. And a small part of our coverage has attendance at other schools, Roosevelt and Senn.

Mistakes made by parents and adults are paid for by children.

And we find this very frustrating, virtually no one in politics takes responsibility for the problems. They blame unions, parents, ‘the schools.’ We might look no deeper than the TIF issue to understand how this sorry situation has been twisted to benefit long-time politicians.

The Bulldog chose to start by creating a database that presents in one place a place for you to examine all the information on your school choices. We’ve presented this information to you as a searchable Google map and as a spread sheet that you can use to sort, filter and examine the information.

Today, we start with our area elementary schools.

In addition, we’ve added an outline so that parents who don’t live in Ravenswood or the North Attendance area can follow along and develop their own database.

Did you have a suggestion? Did you see an error? Drop it in the comments and we’ll try to deal with it.


Ravenswood area neighborhood schools

North Attendance Area selective enrollment schools



The Ratings and Rankings

Further Notes on the Schools


Political Representation

Q: Where is the information from? What does it mean?

A: CPS Performance rating is a ranking of 1-100 issued for each school by the Chicago Public Schools. A score of 100 is best. If a school is on probation this is noted in the balloon. The information is available on the CPS.edu website.

The Chicago Sun-Times ranking of elementary schools (classes K-5), middle schools (classes 6-8) and high schools (classes 9-12) ranks schools based on the number of schools ranked. A ranking of one is best.

The University of Chicago Consortium study of CPS schools is exhaustive, covering many of the ‘soft’ issues that educators and parents believe are important to success. Each school has exhaustive reports including surveys of students who praise and critique the school. This ranking is based on a scale of -5 to +5. +5 is considered the best.

The Chicago Magazine ranking of schools was published in June 2010. The ranking of the top 250 elementary schools includes both city and suburban public schools. A ranking of 1 is best.

The GreatSchools site invites parents, students and educators to discuss their school. This rating is based on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being best and is awarded by the site. Further scores are published for community involvement.

Q: I don’t see my school. Why? 

A: Maybe we missed it? Ask a comment, we’ll answer. Other reasons: this is a site primarily designed for neighbors in the Ravenswood neighborhood. In the process of creating the database we attempted to identify every school choice for Ravenswood parents in CPS. That means that all of the North Attendance Area selective enrollment schools should be included.

Parents in the other two attendance area will need to develop their own data base. (This is really time consuming, but we’ll help by showing what we did. See our outline, below).

Q: My school shows a N/A or a N/R. What does that mean?

The reports are not comprehensive. In some cases no data was posted for a school.

In the case of one school, Chicago International Charter School, also known as CICS, we had issues with the data as it was sometimes aggregated for the more than 4,000 students in the CICS system of schools instead of for each school. Why is that important? Examine the relative differences for the Noble Street Schools, also charters, and you’ll see that the information should be broken down by school.

Q: One survey says the school is on probation, another lists it among the best, still another says the school didn’t meet Annual Yearly Progress. Help!

It is difficult to penetrate all the lingo used by educators. Our advice is to stop them when the initials come out and ask them to explain each set of initials.

There are differences in how different measures view the progress of a school. You as an adult will need to evaluate the different measures and make an informed decision.

Now, the AYP trips up even the best schools. A school can fail to meet AYP for RELATIVELY low scores in math or reading. We believe you’ll find AYP reports for the top three schools in the area. In some cases, the students in some categories, such as minorities or disabled, scored in the 80’s, missing the AYP of a score in the 90’s.

In other cases, among the poorest scoring schools, AYP demanded scores in the twenties or thirties and were missed. It is all RELATIVE.

But it is also an indicator of where the resources of the school, often determined by the Local School Council, should be focused.

Q: What other advice do you have for a parent?

First, we’ve listed the politicians responsible for these schools. This is not only your money, it is your child’s future being screwed up. Hold them responsible for improving the schools.

We’ve found the politicians love to cut ribbons, but they are also taking property taxes from TIF districts and using them for planters and special deals for developers. YOU have to say you notice and are holding them responsible for the schools.

The second advice we have is to dive deep into the University of Chicago Consortium report. The report explores areas that experts, parents and students all agree are critical to academic success. Here is one example, one school in the area discusses poor leadership with teachers criticizing each other.  That is an area of concern.

Which brings us to our final piece of advice. Go to the Local School Council meeting. Introduce yourself to the parent and community member representatives. If every parent in the school made a commitment to attend one LSC meeting during the year there would be dramatic increases in LSC participation.

Q: My primary language is Spanish (or Polish or Greek or something else). Do you have this report available in Spanish?

No. We are language illiterate here at The Bulldog. We apologize. There is a widget available that can give a rough translation of the text. You’ll find it on the sidebar to the right.

Q: Okay, but how was this information gathered? How do I do it for my neighborhood school that is not in Ravenswood?

Follow the instructions below.

  1. CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOLS DATA… Go to the following link and to find your school: http://www.cps.edu/Schools/Find_a_school/Pages/Findaschool.aspx
    1. If you know your school name enter it in the box. The CPS site is an unfriendly site: sometimes entering part of a school name works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes there is no listing when you’ve been accurate with your spelling. If you can’t find the school through the name box, enter the ZIP Code the school is in. That should give you a list of every school in the ZIP Code.
    2. Find a map of Chicago ZIP Codes here: http://www.city-data.com/zipmaps/Chicago-Illinois.html
    3. We found that looking for schools through ZIP Code returned the best results. The querry will return a list of all schools in a ZIP Code. Most schools will be ‘neighborhood’ schools. These schools have “attendance districts.” You can find the attendance districts for the city on the map here:
      1. North http://www.cps.edu/SiteCollectionDocuments/Zone%20maps/Elem_North.pdf
      2. Near North/ West/ Central http://www.cps.edu/SiteCollectionDocuments/Zone%20maps/Elem_Near_North_West_Central.pdf
      3. South http://www.cps.edu/SiteCollectionDocuments/Zone%20maps/Elem_South.pdf
      4. Far South http://www.cps.edu/SiteCollectionDocuments/Zone%20maps/Elem_Far_South.pdf
    4. If you follow the hyper-link to the school you’ll find a page called ‘At-a-glance.’ The information from our report is not on this tab. It is under the tab called “Scorecard.”
    5. Scorecard gets meaty.
      1. The performance rating we publish in our balloon comes from the bold faced number immediately below the check boxes.
      2. A second number to examine here is the probation status of the school. Charter schools are not put on probation and will have a N/A checked.
      3. Below that are scores for the previous three years detailing about nine measures. The most interesting score to us was the ‘Relative school impact on student growth’ measured against reading and math. We believe these should be positive. Negative numbers here seem to indicate the school is holding students back.
      4. Finally below, at the bottom, are some important reports presented in PDF format. We found class size by examining the ‘State School Report Card’ for each school. That was a lengthy process.
  2. CHICAGO SUN-TIMES RANKING… The Chicago Sun-Times ranking report can be found at this site: http://fh.suntimes.com/reportcards/
    1. We found that the report was difficult to navigate. So we set it up to return a list only of CPS schools, then looked for the schools we were listing.
      1. Click ‘Advanced Search’.
      2. Under District go to “City of Chicago SD 299”. Click search.
      3. The return will be a list of all CPS schools. Choose the school you are interested in.
        1. At the top of the next page will be the name of the school, attendance and the grades served. This is a very long report with a lot of great information.
        2. On the next line, below the hyper-links, the Sun-Times lists school rank.
        3. Below that is some text. Much of it is boilerplate. Take a moment to read why the school missed its AYP. Not the Composite scores in the box.
        4. Far down the page is where you can find average class size for the school. The Bulldog used a different source for its class size.
  3. UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO CONSORTIUM REPORT AND RATINGS… The University of Chicago Consortium report can be found here: https://www.ccsrsurvey.uchicago.edu/2011/
    1. You’ll either need the ZIP Code or the school name to start your search. By the time we got to this report for the database, we had already developed our list of target schools. This is the best independent report and is based on independent information. All the other information is based on reports to the state. Everything else is based on the same base of information. We highly recommend reading these reports in depth.
  4. CHICAGO MAGAZINE RANKINGS… The article for Chicago Magazine starts here: http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/October-2010/Best-Elementary-Schools-Ranking-Charts/
    1. Follow the link to the best Chicago schools: http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/October-2010/Best-Elementary-Schools-City-of-Chicago/
    2. The link isn’t obvious, but the ranking continues here: http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/October-2010/Best-Elementary-Schools-City-of-Chicago/
    3. The immediate issue with the ranking is that it seems to be based only on the percent of students who meet or exceed the state standard. So, other factors that determine success, such as those measured by the UofC study, are ignored.
    4. Finally, it appears the data in this study is dated, as the methodology indicated it was based on reports from 2005.
  5. GREATSCHOOLS RATING… Finally we get to the GreatSchools ranking. The site notes here: http://www.greatschools.org/illinois/chicago/Chicago-Public-Schools/that deadlines for high schools are due in December and for elementary schools in January.
    1. This page allows you to browse the top ranked schools. To find a particular school we used the text box in the upper right corner. This site will anticipate your key strokes with suggestions for the school based on what you type.  The site also has comments from students, staff and parents about the school.

Bell and Lane top Sun-Times school report card

Two area public schools were named among the top 50 in the state in the annual Chicago Sun-Times ranking of Illinois schools.

Bell School was one of 13 Chicago Public Schools that met the standards for the top 50 elementary schools. The neighborhood school was one of just six District 299 schools that did not have eligibility requirements for enrollment and still was ranked by the newspaper.

Bell ranked 29th among CPS schools and 33rd in the state, the report says. The middle school classes ranked 19th in the state.

At a recent meeting of the Bell Local School Council concern was expressed that parents were pulling students from the school for the middle school Academic Center at nearby Lane Tech.

That might cause the school to experience a lower score in the future.

Although Bell was highly ranked, the school still failed to meet the requirements for the No Child Left Behind Act due to lower than accepatable reading scores among its disabled population.

Lane Tech was ranked 20th among all Illinois schools in the ranking. The large school boasts having a larger minority and low income proportion of its student body than many smaller magnet schools.

Six of those smaller schools, including nearby Northside College Prep, were ranked above Lane. The newspaper said the top three public schools in the state were all in Chicago: Northside, Whitney Young and Walter Payton.

Lake View High School was ranked 470th among 638 high schools. Amundsen ranked 536th on the same scale. Both schools were identified by the newspaper as in need of improvement for the ninth year in a row.

Lake View, the report says, is struggling with low math and reading scores among its entire population, with low scores for Hispanics and low-income students.

The problems the report highlights at Amundsen are similar, but more pronounced with lower composite scores.

Among the neighborhood elementary schools Blaine followed behind Bell, being ranked 103rd statewide and 52nd among middle schools.

Audubon and Coonley followed Blaine. Audubon was ranked 308th for elementary grades and 204th for middle schools. Coonley was ranked 388th for elementary and 391st for middle school.

Other schools and the ranks for elementary and middle school composite tests in the Sun-Times ranking:

    • Audubon ranked 308 and 204.
    • Bell ranked 29 and 19. The school did not meet AYP due to low reading scores among its disabled students.
    • Blaine ranked 103 and 52.
    • Budlong ranked 999 and 834. The Budlong composite was hurt by low reading scores. The composite fell to 80.9 percent from 81.4 the previous year.
    • Bell ranked 103 and 52.
    • Chappell ranked 1198 and 691. The composite score rose to 82.3 percent from 75.3 percent.
    • Coonley ranked 388 and 391. The school composite score fell to 90.8 from 92.0 the previous year.
    • Courtenay ranked 991 and 346. The school met the AYP, but had falling scores of 90.8 percent v 94.5 last year.
    • Hamilton scored 1422 and 880. Hamilton did not meet AYP due to reading scores. Composite has increased to 78.2 from 69.0.
    • McPherson ranked 1444 and 920. The school did not meet AYP due to reading scores and Hispanic reading scores (which actually exceeded that of the general school population) but had rising composite of 78.5 v 75.7. McPherson has been identified as in need of improvement by the newspaper for the 10th year in a row.
    • Ravenswood ranked 1698 and 1395. The school had a composite rank of 71.8 percent, up from 67.3 percent. It did not meet AYP due to math and reading scores. It has been identified as in need of improvement for the third year in a row.
    • Trumbull was ranked 1843 and 1035. The school did not meet AYP due to both math and reading scores. Trumbull has a falling composite score of 68.4 percent v 77.2. The school has been identified as in need of improvement for the first year.
    • Waters was ranked 1218 and 528. It did not meet AYP due to math scores. The school had rising composite scores of 81.1 percent versus 78.9 the previous year. Waters has been identified as in need of improvement for the 10thyear in a row.

Schulter exits; His legacy remains Part 2

Ald. Eugene Schulter

Ald. Eugene Schulter Credit: Jane Rickard

This weekend marks the end of an era, not just for Chicago, but for Ravenswood. Today, for the first time since 1975, the 47th Ward will not be represented by Eugene Schulter.

Schulter’s impact on the Ward will last well into the future, even as the laminated signs disappear from our alleys and his name from projects completed.

Schulter joined the council at the age of 26 in 1975. At the time he was the youngest alderman to ever serve. Schulter will be remembered in the Ward for his leadership in the movement of the Old Town School of Folk Music main campus to Lincoln Square, the establishment of the Sulzer Regional Library and the economic revitalization of Lincoln Square.

In part two, we look at some of the civic projects and legacy of his time in office.

Sulzer Library

Among the big projects that will last generations is the creation of the Conrad Sulzer Regional Library. Was it Schulter’s creation of that of Ed Kelly, his political mentor? Both politicians take credit for the library.

The library was opened in the fall of 1985 at a cost of $5.5 million to replace the Hild Regional Library. Although the design created “one of the city’s brightest and airiest” libraries, the 65,000 quare foot building “lopped about 30,000 square feet” from the original design according to Ben Joravsky of the Chicago Reader.

It also suffered from a design flaw that allowed water to leak into the structure as late as 2001.

By 2001 the library is reported to have had the second largest circulation in the Chicago Library System according to the report by Joravsky. A report in Inside Publications in 2001 says the branch had a circulation of 72 percent that of the Washington main branch.

In August 2001, according to press reports in the Reader and other local newspapers, the Sulzer branch collection was hit with a purge of the collection. Activists estimate the library lost ten percent of the total collection, up to 35,000 books.

Schulter joined Sulzer’s Friends of the Library and local media in a confrontation with central office staff as news spread of the purge. In a basement confrontation at the library Schulter got into a shouting match with “one of (Library Commissioner Mary) Dempsey’s staffers,” according to the Reader’s interview with Ron Roenigk, a member of the Sulzer Friends of the Library.

Schulter, the Friends of Sulzer and others met with Dempsey later that week. Their agreement to create an advisory council does not appear to have been followed-up as there is no such council presently active at Sulzer.

Old Town School of Folk Music

According to the Chicago Tribune, “most people credit (the arrival of the Old Town School of Folk Music) with kick-starting the neighborhood’s transformation. The opening in 1998 transformed the former Hild Library building into a neighborhood cultural center with regular music performances. The first location for the school was in the Old Town Triangle on North Ave. In 1968 the school moved to a 13,000 square foot location it still owns on Armitage.

Schulter says he approached the OTS to move into the Hild Library building, vacant after the construction of the Sulzer Library. In 1994 the OTS was chosen as the preferred recipient of the former Hild building. This assessment of Schulter’s role was shared by Bau Graves of the OTS as well as Schulter.

The new 43,000 square foot $10 million site opened in 1998. It had a 400 seat venue for concerts and allowed the school to expand enrollment to 6,400 students per week according to a report in the Chicago Tribune. In 2010, the school laid the ground for an $18 million 27,100 square foot expansion across Lincoln Ave. from the Hild location.

An economic engine, the school employs 300 teachers and staff and expects to add 250 when the expansion is complete.

Although the school plans to add up to 4,800 students a week after the completion of the addition, plans for handling the parking crunch have not yet been explained.

The school also holds an annual Folk and Roots Festival in Welles Park each summer.

The school has also acted as a magnet. The strip of Lincoln near the school does not appear to have as many issues with storefront vacancies and the school is credited with attracting the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative.

Lincoln Square Pedestrian Mall success and failure

It may not appear like it today, but at one time the small boutique stores of the Lincoln Square Mall struggled against larger retail areas, particularly a Lake View big store strip centered on Belmont, Ashland and Lincoln.

An entry in The Encyclopedia of Chicago by Amanda Seligman notes the situation:

The intersection at Lincoln, Lawrence, and Western Avenues had never been as popular as other regional shopping districts, and the growing number of empty storefronts after World War II made some merchants worry about their ability to attract customers. In 1956, they erected a statue of the late president Abraham Lincoln, for whom the area and its major street were called. In 1978 they developed the Lincoln Square mall, a pedestrian plaza that required a controversial rerouting of local traffic. The chamber tried to evoke an Old World flavor with European-style shops and a lantern imported from Hamburg, Germany.

Although he was just in his 20’s and two years in office at the time, Schulter claims credit for the redevelopment of the mall. “One of his first initiatives as Alderman was to change the traffic flow on the 4800 block of N. Lincoln Avenue to create the pedestrian mall in the Lincoln Square,” his web site says.

The pedestrian mall began filling the storefronts south of Lawrence Avenue. However, the area north of Lawrence continued to languish behind the mall.

In March 2006 a Chicago Tribune story noted a city plan to purchase 11 parcels in the “4800 block of North Lincoln” and the “4900 block of North Western.”

“Of those buildings, maybe three are occupied” by commercial tenants Schulter told the Tribune.

In September 2007 the city Community Development Commission approved acquiring 16 parcels saying the businesses “do not represent the highest and best use of the land.”

However, the owner of Chicago Soccer, Imre Hidvegi, and the owner of Decorium Furniture, Tim Le, organized against the eminent domain.

They pointed to their successful businesses and their investments. On December 5, 2007, as Schulter guided eminent domain legislation towards a vote, a group called Save Lincoln Square met at Chicago Soccer to organize against the City Council vote. When the crowd asked why Schulter wasn’t there to meet with them someone announced that he had open ward night at his office and wasn’t available.

Someone else announced they were residents and stood up saying something to the effect of ‘I’m going to go down there.’

According to Tom Mannis of the Chicago News Bench 200-300 people marched down Lincoln Ave to Schulter’s office. A report in the ChiTownDailyNews said the number was closer to 100.

“Alderman Eugene Schulter yelled at his constituents and threatened to have the police haul them away,” Mannis reports. Mannis’ version was confirmed to The Bulldog by other witnesses that night.   The video below, from the Chicago News Bench shows the protest.  

The Sun-Times Mark Konkol noted Schulter’s capitulation:

Bowing to pressure following a community protest and the Sun-Times coverage of his redevelopment plans for the Lincoln Square business district, Alderman Gene Schulter (47th Ward) pulled an ordinance that would have allowed the city to use its eminent domain powers to gobble up the 4800 block of Western.

(In a statement Schulter said) I would like to also take this opportunity to thank the many residents of the 47th Ward who have called, written, and emailed their thoughts and views on this issue to my office expressing both support and concerns.

Other achievements

Talking to Schulter during an informal meeting last spring, prior to being cut-off from further contact, Schulter told The Bulldog he had a hand in the development of most of the business in the Ward.

It was a fantastic claim from a person who had never started a small business.

Here are a few of the major claims on the Schulter’s bio on the city web site:

  • Developed Levy Senior Center
  • Established Western and Belmont police and court facilities
  • Created fire station at Damen and Grace
  • Created new field house at Chase Park
  • Advocated for substantial improvements at Welles Park and Paul Revere Park
  • Created new jobs and retained jobs in the Ravenswood Industrial Corridor
  • Created Greening of Ravenswood
  • Sponsored capital and operational improvements at schools in ward, new additions at McPherson and Chappell
  • Fought negligent and delinquent landlords in ward
  • Established Lake View High School Campus. (“city’s first school campus.” I guess the campus at Lane Tech came later?)

The Western Avenue North TIF, which is unmentioned above, reports it funded one project. It also hung out several million dollars for small business development. Millions move from this TIF to other TIFs in the city.

The Western Avenue South TIF helped the Martha Washington Hospital campus transform into a senior campus and can be considered a TIF success.

It too ships millions of dollars out of the community to help the city’s general revenue fund.

Greening of Ravenswood doesn’t seem to have been active for several years. Its website is for sale.

The Ravenswood Community Council, itself a creature of Schulter, is trying to reinvent itself after years of failure.

The Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce has collapsed. The industrial corridor is reinventing itself as an artist district.

The neighborhood schools are adequate. As noted in previous Bulldog reports, sadly, they are not excellent. Responsibility for their problems are denied by our elected officials, though the shiny new additions are credited to politicians who have supported fiscal policies that have robbed the schools of potential resources.

In the 15 months The Bulldog has existed  Schulter famously returned from vacation to vote against a recommendation that would cut his control of street sweepers and trash collection. Later Schulter told the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce he would fight cuts to their funding.

(What happens when the Chamber crosses the alderman? Read about it here.)

Later, Schulter did not appear at a special meeting of the City Council called to put a referendum on the ballot regarding increasing police presence and to reconsider the parking meter lease.

For the final word on Schulter’s legacy we refer you to a report carried by WBEZ: “We really felt like we had no word,” Tim Le of Decorium told the radio station about Schulter’s eminent domain plans.

Read Part 1 of the Schulter legacy.

*** Update 110515 5.03P Bau Graves name had an extra ‘e’ (Beau). ***


Statehouse press corps objects to exclusive agreement with Trib

The Capitol Fax Blog reports that Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn made an agreement with the Chicago Tribune granting it exclusive coverage of the historic signing of the Illinois Death Penalty Repeal.

“This was a huge, momentous bill, perhaps the most important legislation that Gov. Pat Quinn will ever sign,” the site said in a note to readers today.

The hand-delivered letter to Quinn from the Illinois Statehouse press corps notes “we object strenuously to your decision to single out one particular news organization to witness and photograph the signing.”

As strange as it sounds, this battle between the press corps and the governor about a major newspaper gaining preferred access is important stuff. Imagine if the governor could always pick and choose. Why not choose the friendliest or most ignorant media in the state to report the news of his doings? Of what happens in a court house, the legislature or any of the government units that extend right here into our neighborhood?

The  battle between the press and politicians cannot be underestimated by the readership of The Bulldog. We often seek the opinion of elected representatives of our Wards and legislative district and offices for answers. And we have often been frustrated by the contempt we find. We have found it difficult in some cases to get simple questions answered, such as the status of municipal construction projects from our alderman.

In the election which just passed, the 47th Ward witnessed a contest between three men who sought public access and welcomed it and one man who depended on money to purchase the office.

On election day he growled at a photographer for this site, snarling “I don’t read that site.”

Overt hostility to the public, in the guise of the press worries us. We worry about our personal safety and the safety of our investment, including our home, as we put ourselves out there to answer questions on your behalf.

But the battle between the press and the politicians happens in surprising places, too.

Here is a recent discussion between Fox News show host Bill O’Reilly and News Host Chris Wallace about an ongoing feud between former Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin and O’Reilly.

Yes, it happens everywhere someone demands an answer and someone else wants to lay it on thick or avoid the question. Even in the Fox echo chamber.

The Bulldog has expressed its anger directly to politicians it perceives as attempting to tilt the field towards a particular local publication by giving it access. That is unfair to you, our readers.

When a politician refuses to answer a question, we can deal with it by noting that fact to you. When a politician attempts to use another local publication to advance their message by acing us out of press releases and press events, that is not acceptable to us. It shouldn’t be acceptable to our competition either.

Here are five examples of being stonewalled encountered in the past year by The Bulldog:

  • In April of last year The Bulldog asked for records related to Local School Councils for each of the Ravenswood schools.  Some schools never replied.
  • In April of last year The Bulldog asked the Chicago Public Schools to provide a list of candidates for LSC, including enough information to be able to identify the candidates address and other contact information. CPS refused, holding that the state FOIA law required it to refuse to give that information. Without that information we cannot contact LSC candidates except through the control of the principal. We cannot even identify whether Joe Smith, running for the LSC, is the Joe Smith the child molester or Joe Smith the patron saint of children.
  • The Bulldog has made a series of requests for planning documents related to Clark Park. Although Fran Spielman wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times about a multi-million dollar effort to build a little Wrigley Field west of Lane Stadium, no one, not the alderman, the City Planning Department, the Chicago Park District or the Chicago Public Schools could share any information about the plans for that plot of land. According to all the sources, no plans exist for that plot of vacant land.
  • The Bulldog has made a number of attempts to gain access to documents related to the city acquisition, for $1.4 million, of a plot of land in Lincoln Square. The efforts of The Bulldog did result in a sudden interest in the city in maintaining the land— they cut the grass. And soon enough work began on the land to develop it into a community garden. However no documents relating to the long-term plan for the land has ever been produced by the Alderman or the city departments contacted.
  • The Bulldog asked Ald. Eugene Schulter to provide fax records and telephone records. As explained in our story that Schulter’s chosen replacement as Alderman, Tom O’Donnell, was under investigation, Schulter hid behind a technicality in the law to refuse to give up the records. There was enough evidence to indicate, but not outright prove, the ward office used official resources for political purpose in the aldermanic campaign.
  • There have been other examples too. Salary reports, flooding, pollution, and huge government projects.

Clearly, this has been a challenging year for the politicians who are suddenly under the glare of being visible and for us as we push for answers.

The Bulldog is grateful for the assistance provided to it in the past year by

  • First, with great humility, the public servants of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. We put them under pressure to help us with an important story and they came through. We are so proud of these public servants who helped us help you.
  • the Kent School of Law Center for Open Government,
  • the Online Media Legal Network of Harvard University’s Berkman Center,
  • Executive Director Terry Norton of Kent,
  • Jennifer Klear, an attorney who works closely with us through OMLN.

We encourage you, our readers, to read the entire text of the Capitol Fax Blog post.

We encourage you, our readers, to write to Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to tell him this is not acceptable behavior.

We encourage you, our readers, to follow-up with local politicians who attempt to evade our questions by demanding those politicians answer the questions put to them.

This is Sunshine Week in the United States, a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance to you, the readership, of open and transparent government and the freedom of information. There are broad efforts in this country to limit your ability to know information you need to make informed decisions. It happens right here in Ravenswood and continues all the way up the line to the highest levels of this democracy.

It is your government. Demand answers. Tell politicians FOIA, the Freedom of Information Act, and the Open Meetings acts should be strengthened.


Widely criticized city budget moves forward; the silence of officials

This morning the Chicago daily newspapers are reporting that the Chicago City Council Budget Committee passed Mayor Daley’s 2011 budget recommendation with minor changes. The budget will use much of the remaining parking meter proceeds and revenues from TIF districts to plug a deficit of about $655 million according to WTTW’s Chicago Tonight.

The committee, it is reported, passed the mayors proposal unanimously.

The one substantive change to the budget was the council is rejecting $3.5 million of cuts to local chambers of commerce. That money, which is largely unaccounted for by the chambers, was used by the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce to pay for outside public relations counsel, the chamber has told media outlets.

In other chambers the funds pay for salaries and other services.

At a meeting of the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce last month Schulter announced he would oppose any budget that did not fund the chambers.

The Bulldog contacted Ald Eugene Schulter (D- North Center), Pat O’Connor (D-Budlong Woods) and Dick Mell (D-Irving Park) to ask about the budget proposal and to hear their thoughts on the budget debate. The three aldermen sit on the Budget Committee.

The Bulldog contacted the aldermen twice by e-mail over a period of a week for their views, without any reply from any of them. The Bulldog looked at their web pages (the links for the web pages are in the paragraph above), but there was no discussion of the budget.

The Bulldog also contacted the Rahm Emanuel campaign, requesting their views on the budget. Emanuel’s campaign didn’t respond either.

The only person who did respond was Ameya Pawar, a North Center challenger to 47th Ward Alderman Eugene Schulter.

Independent of the silence of the elected officials the budget did receive other reviews however:

In the comments The Bulldog has listed Pawar’s unedited reply. There you can see the questions put to the aldermen, but not answered by them. Directly below, a graphic of the proposed savings listed by the Chicago Inspector General and the Civic Federation.

Beyond that, on our Facebook page is a tab for suggestions. You can use it to give your suggestions on resolving the city’s budget issue.

Aldermen demonstrate the inequity of water bills

Ald Eugene Schulter's North Center home paid a higher cost per square foot than a similarly sized home for Ald Dick Mell in Irving Park, according to a study by the Chicago Sun-Times.

Ald Eugene Schulter's North Center home paid a higher cost per square foot than a similarly sized home for Ald Dick Mell in Irving Park, according to a study by the Chicago Sun-Times. Credit: Assessors office

Fewer than one third of Chicago homes have water meters, according to a study published by the Chicago Sun-Times as part of its water meter series.

The meters, which were found to reduce water bills, are installed in a higher percentage of homes in the Ravenswood area, composed primarily of the 47th Ward, and parts of the 33rd and 40th Wards, than in the city average. “The result,” according to the Sun-Times, “many people who don’t have meters pay more for water than their neighbors do.”

About half the city council is metered, according to another story in the series. The series looked at large differences in the bills of aldermen, those with sometimes smaller homes receiving significantly smaller bills than their colleagues.

The study found that 48 percent of 47th Ward homes are metered. Among those not metered was Ald Eugene Schulter’s 1,725 square foot North Center home. He received a water bill, the story says, of $567 in 2009, up 15.7 percent from 2008, $490. That’s about $0.328 per square foot.

In comparison, 40th Ward Alderman Pat O’Connor’s 3,084 square foot home in Budlong Woods is metered. With 78.8 percent more square footage, O’Connor paid $899 in 2009. That’s about 58.5 percent more than Schulter and a rate of about $0.291 per square foot. O’Connor’s water bill increased by 27.3 percent from $706 in 2008.

33rd Ward Ald Dick Mell’s 1,766 square foot bungalow in Irving Park should be receiving about the same bill as Schulter’s North Center home. However, the city uses a formula that takes into account lot width and the height of the home. With a narrower lot, Mell paid just $430 without a meter on his property. That was up 15.6 percent from $372 in 2008 and represents a cost of $0.243 per square foot.

Ward Metered Non-metered Percent
33 2058 4445 32
40 2736 4112 40
47 4344 4730 48

Source: Chicago Sun-Times and City of Chicago Department of Water Management