From Chicago Tribune by Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah and John Chase:
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration could safely close or overhaul as many as 80 schools this year, according to the final report of a commission that just two months ago voiced misgivings about the district's ability to close a large number of schools without major upheaval.

The panel's recommendation though filled with caveats provides the mayor and Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett with support as they prepare to file a final list of school closings with the school board by the end of the month.

The Commission on School Utilization, selected by Byrd-Bennett, noted in its interim report in January that the district had never shuttered more than a dozen schools in a single year and questioned whether closing many times that number was possible logistically.

But the advisory panel's chairman, former ComEd executive Frank Clark, said Wednesday that he was satisfied that CPS has made the organizational changes needed to ensure a smooth transition for students forced to move to a new school.

"They have a lot of work to do, but they do seem to have in my judgment both the structure, organization and personnel in place to do this efficiently," Clark said.

The district is working off a preliminary list of 129 schools that could be closed. Clark declined to give a specific number of how many might be closed, but the report indicates that CPS has the capacity to shutter 60 to 70 schools, and that others could have their staff completely replaced, a process known as turnaround, or share space with other schools including privately run charters.

The commission also recommended that the closings be carried out in one year, but it opened the door for spreading them out over two years, which would move away from a five-year moratorium the Emanuel administration had promised after this round of closings.

The report acknowledged the closings won't be easy to pull off and will require money and cooperation from the CTA and police, as well as support from the city's philanthropic and business communities "not just with money, but with time, energy and expertise."

The commission settled on the number 80 not by looking at how many schools could be closed safely and efficiently, but rather by how many higher-performing schools were available to receive students from the shuttered ones. The panel recommended that all students displaced be moved only to better-performing schools.

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