Resolution calls for school-closing moratorium

February 22, 2010 3:18:16 PM PST
A Chicago City Council committee is discussing a moratorium on the city's planned school closings. It comes as parents, students and teachers rally against the board of education's latest plan to overhaul several schools.

Nine schools are slated to be closed, consolidated or turned around after this school year.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman said, while overhauling some schools is necessary, the process could be improved.

Several aldermen are behind a resolution calling for a year long moratorium on school closings until they and others can get a better handle on the process. Even if a resolution like that were to pass, it's strictly advisory. The sponsors know that. What they really wanted to do Monday was let school officials know that the school closing process -- despite the claims of transparency -- is still very flawed.

"I think we've done everything right. We've presented facts. We have community support. We've done everything CPS has asked us to do, and we're still slated to be closed," said Jennifer Lister, Prescott School parent.

Lister is a parent at Prescott Elementary, a pre-K through eighth grade school on the North Side. Prescott is on the list to be closed, not because of test scores, but because of low enrollment. There are roughly 200 students there.

CPS wants no fewer than 250. Lister and others think that's short-sighted, unfair. They and others have complained that the school closing process is ill-conceived and has kept parents out of the loop until it's too late.

"They've had 15 years to get this right, and they haven't been able to get it right," said Julie Woestehoff, Parents United Responsible Education.

The most recent announced school closings and turnarounds have riled some Aldermen who Monday sought to scold school officials and talk about a one-year moratorium on school closings -- though theirs is merely a proposed resolution with no legal authority.

"I do not believe and have not been convinced that we've done all we can with these schools before we pull the plug," said Ald. Freddrenna Lyle, 6th Ward.

"The very simple answer is to say, you know, that we're not going to do this, but in my opinion, walking away from this would be a terrible thing because a lot of our students would be poorly served by doing this," said Huberman.

Huberman defended the logic and need for school closings and turnarounds, but he did acknowledge Monday afternoon that the process needs to be much improved -- that underperforming schools ought to be given fair warning before they wind up on a closure list.

"When schools are notified that they may be up for action that there be significant advance, sit down with schools to let them know where they are failing," said Huberman.

That doesn't change things, however, for Prescott. It's still slated to be closed.

"It's deflating, depressing, disturbing and incredibly frustrating, and makes us wonder if there isn't something else at play. Because we've done everything right," said Lister.

When it was announced in mid-January, 14 schools were on the list for closing or turnaround. That list has been cut back to nine, and the school board is expected to vote on it Wednesday.

What CEO Huberman did acknowledge Monday is that schools on the failure bubble should know, and in the future will know, months in advance what's at stake, what must they fix and how much time do they have to fix it before decisions are made.