Parents protest proposed merger of schools

March 23, 2011 4:23:52 PM PDT
Chicago Public School officials unveiled a plan that would consolidate two West Side schools.

School officials say merging Jacob Beidler Elementary with Willa Cather School will save millions of dollars. Some parents, however, don't like the proposal.

The school board will ask the public to weigh in on the matter before it goes up for a vote. If approved by the school board, the changes would go into effect next fall.

Some parents sprang into action Wednesday, protesting the proposal to merge the two West Side schools. The proposal is part of a larger plan to fold eight schools into six others in the fall.

According to CPS CEO Terry Manazy, the consolidations address sagging enrollments at some schools and the growing needs of others.

At a school board meeting Wednesday, Mazany also explained how the mergers can save the district money in the long run. It's already looking at a deficit of $720 million at the start of next fiscal year.

The timing of the merger proposal has further angered some parents who say it comes a few months after the deadline to apply for other schools.

"It is a tight window. But it's something that we need to do at this point now so that we can move forward and at least provide educational opportunities for students," said Monique Bond, spokesperson, Chicago Public Schools.

Some 4,800 students would be impacted by the mergers, with 700 of those changing school buildings.

The proposal has students at Beidler leaving to make room for the expansion of Urban Prep Charter High School and joining the Cather student body.

"I think it's going to be devastating. I think it's going to interfere with our children's academics," said Freida Dunn, Cather parent.

"We're not against Willa Cather. We're not. But we have in our school parents who care, have the same concerns, there is a culture," said Bettye Sherrod, Beidler parent.

Up to 100 of the 200 teacher positions at merging schools would be eliminated.

The president of the teacher's union says members were not notified about the plan before it went public.

"There's no clear plan in place, and we were never at the table. So the fact is that we're treated as the little kids at the little kid table and that's problematic for us," said Karen Lewis, president, Chicago Teachers Union.

Mazany says community input is encouraged. There will be public hearings scheduled for each proposed action.

School board members are expected to vote on the proposals next month.