New call to end school closures in Chicago

March 11, 2013 3:49:02 PM PDT
Members of the Illinois General Assembly's Black and Latino caucuses are challenging the plan by Chicago Public Schools to close a list of schools at the end of the year.

This bill has a decent chance to come up for a vote in Springfield given the fact it is supported by the two lawmakers who chair the General Assembly education committees.

"This bill will be called next week on the 19th at 1 p.m. -- you will see me in my chair, and I will be presenting this bill as chairman of the Education Committee," said State Sen. William Delgado (D.-Chicago).

Delgado was joined at the news conference by the Illinois House Education Chairwoman Linda Chapa LaVia. Their attendance underscored the seriousness about state action to stop, at least until 2014, the CPS process to close under-utilized buildings before the fall semester.

"There is no precedent for doing this level of overhaul of 24,000 students -- in the next few months? It just doesn't add up," said Rep. Ken Dunkin (D.-Chicago).

The district has listed 129 low-enrollment buildings in mostly Black and Latino neighborhoods. By the end of this month, it will recommend which of those, reportedly at least 80, should be closed and students enrolled elsewhere.

"It's going to be a fight in Englewood. No doubt. Those people are not gonna sit back and be rolled over," said 15th Ward Ald. Toni Foulkes.

"I understand that closing schools is very emotional," said CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

Byrd-Bennett says consolidating schools could generate savings -- dollars to hire teachers, pay for technology and other special programs for students.

"I need to be able to have the opportunity to redirect the resources so that we can move forward with the education agenda," said Byrd-Bennett.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who had not been briefed on moratorium bill, appeared to defend the process underway to close under-utilized schools.

"I need to do what we need to do to make sure every child has a 21st century education, a high quality education," said Emanuel.

But the lawmakers say a coalition of the Black and Latino caucuses plus downstate Democrats and Republicans could stop the CPS restructuring plan.

"If you go down to Springfield, you'll see everyone getting together. They're supporting this," said Rep. Cynthia Soto (D.-Chicago).

Also attending the news conference Monday in support of the state lawmakers were several city aldermen. They will not have a say on which schools are closed. State lawmakers can approve or disapprove the process used by the Chicago Board of Education.