Chicago Schools Closings: How much money will be saved by school closures?

May 22, 2013 (CHICAGO)

Crispus Attucks Elementary School at 38th and Dearborn closed in 2008 and has been vacant since. Windows have been replaced by plywood. Workers have to keep the empty building secure. And that costs money.

Will schools on the new closing list wind up looking like Attucks? Perhaps not, but there is no shortage of concern that some could.

"I don't want to have to move, but I may have to consider moving because this is going to be an eyesore," said Jonnie Crockett.

Crockett lives across the street from Calhoun Elementary, where her children went to school. Calhoun is among the schools that the CPS board Wednesday afternoon voted to close, much to the dismay of Calhoun's neighbors and staff.

"To have buildings unsecure , vacant, it becomes a shelter for criminal activity," said Calhoun's Wesley Penn.

The intent is not to leave the closed schools vacant, but finding buyers for school buildings who will be able to repurpose them quickly will not be easy.

"The big challenge is how do you maintain those buildings while you're planning a transition or getting community input as to what you want to use those buildings for," said Laurence Msall.

Msall, of the Civic Federation, believes that school closings are necessary for a school district that has lost population and is facing a $1 billion projected deficit.

But there are concerns, with $300 million in new bonds issued to help pay for improvements to the welcoming schools, the air conditioning and iPads for students.

"The Chicago Public Schools bond rating is something that is of concern," said Msall, "and it's something that the bonding agencies have warned them."

The immediate cost is daunting. Board members say the savings will come in the long haul.

"Some of them you'll sell, some of them you may not be able to sell," said school board member Henry Bienen. "But you'll certainly reap lots of money from the closing of schools."

CPS has said that the added cost of preparing the welcoming schools will be recovered in two years from the savings that will come from mothballing 50 schools. The Civic Federation says it would like to see what the school district has yet to produce: a long-term financial plan.

By the way, when Crispus Attucks was closed in 2008, its students were moved to nearby Farren Elementary, which was renamed Crispus Attucks. The new closing list includes Crispus Attucks, which will shut its doors in two years.

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