Weather Updates

Mom against Little Village principal hitting parents up for A/C funding

New Chicago Public Schools CEO BarbarByrd-Bennett Chicago School Board Hedquarters Chicago Ill. Friday October 12 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times

New Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett at the Chicago School Board Hedquarters in Chicago, Ill., on Friday, October 12, 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 26, 2012 7:15AM

How much cool air can one kid suck up?

At one Little Village school, $20 worth, though discounts kick in for subsequent siblings.

That’s what a mom told the Chicago Board of Education on Wednesday. She asked board members to foot the bill for air conditioning so her children’s principal will stop hitting up parents for cash.

“He is trying to collect the money directly from the parents,” Elizabeth Nevarez, mom to a third-grader and second-grader at Eli Whitney Elementary School, 2815 S. Komensky, told the board Wednesday.

“We all know that the classrooms are very, very hot, and they are Track E [year-round], and we are concerned that the children will not be learning properly during the hot weather but we also thought . . . that these funds should be coming from Chicago Public Schools.”

Whitney Principal Jorge A. Ruiz sent home a letter on Aug. 29 requesting up to $45 per family to pay for air conditioning in the school’s big old main building.

“The weather is getting hotter and hotter every year and we need to make sure that our students have a classroom with a suitable temperature to learn,” the letter read in English and Spanish. “You can choose to pay in monthly installments for your convenience. Thank you for your help in making Eli Whitney School classrooms a COOL environment for all of our students.”

Whitney runs on a year-round calendar, so it started in August. In 2011-12, 96.8 percent of the prekindergarten-to-eighth grade student were low-income, according to the CPS website.

Ruiz asked for $20 for the first child; $15 for the second and $10 for the third. “If you have a fourth one, you are lucky because they are free,” Nevarez told the board as the crowd around her buzzed in disapproval.

And parents are being told by the principal and some of his staff that if their fees aren’t paid by report card pickup day on Tuesday, their children’s report cards won’t be released, she said.

Nevarez doesn’t know what the air conditioning plan is. The annex building that houses her small kids already is air-conditioned. So are the main building’s offices and a few classrooms. The principal hasn’t specified.

Nor has she paid up.

“We’re in a low-income community to begin with,” Nevarez said. “It’s Little Village. The majority of people are unemployed or underemployed. This is just ridiculous.”

Whitney is on a scheduled fall break this week. Ruiz did not respond to messages left at the school, on his work email or at a number thought to be his Chicago home.

“This is obviously a serious issue,” school board President David Vitale said. CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett dispatched her chief of staff to collect the letter and follow up with Nevarez.

CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said a Local School Council, made up of teachers, parents and community members who make a lot of a school’s financial decisions, may vote on school fees — but can’t require them.

“What the letter doesn’t make clear, what is vague in this letter is that fee structure isn’t mandatory. There’s no penalty if parents opt out or are unable to participate in any way,” she said.

A new CPS-approved letter will be sent to Whitney parents to make it clear that they don’t have to contribute, Ziegler said. Folks who want their money back will get it, she said.

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