Black and Latino legislators call for moratorium on CPS closures
BY ANNA HELING Staff Reporter March 11, 2013 8:28PM
Updated: March 12, 2013 12:01AM
Leaders of the Illinois Legislature’s black and Latino caucuses on Monday accused CPS of preparing to close schools without having a comprehensive plan in place and called for a moratorium on closings for the 2013-2014 school year.
“We’re not gonna sit back and say, ‘OK, Mayor Rahm Emanuel do what you want to do, how you want to do it, when you want to do it at our expense. It’s OK with us, buddy.’ Not on this issue. Not on our watch,” said State Rep. Ken Dunkin, chairman of the Illinois General Assembly’s Black Caucus.
What the legislators want from CPS — before the final list of closing schools is revealed — is a 10-year plan that outlines CPS facilities and plans for future development. They want the plan to look at where new housing developments are going up and where there’s dangerous gang activity near street boundaries, for example, so that schools in those areas wouldn’t close.
CPS has a state-mandated order to provide a draft of its 10-year master plan by May. But leaders say it’s essential to have the plan before CPS decides what schools will have to close their doors.
“The 10-year facilities master plan is necessary to fully understand the past, the current, [the] future state that we have . . . a clear picture of where we are and where we need to go,” said State Rep. Cynthia Soto, chairwoman of the General Assembly’s Latino Caucus.
State senators and representatives from Springfield say the imminent school closings are a “paramount” issue that’s been largely taken over by CPS — with help from the mayor — with little opportunity for community involvement.
Dunkin called the Springfield leaders’ request for a moratorium and a draft of the 10-year plan by May a “soft approach” to the issue of school closings.
“The mayor and his team, it would behoove them to work with us,” Dunkin said. “Because right now we have a real soft approach with this. We don’t want to come up with some further approaches that really could shift the paradigm of what CPS should be doing. That’s sort of a laced statement, if you follow me.”
But Becky Carroll, chief communications officer for CPS, said the master facilities 10-year plan is a completely different process than the steps CPS is taking now to address the “utilization crisis.”
“The 10-year plan is . . . setting up a vision; it’s goal-setting around facilities in our district,” Carroll said. “It has nothing to do with addressing the fact that our schools are severely underutilized. . . . The steps we’re taking now is to right-size the district because we have hundreds of partly empty, dilapidated buildings that are under-sourced and not providing our children with the quality education they need. So what we’re trying to do is adjust our footprint so it better reflects the actual enrollment in our schools today.”
Carroll said CPS has space for 511,000 children but has just 403,000 children enrolled.
Carroll added that CPS has done work “on the front end” to determine population trends for neighborhoods with schools on the list, guided by data from the U.S. Census and feedback from community residents and aldermen, though she said it’s impossible to know every situation at every school.
In a statement released Monday, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said, “We can’t afford to put off these difficult decisions any longer, as it will be our city’s future and our children who will pay the price for our inaction.”
She said children aren’t getting a high-quality education in part because resources are stretched too thin. Redirecting money from “underutilized and dilapidated schools” will allow the city to invest in quality schools that have more available resources for students to succeed, she added.
“We didn’t get here overnight, and we’re not going to fix everything overnight either, but our children deserve the very best and we must all work every day to improve their chances to succeed,” Byrd-Bennett said.