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54 CPS schools closing, affecting 30,000 kids, 1,000 teachers

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Updated: April 23, 2013 2:07PM



Chicago Public Schools on Thursday announced the largest school shakeup in the nation: closing 54 schools and 61 buildings, jostling 30,000 kids and leaving the future of more than 1,000 teachers unclear.

Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett has handled large-scale closures before but Chicago has not, and her decision includes building swaps not seen before in the city.

Despair and dismay circled through the district as word trickled out Thursday about affected schools, before CPS officially released the list at 5 p.m. Most of the targeted schools are in the city’s black and poorest communities on the West and South sides.

But the list also shocked a group of parents and teachers of five schools that had been considered safe from closing who learned Thursday in a confusing twist of events that their kids would have to travel across neighborhoods to new buildings to remain in their own schools.

This year, CPS consolidated several schools in a way that kept the name and staff of the school with the stronger track record but moved it to the better building previously occupied by the weaker school.

“This is unbelievable. You can’t swing this on us at the last minute now,” said Coree Lumas, a mother with four of her children at Wentworth, 6950 S. Sangamon, who was caught by surprise. Wentworth wasn’t listed as a school that could be closed. Now its teachers and staff will occupy Aldridge’s building, 1340 W 71st St., some three-quarters of a mile away in West Englewood. Aldridge will close.

“That’s too far to be walking especially in the winter time,” Lumas said. “Why can’t Wentworth just stay Wentworth where it is?”

CPS also announced it will turn around six more schools for academic reasons and pair schools — including several charter schools — in 11 more buildings.

Facing a $1 billion deficit by summer, the district said the closings will save $560 million in capital costs, plus another $43 million in operating costs — over the next 10 years.

CPS also will spend $233 million on the 55 schools receiving new children from shuttered schools, $155 million in capital costs and another $78 million for operations. They said half the $78 million in operations costs would be paid for in the first year with money that would have been spent on the closing schools.

Byrd-Bennett plans to introduce specialized programs at 19 of those schools — 13 science, technology, engineering and math; five International Baccalaureate, and one fine arts program. Ten of those programs will go to schools on the South Side, eight to the West Side and one to the Near North Side’s Jenner Elementary School.

By the time all 55 reopen in August, they are supposed to be outfitted with air conditioning. Libraries will be built in the four that don’t have them, three new and four updated science labs also will be constructed, said Tim Cawley, CPS’s chief administrative officer.

CPS said all the receiving schools are within a mile of closed schools. Any more than 0.8 of a mile will provide buses.

Byrd-Bennett herself was not on a conference call Thursday with local and national reporters. Mayor Rahm Emanuel remained out of town, skiing with his family in Utah. But both issued statements.

“Over the past decade, this decision was delayed while we put more money into keeping buildings open rather than investing it where it should be — in our children’s education,” the mayor said.

Byrd-Bennett’s statement echoed the wording of the mayor’s, adding ”For too long, children in certain parts of Chicago have been cheated out of the resources they need to succeed in the classroom because too may of our scarce resources are being spent on maintaining under utilized, under resourced schools.”

Each school community will have two community meetings plus a public hearing to plead its case before the Board of Education votes on final decisions at its scheduled May 22 meeting.

Unlike past years, Byrd-Bennett tasked an independent commission with helping her decide what schools to close or consolidate. It recommended that she handle no more than 80 schools in a single year. The schools chief has said she had no target in mind when she set out to “right-size” a district she says has 100,000 more seats than students.

The district reports a $1 billion deficit by summer. CPS has estimated that each closed school would save $500,000 to $800,000 annually. The district has acknowledged that closing schools won’t save money in the first year but will allow school leaders to redistribute resources.

CPS said that the costs of adding improvements and supports to the new schools would be paid for within two years with savings from the closed schools. They would not yet put a dollar figure on any of the costs or savings, saying only that a “majority” of the costs would be covered in the first year.

Leonard Conway was stunned to learn that Calhoun North Elementary School, where he’s served on the local school council for 15 years, would go away, believing that the school’s test scores would save it.

“I am devastated because Calhoun has turned around so much,” said Conway, 34, himself a Calhoun graduate. “We have all the technology inside the school. Basically, we just don’t understand why they would close a level two school.”

Conway said it’s going to be particularly difficult for neighborhood kids to make the switch to Willa Cather Elementary because many Calhoun kids currently attend an after-school center across the street from Calhoun.

Kimberly Blaney can live with Hefferan Elementary School welcoming kids from Goldblatt after it closes.

“I’m fine with it,” said the mother of a Hefferan fifth grader. “Hefferan is doing wonderfully academically — whatever we can do to help the other kids. We accept them with open arms.”

The extra money and support will be appreciated, too, she said.

Lafayette Elementary teacher Jessie Eiseman spent the last half hour of the day explaining to her first-graders that they’d be going to Chopin for second grade.

“The reality too is now that this is going on and whatnot, I’m going to have to start spending a few times a week working on transitional skills,” she said.

Her principal broke the news to staff Thursday morning, reading from a script, she said.

“I think it’s really tough. When you live in a city like Chicago, even if you’re going two streets down the block, it could potentially put you in danger.”

Chopin is only about half a mile away, but to reach it on foot, many of her children will have to cross busy California Avenue and Rockwell Street in Humboldt Park.

And at May Academy, Nicole Zumpano, the CPS 2011 Teacher of the Year tweeted about losing her job.

“CPS needs to look at the quality of individual teachers in schools without firing a whole staff. My accolades mean nothing now,” she wrote.

“We were told if we are eligible we can apply at receiving schools. New principal doesn’t have to hire us.”

“Apparently 20 years devoted to the West Side means nothing. Time to start the hunt.”

At schools that close, teachers with the two highest performance ratings may follow their students to the new designated school if a position they qualify for is available, according to the CTU contract.

If more than one displaced teacher qualifies for the same job at the new school, the selection will be based on seniority, the contract reads.

Teachers not rehired at other schools would lose their jobs.

Outside Mahalia Jackson Elementary School in the Auburn-Gresham community, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis called the decision “racist” and “classist.”

“Our mayor, who’s away on a ski trip, drops this information right before spring break,” she wondered.

“This is cowardly and it’s the ultimate bullying job. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, you should be ashamed of yourself.”

“We will not allow them to wreak havoc on our schools and our city, this will not be Detroit.”

“This will not save money, it will cost money, and it’s going to leave abandoned buildings, which is another recipe for disaster.”

Takeeva Thompson has been a lunchlady for seven years at the endangered Kohn Elementary School in Roseland, where children will be dispersed to Cullen, Lavizzo and Langston Hughes schools.

“We need to save these children and save these schools,” Thompson said. “This is our future, and removing these schools. .. we are either giving them a gun or a book, and it’s up to us.”

Contributing: Fran Spielman, Mitch Dudek, Stefano Esposito, Jon Seidel, Becky Schlikerman, Monifa Thomas



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