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Payton College Prep to get $17 million annex, room for up to 400 more students

Walter PaytCollege Prep. | Sun-Times file photo

Walter Payton College Prep. | Sun-Times file photo

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Updated: October 20, 2013 7:31AM

As many Chicago Public Schools struggle with deep budget cuts, one of the city’s — and the nation’s — highest-performing selective enrollment high schools will receive a $17 million expansion of up to 400 seats that might ease the heated competition among would-be attendees just a bit.

In the wake of a record round of school closings, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday that Walter Payton College Prep is getting a new annex and additional classrooms bankrolled by tax increment financing that will allow one of the nation’s top 100 high schools to increase capacity.

About a year ago, Principal Tim Devine suggested an expansion to the school — “That’s why we went to search for the resources,” Emanuel said in Payton’s library. “This is all about giving parents a set of choices. ... If you have met the standard, we should make sure you have the availability to attend.”

Last year, 6,200 students applied for 220 spots in Payton’s freshman class. They were among 18,000 students citywide competing for 3,000 selective enrollment seats.

Payton has a current student body of 851, coming from every city ward, 36 percent of which is white, compared with a district average of 8.8 percent, and 30 percent of which is low income, compared with the district’s 87 percent average.

It’s considered to be “efficient,” neither over- nor undercrowded, according to the formula measuring capacity that CPS used to closed schools. The new annex will boost the school’s capacity by as much as 47 percent, and allow Emanuel to advance his plan to provide more high-quality options for the parents of high school students to prevent them from fleeing to the suburbs or sending their kids to private schools.

U.S. News and World Report ranks Payton in the top 100 nationwide and second in the state for selective enrollment high schools.

“The taxpayers of Chicago should be very proud of the students we have, the exceptional faculty we have and the support of parents,” Devine said, flanked by the mayor, Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) and state Sen. Patricia Van Pelt. “It’s a wonderful place where bright minds are made even brighter.”

The news infuriated the Chicago Teachers Union, which has been pleading in vain for the city to use TIF surpluses to plug neighborhood school budget holes and hire back arts teachers.

“Basically what this represents is the same policy of creating winners and losers in our school district,” said CTU staff coordinator Jackson Potter. “Look at the percentage of low-income students and contrast that with a neighborhood school. Here’s a subsection of students who get everything they need and deserve,” while everyone else does not.

“He needs to deal with every single building, not just the ones he decides deserve it,” Potter said.

Construction of the new Payton is expected to begin next summer and be completed by December 2015.

Wednesday’s announcement at Payton marked the fourth straight day that a mayor who closed nearly 50 public schools, most of them in poor neighborhoods on the South and West sides, has announced plans to build new schools and expand existing ones.

Emanuel left without answering any questions from reporters. Chicago Board of Education Vice President Jesse Ruiz said Payton was a solid investment for the TIF money.

“That’s what folks are doing is assessing how best to use those funds, and the folks who’ve asked for those funds to be used for public education are getting their wish,” Ruiz said. “When you’re trying to take finite resources and spread them across infinite needs, there are difficult choices, but you have to make the wisest decision.”

On Tuesday, Emanuel unveiled plans to use $24 million in TIF funds to advance science, technology engineering and math education atAl Raby High School and Faraday and Melody elementary schools on the West Side.

On Monday, it was an addition to Wildwood Elementary to help ease overcrowding at that Edgebrook school. On Sunday, it was a new, $35 million school at 104th and Indianapolis and spending $1 million in TIF money to improve to overcrowded Gallistel and Jane Addams elementary schools.

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