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Legislators OK bill to give CPS more time to draft school-closing list

Chicago Public Schools CEO BarbarByrd-Bennett  |  Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 30, 2012 4:05PM

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers handed Mayor Rahm Emanuel a victory Wednesday by backing his bid to give Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett more time to draft what will be a highly contentious school-closing list.

The nation’s third-largest school system faces a Saturday deadline to draft that list, but it got House and Senate support to extend the deadline by four months, ensuring that the closures could start next fall.

The votes came on a busy legislative day when the Senate sent Gov. Pat Quinn legislation increasing license plate fees $2 to $101 to fix dilapidated state parks.

The Senate also voted to force publicly held businesses to disclose how much — or how little — they’re paying in state corporate income taxes and to override Quinn’s efforts to impose a statewide assault-weapon ban and to mothball state facilities, including the Tamms Supermax prison and an all-women’s prison in Dwight. Both measures now move to the House.

The House, meanwhile, sent to the Senate legislation that would establish an April 9 special election to replace U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and voted to urge that unionized state workers not get pay raises.

On Chicago school closures, both legislative chambers passed identical bills designed to give Byrd-Bennett until March 31 to determine which schools to close. There are as many as 140 severely underused schools throughout the city.

The Senate will take action Thursday to finalize the deal and send it to Quinn. His office declined to stake out a position late Wednesday, saying only that the governor has the issue under review.

“Our city has more school buildings, classrooms and desks than it has students, and it is essential that we take time to create a sensible plan that invests our resources most effectively so that every child in every school gets a high-quality education,” Emanuel said in a prepared statement praising Wednesday’s legislative action.

The House’s 84-28 vote and the Senate’s 57-0 vote came despite criticism from community activists who are worried that schools in minority areas would be disproportionately targeted. The Chicago Teachers Union, which opposes the legislation, argued that it’s implausible for the nation’s third-largest school district to try to address 100,000 excess seats in only a few months and with no long-term master plan in place.

“That’s backwards,” CTU President Karen Lewis said. “It’s a huge round of closings without a plan. This is going to be a mess — a hot, buttery mess. You know it. I know it. Everybody in town knows it.”

To appease critics, supporters added language aimed at preserving the portability of social services for students leaving schools that close and ensuring that class sizes in schools accepting displaced students “do not exceed those established under the Chicago Public Schools policy regarding class size.”

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