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City panel OKs zoning change that could bring new NW Side charter school

Updated: November 19, 2013 6:34AM

The Chicago Plan Commission on Thursday approved a zoning change that could eventually allow the Noble Network of Charter Schools to consider building a new high school on the Northwest Side, across the street from an existing high school.

That’s despite a boisterous protest outside City Council chambers by supporters of Prosser High School — including Ald. Nick Sposato — and of other neighborhood schools in Belmont Cragin whose budgets have undergone deep cuts this year.

The protesters — mostly from the groups Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools, and Communities United for Quality Education — pointed to a projected decline in high school-aged population in the Belmont Cragin area over the next four years, the presence of four CPS high schools within a 1.5 radius of the proposed site, and budget cuts at existing area schools totaling some $6.4 million.

“I have nothing against charter schools, but our school works,” said Sue Rosenthal-Matthews, mother of triplets, two of whom are Prosser freshmen. “We need the money. We got cut. how much we got cut? $1.2 million, You’re giving $1.3 million in startup costs. I’m not getting it.”

Prosser student Juan Tristan, who said he left one of the Noble Charter schools after his freshman year because the strict rules made him ill, worried the new school would further drain Prosser’s budget.

“If Noble builds this school, my school will suffer,” he said. “Each one of us deserves to receive an education but how is that possible when my school can’t even afford textbooks?”

Prosser, listed as a selective enrollment school for its International Baccalaureate certificate and Career and Technical Education programs, gained about 35 students over last year according to CPS records. Last year, according to the school, it received 4,000 applications for about 400 classrooms.

The site in question, at 5337 to 5357 W. Grand Ave., is currently zoned for the lumber yard that used to operate on it in the Armitage Industrial Corridor. The Noble Network of Charter Schools wants to build a school and athletic field, plus up to 32 parking spaces. Its proposed new school has a building site and a name (ITW Speer Academy, named for the deceased chairman of Illinois Tool Works, David Speer), but no approval yet from CPS, though it has applied this year to open in fall, 2014. Spokeswoman Angela Montagna said the $20 million in construction costs will be funded privately by Noble and ITW, using no public or tax increment financing dollars. The project must next go before the City Council zoning committee and then the full Council.

Noble, which already operates 14 campuses citywide serving more than 8,800 students, also says the project would create more than 100 construction jobs, and 50 to 60 full-time jobs once the school reaches its 900-student capacity.

Longtime Belmont Cragin resident Marilyn Burns wanted her children to be focused in a school with a better safety record than her neighborhood options at the time, so she sent her two younger sons to the original Noble campus on the near North Side.

Her youngest, Matthias Burns was driven every day, and had to wake up extra early to travel.

“I believe if there were a school in the 37th ward, we would have been able to walk to school,” he said.

Sposato, whose ward will inherit Prosser High School in 2015 when ward maps are redrawn, called the plan “a recipe for disaster here to have two public high schools across the street from each other.”

“I worry about the impact on Prosser,” he said. “I worry about the safety of children.”


Twitter: @bylaurenfitz

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