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Mayor, CPS CEO defend closing neighborhood schools, opening charters

New Schools CEO BarbarByrd-Bennett speaks City Club Chicago lunch Maggiano's Banquets 111 W. GrAve. Monday Nov.26 2012. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

New Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett speaks at the City Club of Chicago lunch at Maggiano's Banquets, 111 W. Grand Ave., Monday, Nov.26, 2012. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 15, 2013 11:26AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett on Thursday defended their decision to open 13 new charter schools as they prepare to close more than 100 schools.

Many parents whose children attend under-utilized Chicago Public schools on the chopping block view those moves as contradictory.

They can’t understand why CPS is spending money to open schools of any kind at a time when it’s facing a $1 billion shortfall and 140 schools are at least half-empty.

The mayor and his schools CEO don’t see it that way.

“We pre-approved nine schools and we’re gonna move forward with that commitment. We also had several other schools that were in the hopper and we’re gonna move forward with our commitment there,” Byrd-Bennett said.

“We’re vetting those programs. We’re looking at who the providers are and ensuring it is about quality. We’ve also said that any of our schools [deemed] under-utilized, we are not offering those schools up. So, some of our charter partners are looking for homes. As long as they’ve got a quality program and they’re going to meet the ideals we’ve set forth, we welcome them.”

Emanuel said it’s all about giving parents “choices” so they don’t have to flee to the suburbs by the time their kids reach high school.

“We started five new STEM schools, six new [wall-to-wall] IB schools, five new additional IB schools with the program involved. We’re looking at military school expansion. There are choices now available and that’s what we’re committed to give parents,” he said.

As for the school closings, Emanuel defended his decision to hold hearings without giving parents a specific list of schools in danger of being closed.

Thanks to a change in state law, the deadline to announce a hit list was pushed back from Dec. 1 to March 31.

In exchange, CPS has agreed to do it once and not to close any more schools for five years while retaining the right to shake schools up for academic reasons.

“In the past, the Chicago Public Schools would be…like Zeus. Just throw down what they wanted to do without engaging the community. What Barbara Bennett….did is reverse that,” the mayor said.

“This is a process to engage the community on the front-end...on a very difficult subject--one the city, for a decade, has delayed. You’ve got to make some choices. You can’t delay anymore. Given that no real actions were taken, how do you do it in a way that engages the community? It allows the process to at least be participatory instead of shut out.”

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