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CPS won’t close high schools, top performers, Byrd-Bennett says

Chicago Public Schools CEO BarbarByrd-Bennett  |  Sun-Times files

Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett | Sun-Times files

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Updated: February 20, 2013 6:08AM



School CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett will go forward with leaving high schools open and two other of her hand-picked commission’s recommendations on school closings but said Friday she’s leaving a door open to further investigate the rest.

High schools, for the most part, will not be touched, nor will the highest-performing schools known as Level 1 schools, Byrd-Bennett said.

“The safety of our children is a primary concern,” she said during a conference call with reporters. “For children to travel further or to put children in further danger by crossing a gang barrier does not make sense to me.”

And CPS will pass over schools considered to be under capacity that are still adding grades by design.

Byrd-Bennett, new to her job this fall, successfully lobbied legislators for more time so she could listen to parents and community members before determining which schools could close in June.

Her panel also told her last week in its interim report not to touch schools recently affected by a major change, schools with more than 600 children and schools that are close to the district’s definition of “efficient.”

Byrd-Bennett said she’ll consider each school of at least 600 students “on its own merits.” She also plans to take more time to see how to bolster schools that are close to being efficient, and how to define “significant school action” before ruling out any other schools.

The schools chief reserved the right to take action in a possible “one or two” high schools and some high-performing schools that are falling down or in buildings that are too expensive to repair.

CPS will release a list of schools that could be subject to closing on Feb. 13. Another series of public hearings starts Jan. 28. The district has until March 31 to report to the state the final list of schools it intends to close. It considers some 136 schools of its 681 buildings to be more than half-empty.

Facing a $1 billion deficit, Byrd-Bennett wants to “right-size” a portfolio of schools she says has 100,000 fewer students than seats than students.

Critics of the closings say that the costs of shuttering buildings wipes out savings of no longer running them.

“There’s nothing in the commission’s recommendations that talk about what other ways could CPS save more money than the admittedly small amount they’ll save closing schools,” said Jitu Brown, from the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization. “They don’t talk about relocating students eats up lots of the savings they’re talking about.”

The Chicago Teachers Union has been calling in vain for a moratorium on all school actions for at least two years to give the district time to study the impact of school closings on displaced students and to come up with a long-term facilities plan.

They announced Friday plans to hold workshops Saturday morning across the city to teach parents how to keep individual schools open.

“CPS has more than 100 schools — our schools — on the chopping block,” CTU President Karen Lewis said in a statement. “We’re going into these neighborhoods and uniting with our brothers and sisters to help them fight for the schools and the quality education they deserve.”



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