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Stop misguided school plans

Chicago Teachers UniVice President Jesse Sharkey speaks reporters Friday June 1 2012 CTU headquarters Merchandise Mart Chicago. | John J.

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey speaks to reporters Friday, June 1, 2012, at the CTU headquarters in the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 18, 2013 6:10AM

Recently, before a Board hearing this week to expand charter schools, Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said that they “had several other [charter] schools that were in the hopper and we’re going to move forward with our commitment there.”

In other words, before there was a public hearing, before we know whether it makes sense to close scores of schools while we open additional schools, Byrd-Bennett and the mayor had made a commitment to the new charters, unbeknownst to the public. So much for building transparency and trust.

The schools that are in the most violent, impoverished and neglected parts of the city are the ones being targeted for closure. CPS claims they are underused. The students who have the most to lose will lose the most. Why do students in private schools get to have small class sizes that allow for intimate learning environments, whereas the students most in need are packed into classes of 31 to 36 students, numbers the district says are ideal for school utilization?

For years, many high-performing schools that took in students from closed schools saw declines in the aftermath that put them on subsequent closing lists. Schools like Hyde Park and Clemente saw spikes in violence from introducing students in areas with different gang boundaries.

Meanwhile, charters have expanded exponentially since 2004, without evidence that they are helping students more than their neighborhood counterparts. Recently, we learned that Nobel Street charter school recruiters were denigrating one of the highest performing schools in the district, Lane Tech, in order to siphon student enrollment away from the school. Instead of better schools, a Pandora’s box has been opened where schools are now cannibalizing one another.

Yet, the district is poised to create 14 new charters this year, despite claims that they have excess capacity. Two of the proposed charters are aiming for the Far South Side, where according to the district’s utilization numbers, 81 percent of the schools are underutilized. Why is the district creating excess capacity in the very areas it claims must experience the brunt of closings?

The district says they have 100,000 empty seats since 2000, but their own numbers show a decline of only 30,000 students. The jury is in; these proposals from CPS are unacceptable. It’s time for a moratorium on school actions, charter expansion and the inception of a legitimate process that includes the voices of educators, parents and the broader community.

Jesse Sharkey is Vice President of the Chicago Teachers Union.

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