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Jackson Potter: Put out the schools fire, Mayor Emanuel

CHICAGO IL - MARCH 27:  Chicago Teachers UniPresident Karen Lewis speaks demonstrators protesting school closings March 27 2013 Chicago

CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 27: Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis speaks to demonstrators protesting school closings on March 27, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. About 2,000 protestors held a rally and marched through downtown to protest a plan by the city to close more than 50 elementary schools, claiming it is necessary to rein in a looming $1 billion budget deficit. The closings would shift about 30,000 students to new schools and leave more than 1,000 teachers with uncertain futures. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 165133524

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Updated: May 1, 2013 3:28PM



On Thursday, March 28, the Chicago Sun-Times published the editorial “CTU, don’t burn down the house.” We wish instead it had implored Mayor Rahm Emanuel to listen to the people.

It’s not that we think no school should ever close. We care deeply about children and educators, not empty buildings. It’s that this move will jeopardize the safety and academic development of 30,000 students without any democratic process.

Emanuel wants to close the greatest number of schools in U.S. history despite record opposition and countless examples that the most vulnerable students will be put in harm’s way and lose out on learning from yet another disruptive wave of school actions.

Low-income students of color are proven to benefit the most from small class sizes in the primary grades, yet CPS insists on large class sizes. Such a move sets us back 50 years in Chicago’s history to an era when we had dilapidated and overcrowded Willis Wagons for black students despite under-utilization in white schools.

In addition, the mayor has attempted to mask his political vulnerabilities with inducements like iPads, community gardens, safe passages programs, wrap-around services, air-conditioning, etc. . . for the receiving schools. Why didn’t our neighborhood schools have those basic things in the first place and if those additional resources are maintained, what cost savings will the district realize? No one has a clear answer.

It is time to call out City Hall for its refusal to divert $250 million in TIF funds back into the schools, or forcing Bank of America and others to renegotiate toxic swaps that would save the district nearly $40 million a year, enough to keep all the schools open. Not to mention the $80 million in charter expansion in this year’s school budget alone.

Until we have an honest conversation in Chicago about the historical neglect of neighborhood schools, the push to privatize and the refusal by city leaders to demand that wealthy pay their fair share, we must question this decision.

Mayor Emanuel has a responsibility to back this train off the cliff and do the right thing.

Jackson Potter is staff coordinator for the Chicago Teachers Union



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