Handful of CPS schools slated to close may be spared
BY FRAN SPIELMAN AND LAUREN FITZPATRICK Staff Reporters May 17, 2013 6:58PM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, teaching Civics to students at Frederick Funston Elementary School, Thursday, May 9, 2013. | John H. White~Sun-Times
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Updated: June 19, 2013 6:19AM
At least a few of the 54 Chicago Public Schools targeted for closing could be dropped from the list before Wednesday’s final school board vote, under pressure from black aldermen to follow hearing officers’ recommendations, City Hall sources said Friday.
The chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus has demanded that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his handpicked school board follow retired judges’ recommendations to keep open 13 of the 54 schools.
To do otherwise, Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) claimed, would be to “render the whole proceeding a joke” when Emanuel is the one who set it up.
On Friday, City Hall sources hinted strongly that at least a few of the 13 schools could get a reprieve before the Chicago Board of Education casts its final vote.
“They are studying the 13 to see if a few merit removal from the list…They are taking the findings of the hearings officers very seriously and looking at each very, very closely,” said a top mayoral aide, who asked to remain anonymous.
Another Emanuel adviser, who asked to remain anonymous, said the hearing officers’ reports had “brought to light certain schools and certain situations” that merited further study.
“I wouldn’t say it’s black aldermen or any one specific thing. There’s lots of different pressure-points,” the source said.
The Emanuel adviser stressed that no final decision has been made and that the mayor was “trying to resist the temptation of past years when tough decisions get avoided or put off.”
CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll wouldn’t confirm or deny the predictions, calling them rumors. The Board of Education’s meeting agenda had not yet been posted as of Friday evening.
Earlier this week, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle broadly criticized Emanuel’s education agenda, arguing that the seven-day teachers strike had provided the excuse for a sweeping school-closure plan that “weakens our public schools.”
A former school teacher, Preckwinkle joined Brookins in demanding that the mayor follow the recommendations of retired judges who did not mince their words in questioning closings, they warned, could endanger some students, fail to put others in a better school, as the mayor has promised, and ignore the needs of special education students.
“What was the point of having public hearings?” Preckwinkle told the Chicago Sun-Times.
“Was it all a charade? If you weren’t going to pay any attention to the outcome of the public hearings or the recommendations of the public hearing officers, why would you bother to waste everyone’s time?”
On Friday, top mayoral aides privately accused Preckwinkle of sitting out the entire school closing debate, then taking a “cheap shot” with just a few days to go before the final vote.
If a handful of schools ultimately get removed from the hit-list, it won’t be a reaction to Preckwinkle.
It’ll be because the hearing officers raised valid concerns, because Emanuel’s support among African-Americans is declining and because black aldermen, whose support the mayor needs for a host of other controversial votes, are demanding it.
“He needs to pull in the reins a little bit and not be the tough guy. He can’t continue with this tough guy attitude without huge ramifications,” one alderman said Friday.
“He needs African-American aldermen to be on his side on this and other things, but he needs to give them some cover. You have to show a softer side. Otherwise, African-Americans will start deserting him in droves.”
Emanuel has a history of getting what he wants, but making minor concessions to appease his critics. He did that when it came to cutting library hours, turning off the free water spigot to non-profits and on protest rules tied to the NATO summit.
Two weeks ago, the mayor made no promises to follow the hearing officers’ recommendations. In fact, he hinted strongly that the recommendations would not be followed.
“The board will take what they’ve said [and] work through it, but do what we need to do as a city because this…has been deferred through the years,” Emanuel said of the politically-volatile issue of school closings.
The mayor reiterated that the time for compromising is over and the time for implementation is here.