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About 50 Chicago public schools to face closure: City Hall sources

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Updated: April 22, 2013 12:08PM



Chicago Public Schools officials are expected to announce about 50 elementary schools will be closed — believed to be the largest number ever closed in one place at one time in the country, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

Four City Hall sources put the number of closures at 50 or slightly higher.

Several aldermen set to lose schools in their wards have been notified by CPS.

Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), who served on an independent school closing commission, told the Sun-Times he was informed that two schools in his South Side ward are on the hit list: Mahalia Jackson Elementary and Garrett A. Morgan Elementary.

But Brookins said he’s not giving up the fight for either of those schools.

“Morgan has been trying to set up as a speciality school servicing the needs of kids who are deaf or hard of hearing. It has three full-time teachers who do sign language. One-third of that school is special needs kids,” Brookins said.

Trumbull Elementary, a school with nearly 32 percent special education students located in the North Side ward of the mayor’s floor leader Patrick O’Connor, also has been named, according to a City Hall source.

CPS communications chief Becky Carroll wouldn’t confirm or deny the number, but released a statement on behalf of schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

“I believe that every child in every neighborhood in Chicago deserves access to a high quality education that prepares them to succeed in life, but for too long children in certain parts of Chicago have been cheated out of the resources they need to succeed in the classroom because they are in under utilized, under resourced schools,” she wrote, saying she’d make her recommendations soon.

Byrd-Bennett has promised that every student whose neighborhood school closes will be directed to a new school that is academically better.

She could reveal as early as Thursday the full list of which schools to close and where those children will go next year. She has until March 31 to announce the targeted schools. Also expected is the list of which schools will be turned around academically, which entails having their entire staffs replaced. Sources put the total number of consolidations and turnarounds at about 20 more, for a total of about 70 major school changes.

An independent commission Byrd-Bennett tasked with helping her decide what schools to close or consolidate recommended that she handle no more than 80 schools in a single year. The schools chief has said she had no target in mind when she set out to “right-size” a district she says has 100,000 more seats than students.

The district reports a $1 billion deficit by summer. CPS has estimated that each closed school would save $500,000 to $800,000. The district has acknowledged that closing schools won’t save money in the first year but will allow school leaders to redistribute resources.

On Tuesday, CPS said that the costs of adding improvements and supports to the new schools would be paid for within two years with savings from the closed schools. They would not yet put a dollar figure on any of the costs or savings, saying only that a “majority” of the costs would be covered in the first year.

The Chicago Teachers Union has been calling for a moratorium on all school closings.

“This city cannot destroy that many schools. It will send our district into chaos,” CTU president Karen Lewis said in a statement Wednesday. “These actions will put our students safety and academics at risk and will further destabilize our neighborhoods.”

Lewis said the union and supporters would use nonviolent direct action, and are holding a rally March 27 in Daley Plaza.

Trumbull Local Schools Council member Ali Burke said CPS’ classroom calculation at Trumbull is distorted because special education and English language learners need smaller class sizes.

“We’re still going to fight it. We shouldn’t be on the list. We’re not under utilized,” she said. “I hope they will finally listen to us.”

At Mahalia Jackson School on Thursday morning, parents sounded off at the prospect of the school closing.

Natasha Norment’s daughter, Navi, 10, has been at Jackson for five years and loves it there, said her mother, who is also a graduate of the same school.

“She’s going to be separated from her friends, she’s got used to all the teachers,” Norment said. “I’m upset. I’m a good product of this school. I got a good quality education, and I’m just very, very frustrated that this school is closing.”

Vincent Edwards has a 9-year-old son, Jalin, who goes to Jackson.

“it’s unfortunate that they are shutting down so many schools,” Edwards said. “Something else definitely could be done other than shutting down the schools. ... Everybody needs to go back to the table and re-think this process.”

Lorraine Rollins has a 5-year-old daughter at Jackson and had hoped to enroll her 3-year-old daughter there too. Now she isn’t sure where her kids will go to school.

“I went to this school, my father went to this school — this school has been around for years,” Rollins said. “This is our neighborhood school. So it’s devastating. Now I’m going to have find somewhere else for my baby to go.”

Outside Garrett Morgan Elementary School on Wednesday afternoon, a teacher said she had been holding out hope but would start looking for a new job. Parents and children wanted more answers.

“Where are these kids gonna go, especially if they’re closing Mahalia Jackson, too? This school is good for the community,” said Charles Daugherty, whose daughter, Caniya attends kindergarten at Morgan.

Daugherty’s 9-year-old sister, Duanae, was also upset: “There are good people here,” the fourth grader said.

Contributing: Mitch Dudek



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