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Preckwinkle Rips School Closures Plan

By Chuck Sudo in News on May 17, 2013 2:20PM

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinle told the Sun-Times in an exclusive interview she believes Chicago Public Schools’ plan to close 54 schools is a major mistake, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago School Board heed the reports from hearing officers to keep 13 schools open and suggested the series of hearings leading up to the announcement of the closure plan ignored the concerns of parents, teachers and other opponents of the proposal.

“What was the point of having public hearings?” Preckwinkle said during a 20-minute interview in her office. “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?”

Pressed to clarify whether she held Emanuel responsible, Preckwinkle replied, “I think those recommendations should be taken seriously and I haven’t heard that, either from the Board of Education or the fifth floor” — the mayor’s office.

This isn’t the first time Preckwinkle, a former high school history teacher, has criticized the school closure plan. She first raised concerns about the plan and CPS’ strategy to safely ferry displaced students to their new receiving schools in an interview with the Reader’s Mick Dumke in March. She allowed that some school should be closed because of steep declines in enrollment, but said, “The case hasn’t been made to me that all this money is going to be saved. I’ve talked to people inside CPS who say the savings are pretty modest or nonexistent.”

WBEZ reported two weeks ago CPS amended the amount of savings it would see from the school closure plan. The district originally estimated it would save $560 million in capital expenses. CPS now estimates those savings at nearly $438 million. They attributed the new amount to a discrepancy in outdated assessments. That’s on top of the $155 million in bonds the district will sell to upgrade receiving schools.

Preckwinkle also suggested last year’s teachers’ strike provided the Emanuel administration “with an excuse for closing schools, which I think was going to happen anyway.”

The Sun-Times reached out to Emanuel for comment and received a response from CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett instead. Byrd-Bennett once again said “it’s time for the adults to stop pointing fingers and start becoming part of the solution.”

The School Board will vote on the closure plan at their May 22 meeting.