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Chicago Board Of Education Approves Largest Wave Of School Closings In Country

By Chuck Sudo in News on May 22, 2013 8:57PM

Photo credit: Ken Smith

The Chicago Board of Education voted this afternoon to close 49 elementary schools and one public high school in what is the largest single set of public school closings in the country. CPS claims the plan will affect 30,000 of the district's 404,151 students, although WBEZ's analysis indicates that number is closer to 46,000 students. Emanuel and the school board have also claimed they would save $560 million in capital expenses over the next 10 years, but quietly walked back that number to $438 million, and promised displaced students would be received by better performing schools, another fact that has proven lacking. Emanuel's hand-picked school board voted unanimously in favor of the closures.

As we wrote earlier, four schools were spared a vote on the recommendation of CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. One school will have its closing phased in over two years and another will be given a chance to turn its poor performance around with its current staff instead of being handed over to a charter school group.

The school closure plan, which has been hotly debated for months, pitted the Board of Education, CPS and Mayor Rahm Emanuel against parents, teachers, aldermen and other opponents who believed the district refused to listen to their pleas and recommendations by hearing officers charged with reviewing the closures to delay implementing the plan. Board member Mahalia Hines compared the plan to delaying a trip to the dentist. "He said it will continue to decay and the pain will be unbearable,” she said. “The decay can no longer continue." Hines also suggested opponents of the plan were "invisible" while she and other board members fought for the schools. Board member Andrea Zopp said opposition to the school closure plan was an act of "passion." Another board member, Henry Bienen, said opponents who disagreed with the district's number on what they would save with the closures "don't know economics."

Nine aldermen attended the meeting. Ald. Amyea Pawar (44th) wondered why CPS would move forward with this plan while opening more charter schools. Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd) said the entire process was "psychologically damaging" during a ward meeting.

Chicago Teachers Union vice president Jesse Sharkey restated the safety concerns opponents to the plan have voiced since it was first announced, noting that thousands of students would have to walk past abandoned buildings, gang turf and other hazards to go to school in the fall. CTU president Karen Lewis called today's vote "a day of mourning for the children of Chicago."

Their education has been hijacked by an unrepresentative, unelected corporate school board, acting at the behest of a mayor who has no vision for improving the education of our children. Closing schools is not an education plan. It is a scorched earth policy. Evidence shows that the underutilization crisis has been manufactured. Their own evidence also shows the school district will not garner any significant savings from closing these schools.

“This is bad governance. CPS has consistently undermined school communities and sabotaged teachers and parents. Their actions have had a horrible domino effect. More than 40,000 students will lose at least three to six months of learning because of the Board’s actions. Because many of them will now have to travel into new neighborhoods to continue their schooling, some will be victims of bullying, physical assault and other forms of violence. Board members are wishing for a world that does not exist and have ignored the reality of the world we live in today. Who on the Board will be held responsible? Who at City Hall will be held responsible?

“Members of the Board of Education, the school CEO, the mayor and their corporate backers are on the wrong side of history. History will judge them for the tragedy they have inflicted upon our students; and it will not be kind.

“Our fight for education justice has now moved to the courts, but it must eventually move to the ballot box. The parents are amazing leaders in their school communities and because of this administration’s actions we have all become closer and more united. We must resist this neoliberal savagery masquerading as school reform. We must resist racism in all of its forms as well as the escalating attacks on the working -class and the poor. Our movement will continue.”