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Chicagoist's Top Stories Of 2013: Chicago Public Schools' Closes 51 Schools

By Chuck Sudo in News on Dec 31, 2013 7:00PM

Chicago Public Schools’ announcement in late may that it was closing 49 schools at the end of the 2012-13 school year was more than the largest single wave of public school closings in American history.

It was another revelation to the nation of Chicago’s status as the most hyper-segregated city in the country as most of the closings affected neighborhoods primarily inhabited by blacks.

To opponents of the plan, it revealed how little Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the Chicago School Board took their objections into consideration during increasingly contentious and angry town hall meetings.

It was a continuation of Emanuel’s belligerent stance against the Chicago Teachers Union and its powerful president, Karen Lewis.

It was about razing the fieldhouse at Whittier Elementary in Pilsen despite the protests of an active group of parents in the education of their children at that school and promises that the structure would be rehabbed.

Mainly, it was about the continuing educations of 30,000 displaced CPS students (or 46,000 according to WBEZ’s analysis), not all of them for the better despite the school district’s claims, as they now have to walk miles out of their way through “Safe Passage” routes and streets controlled by gangs to get to school.

It was about slowly but surely pulling the veil back and getting a peek inside CPS’ finances and being appalled at the mismanagement, lack of long-term strategy and preparation that resulted in the closings.

It was about the 850 people laid off by CPS almost immediately after the closures were announced, and the more than 2,100 pink slips that followed.

It was about how principals of schools throughout the district had to choose between art supplies and toilet paper; cut electives from curricula, and even float ideas like charge students $500 to attend an extra period of classes. And how teachers and parents were caught unaware by the depths of the budget morass.

Photo Credit: Milosh Kosanovich

It was about a proposed 2013-14 CPS budget heavy in classroom cuts, a third consecutive maximum hike in the property tax levy and tapping into funds normally reserved for to pay off debt and legal rulings to balance,

It was about Mayor Emanuel not laying the blame on CPS officials for their lack of long-term planning, but on the union and pension obligations. (Never mind this day of reckoning was nearly 20 years and two mayors in the making.)

It was about the mayor not declaring a TIF surplus to at least provide a semblance of relief.

It was about CPS issuing a request for proposals for more charter schools even as it was revealed that five charters in the system were performing below expectations and the United Neighborhood Organization, the largest charter school network in Illinois, had payment halted on state grants it was awarded and became the subject of an SEC investigation.

It was about CPS not even being able to keep track of receiving schools that received upgrades in air conditioning.

You see, in retrospect the school closings were but one small part of an ongoing snowball effect at CPS caused by the district's lack of foresight, ignorance and hubris. And it’s all going to get worse before it gets better so long as those responsible for the problem are tasked with finding a solution.