‘Treading water’ to relieve overcrowding

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Map: Overcrowding

Map: Overcrowding

Almost a third of the city’s community areas—23 of 77—have school overcrowding problems. Fourteen of the 23 communities have been overcrowded for a decade, and a major capital improvement plan launched in 1996 has brought little relief. One CPS official admits the district is only “treading water” in solving overcrowding.

Overall, however, the number of overcrowded elementary schools has declined to 136, from 156 in 1995. In communities where overcrowding has declined, two forces are typically at work: new construction to increase space and gentrification that has forced out larger, less-affluent families as singles and childless couples move in. The district has spent almost $680 million on additions, new schools and other construction for elementary grades. Almost a quarter of the spending—$153 million—was in communities where CPS enrollment has declined.

Communities on the Southwest Side, such as Gage Park and Brighton Park, are still overcrowded despite substantial capital spending. And six communities on the Northwest Side are coping with new overcrowding, at a time when CPS has no capital money for relief.

Methodology

To analyze elementary school overcrowding in each of the city’s 77 community areas, Catalyst Chicago relied on the yardstick used by Chicago Public Schools: Enrollment exceeding 80 percent of the building’s permanent design capacity.

Catalyst tallied enrollment and design capacity for each community area’s elementary schools using data from 1995—the year before CPS launched a major capital improvement plan that included significant overcrowding relief—and from 2005.

We also reviewed data on capital spending on completed elementary school additions, annexes and new construction.

The Neighborhood Capital Budget Group supplied all data on capital spending and 1995 data on enrollment and design capacity. CPS provided enrollment and design capacity data for 2005. A total of 454 elementary schools were included for 1995, and 486 for 2005. Catalyst excluded high schools, alternative schools and special education schools, as well as six new school construction projects and 11 additions that were financed with bonds issued by the Public Building Commission—a city funding agency.