Facilities task force to urge CPS officials to put off consolidations

Print More

In an emergency meeting, members of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force decided Monday night that they would officially request that CPS leaders temporarily cease consolidating schools, effectively waiting to go through with several actions announced just last week.

In an emergency meeting, members of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force decided Monday night that they would officially request that CPS leaders temporarily cease consolidating schools, effectively waiting to go through with several actions announced just last week.
The task force, formed by the state legislature in 2009, held a heated public meeting at the Erie Neighborhood House, a social service agency on the Northwest Side. In February, the task force issued a report calling on CPS officials to be more transparent when they close, consolidate and open schools and to follow specific procedures, such as issuing an educational plan for affected students, before they undertake such an action.
Task force members, who are lawmakers and community activists, asked that CPS officials put off school consolidations or closings until they have time to turn their recommendations into law. 
 
“This group has worked for eleven months, and we found it to be a slap in the face that CPS came up with this policy without giving us time to do the work that the General Assembly voted for us to do,” said State Senator Iris Martinez at the beginning of the meeting.
 
Passionate testimony from parents, teachers and community leaders dominated much of the meeting.  The standing-room-only crowd repeatedly grew animated as community members, parents and many children from affected schools railed against CPS’ proposal, which would affect roughly 4800 children. 
Interim CPS CEO Terry Mazany announced on Wednesday that he was calling for Carpenter school to be consolidated with Talcott, Schneider to be consolidated with Jahn and Beidler to be consolidated with Cather. Tilton Elementary in West Garfield Park also would be phased out and incoming students in Tilton’s attendance boundaries would be sent to Marconi. Also, Andersen Elementary would disappear and LaSalle II, a magnet school, would take over the entire building. 
As is the case with Andersen and LaSalle II, the consolidations would make way for schools that have been recently opened under Renaissance 2010. 
Mazany argued last week that these moves are time-sensitive and are being done because of budget considerations. Though in the short run they won’t save money, he said, in the long run, they would.
Many who showed up to the task force meeting said they felt blind-sided by Mazany’s announcement. Some said they felt discriminated against by having to move to inferior buildings, and others said that the forced actions caused bad blood between the old and new schools. They also said CPS officials did a bad job of communicating with the community.  
 
“This is not ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’ and the board is not Bob Barker,” said Freida Dunn, the local school council chairperson for Cather, during the meeting.  “We are parents and we just want to be told the truth.”
 
Several attendees said they feared that the consolidations would result in violence. Different gangs occupy different schools, they argued, and bringing such groups together into one building would create a dangerous environment.
 
“There’s going to be more violence than ever,” said Jonathan Binion, a 7th-grader at Tilton.  “I would be worried to go to school.”
 
Largely absent from the testimony provided in the meeting was worry over the threat to teachers’ jobs created by the consolidation proposal. According to CPS, about 100 teachers would lose their positions.
 
“Honestly, I know my job is on the line, but it’s the last thing on my mind,” said Josefina Rojas, a kindergarten teacher at Avondale. 
 
During the meeting, task force members also presented data that called into question CPS officials’ contention that the schools involved were failing. For example, both Beidler and Cather had rising test scores.  
 
The study also analyzed building use differently than the district, using square feet per child rather than the total percentage of a building utilized.  The study concluded that though some space is going to waste, the situation is not as drastic as CPS has indicated.
 
As the meeting closed, many attendees came away optimistic that they could change CPS’ direction.  “This is encouraging,” said Debra Pedersen, a first-grade teacher at Marconi Elementary.  “Now we have the voice of people outside the city.”
 
Task force members also hoped that the outpouring of dissent might give legs to its request to cease the consolidations.  Co-Chair and State Representative Cynthia Soto noted that she was still “appalled” by CPS’ proposal, but also noted that the pressure from the crowd around her might force the district to reconsider. “They might listen, to everybody that wraps around this building,” she said.