For the Record: School closing logistics

April 5, 2013

As news of the recommended school closings has settled in, parents have raised two logistical concerns: The distance that children will have to walk to their new schools and the impact of adding new students on the utilization of receiving schools.  

On both fronts, some scenarios present reason for concern.

A Catalyst Chicago analysis of CPS utilization data shows that in eight instances, the receiving school will be more than 100 percent over capacity if the current enrollment of the closing and receiving schools combines. In another eight cases, the building will be at more than 90 percent at capacity. (See school-by-school info in an Excel file below)

However, CPS officials might be anticipating that a certain percentage of students will not attend the designated welcoming school. (The spring issue of Catalyst In Depth found that less than half of students ended up at the designated welcoming school last year, but only four schools were shuttered at the time.)

Attached to the letter informing parents of the proposal to close their schools was an application to open enrollment and magnet cluster schools, leading some parents to believe that CPS wants them to go elsewhere. However, CPS officials said they just want to give parents options.

Using Mapquest, Catalyst also analyzed the walking distances between the closing and receiving schools. Twenty-nine of the 54 schools are more than half a mile apart. Nine are more than 0.8 miles apart—the length at which busing will kick in.

The nine schools are Bethune, Bontemps, King, Overton, Lawrence, Canter, Kohn, Ericson and Trumbull.

There’s a big caveat about busing, however: Transportation is only guaranteed to the children who are currently at closing schools, not future students who will be assigned to the receiving schools from the old attendance areas of the closing schools.

This week, parents and activists gathered on the 5th floor of City Hall to invite Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett to walk with them from closing schools that are particularly far from welcoming schools, past vacant buildings and corners that are hubs of drug dealing.

“We are asking Mayor Rahm Emanuel to walk the walk so he can see the distance,” said Cecile Carroll, co-director of Blocks Together, an advocacy organization in West Humboldt Park. Every Tuesday, the group will walk from one school to another, starting at King Elementary on the Near West Side. King students will be reassigned to Jensen in East Garfield Park, 0.8 miles away.

When Ryerson parent Torrence Shorter implored Emanuel on Tuesday to walk with parents from one closing building to another, he noted that even if every student shows up at their newly assigned school, accommodating all of them would require the school to get rid of amenities, like a fitness room that was installed by the Chicago Bulls.

Ward, he notes, is the bigger building. Yet, under the school district’s plan, Ryerson students are staying put—even though their school program is shutting down—and Ward’s students are coming to Ryerson’s building—even though their school is not closing. According to district utilization data, Ryerson’s ideal design capacity is 690 students.

Currently, Ward and Ryerson have a combined enrollment of 797 students. The 8th-graders will graduate, but one would expect new kindergarteners to arrive and take classroom space.

In addition, Ryerson sits on a stretch of Ohio Street where drug-dealing happens on a regular basis.

Parents also balked at some of the sweeteners promised by CPS. LaTonya Butts said Bret Harte, in Hyde Park, will need an air conditioner when the 7th- and 8th-grade students from Canter arrive. (Harte is already considered efficient by CPS utilization standards.) “They will be packed in,” she said. “Our children are not cattle.”