Chicago to close 54 schools to address $1B deficit - FOX 29 News Philadelphia | WTXF-TV

LIST: Chicago to close 54 schools to address $1B deficit

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Chicago Public Schools officials said Thursday they plan to close 54 schools in an effort to address a $1 billion budget shortfall and improve a struggling educational system --  the largest single round of school closures in one city, in U.S. history.

District administrators identified 54 schools to close, saying many facilities have too few students to justify keeping them open. District officials say closures would cut costs for the district, which faces a $1 billion budget shortfall, and better funnel resources to students.

OFFICIAL LIST:  Click HERE to see list of 61 CPS school buildings to close

District CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel say the closures are necessary because too many CPS buildings are half-empty. The nation's third-largest district, CPS has about 403,000 students but has seats for more than 500,000, officials say. But opponents say the closures will disproportionately affect minority children and endanger students who may have to cross gang boundaries to attend school.

The plan will affect about 30,000 students, CPS officials said. They say money being spent to keep underutilized schools open could be better used to educate students elsewhere.

"Every child in every neighborhood in Chicago deserves access to a high quality education that prepares them to succeed in life, but for too long children in certain parts of Chicago have been cheated out of the resources they need to succeed because they are in underutilized, under-resource schools," Byrd-Bennett said. "As a former teacher and a principal, I've lived through school closings and I know that this will not be easy, but I also know that in the end this will benefit our children."

Opponents of this plan say the consolidation will disproportionately affect minority students.

CPS officials are expected to release a complete list of the elementary schools they're proposing to close before the end of the day on Thursday. District principals were informed of which schools would be closing late Thursday morning, and are expected to send a letter home with students to let parents know the status of their current school.

Teacher Rosemary Maurello said the principal of Lafayette Elementary School in the Humboldt Park neighborhood read them a letter Thursday from the district about that school's planned closure. The message said a final decision would be made in May. But Maurello said information packets were already prepared for parents and "it sounds like a done deal."

To sweeten the deal for the families whose students will have to move, CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett promised in a Thursday press release that 19 of their new schools, or "welcoming schools," will get enhanced learning environments, including:

  • Air conditioning in every classroom
  • Library in every school
  • Safe Passage for every school to provide increased security for students on their way to and from school
  • iPads for all students in grades 3-8
  • New and upgraded technology supports including expanded Internet bandwidth
  • All students with disabilities, students in temporary living situations, and English Language Learners will continue to receive required services to support their learning. In addition, CPS will monitor instructional quality and provide supports for families. Students in temporary living situations will be provided counseling to help them understand their enrollment options.
  • A dedicated Principal Transition Coordinator, who are former CPS principals and assistant principals, to support students transitioning from sending schools to welcoming schools next fall

Parents are concerned for their kids, since the consolidation will mean longer walking distances – and for some, across gang territory lines – to get to their new schools, change for special needs students who might not be able to adapt well and a greater student to teacher ratio.

Bennett said in a statement, "For too long children in certain parts of Chicago have been cheated."

She hopes this plan will change that for the better. Bennett told Good Day Chicago on Wednesday morning that she wishes she didn't have to close and schools. But the district is facing a $1 billion deficit and they need to improve schools for these students, and for future CPS students too.

Union leaders and other activists protesting Thursday at the home of Board of Ed President David Vitale promise a citywide campaign of massive civil disobedience. They oppose closing even one troubled school, demanding instead that each be repaired and upgraded, with lots of new staff added. It would require vast new tax dollars at a time when the Chicago Public Schools claim to face a billion dollar budget shortfall.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis issued a statement predicting "chaos" and destruction, declaring "one school closed is one too many." The union plans what it calls "massive civil disobedience" to protest next week. Lewis attacked Mayor Emanuel personally, calling him a coward for being out of town on vacation as the proposed closings were announced and using a Yiddish word for "shame."

"Emanuel should be ashamed for himself. Shonda!" Karen Lewis exclaimed. "We will not allow them to wreak havoc on our schools and on our city. This will not be Detroit!"

The mayor released a statement Thursday night saying in part, "Over the past decade, this decision was delayed while we put more money into keeping buildings open rather than investing it where it should be - in our children's education. Now, we will be able to utilize resources to better our children's future, because every child in every neighborhood in Chicago deserves access to a high quality education..."

Officials promise each school closing and consolidation will be the subject of two public hearings before May 31. The Chicago Teachers Union has a rally planned for 4 p.m. on March 27 at Daley Plaza.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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