The City Club of Chicago hosted a panel discussion on school closings in Chicago on October 23, 2014. The panel included Tom Tyrell, Chief Operating Officer of Chicago Public Schools; Carlos Azcoitia, a member of the Chicago Board of Education; Andrea Zopp, a member of the Chicago Board of Education; Carol Caref, PhD, Research Director for the Chicago Teachers Union and myself. I spoke from my experiences as the co-founder of the Lawndale Alliance. My speaking points are outlined below.
- We have found the CPS bureaucracy to be unwilling to work with the community. A broad base of North Lawndale stakeholders, including the CAC and elected officials put together an alternative plan for school closures that included plans for school improvement and a comprehensive array of community resources to provide support. We sent the plan to CPS and they ignored it. We invited them to a press conference to review the plan and they refused to come out. After schools were closed we sent emails asking for assistance in understanding the budget, and never got an answer. They refused to answer a FOIA request for information regarding the impact of school closures on budgets and programs. We invited them to participate in town hall meetings and they refused.
- School closures have accelerated privatization in North Lawndale. As a result of school closings and turnarounds only one third of North Lawndale schools are traditional public schools. Two thirds are privately controlled but publicly funded.
- The biggest winner in school closings for North Lawndale has been AUSL. They now control every school in and around Douglas Park. When Henson closed, even though Hughes was named the receiving school, only 30% of the old Henson attendance boundary was folded into Hughes school, and 20% was folded into Webster. The remaining 50% of the old Henson boundary was folded into AUSL Herzl.
- Mayor Emanuel assigned a committee to put together school repurposing plan. It was an excellent plan that called for engaging the community in local planning processes and called for providing technical assistance to local communities. There was no representation on the committee from African Americans on the West Side until the work was done. Our suggestions for ways the planning process could be improved was ignored. There was a meeting in the community and CPS sent someone who didn’t even know the repurposing plan existed. CPS has refused to engage North Lawndale in a planning process in spite of the fact that UIC and CMAP have expressed a willingness to help.
- School closures have compounded segregation in North Lawndale. Paderewski was the only school in North Lawndale that served both the African American and Latino communities and provide opportunities for interaction across cultural lines. The new attendance boundaries were drawn such that in the future, students living north of Cermak, who happened to be African American for the most part, would be relegated to schools that were not performing as well as Paderewski before it closed. Students living south of Cermak would have better options.
- When schools were closed, CPS said they would save money and that the schools that remained open would be better resourced. In the two years since schools have closed, CPS has increased its total budget by over 500 million dollars. At the same time, they reduced investment in neighborhood schools by over $232 million, and increased investment in charter schools by over $82 million dollars. They borrowed $363 million to finance school closings and costs for moving expenses tripled from $8.9 million to $30 million. To this day we don’t know how much school closings cost the taxpayers. Local media have sued CPS to get true cost of school closures. Whatever the cost, it is too high. We need an elected school board that will be accountable to the people.
Image from Kristine Mayle.