Mayor wants to stop the school closing beatings – after this year

At a City Club luncheon today, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced that Mayor Emanuel wants a 5-year school closing moratorium, but only after a massive closing program this year.

The Sun-Times reports:

Byrd-Bennett said Mayor Rahm Emanuel recognizes that Chicago Public Schools has made “too many piecemeal decisions’’ over the years concerning its school buildings. The result, Byrd-Bennett said, has been “unnecessary disruption to students, parents and schools across our city.’’ In a statement, Emanuel said, “In the past, there has been too much uncertainty around changes to our schools: year after year, Chicago Public Schools did not do an adequate job of engaging communities in these critical decisions, and year after year students, families and communities were left wondering of what was to come. That ends this year.”

Five reasons why a 5-year school closing moratorium – next year – is a stupid, desperate move.

1) If chaotic, disorganized closings are such a bad idea, stop doing it now. It sounds as if the mayor is saying, “I promise to stop beating you after I get in this last round of punches.” Never a good bet.

2) The Chicago public school community has no reason to trust any CPS leader. ” ‘I will personally commit to ensuring that this is a commitment CPS keeps,’ Byrd-Bennett told the Sun-Times said.” Right. The woman has been on the job for a couple of months and is the fifth CPS CEO in five years. Her commitment is not exactly reassuring.

3) The budget argument does not meet the research or common sense test. Underutilization was not even mentioned as a reason for school closings last year – did it just happen over this past summer? And research shows that school closures are not the cost savings that districts often claim they will be. A report on closures in 6 cities found that “Districts saved little money just from closing school buildings…and closure-related new costs cut further into districts’ savings….”

4) Parents are not falling for it, Mr Mayor. The idea that Byrd-Bennett’s new appointed commission will suddenly involve the community in a meaningful way is laughable. “In a statement, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that with a commission appointed by Chicago (sic) Byrd-Bennett parents will be more involved in any proposed changes to the district this year.” We’ve heard that empty promise too many times before to believe it now. The legally-constituted Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, which has been investigating school closures for two years, found that CPS has failed to involve the public meaningfully and to follow state law with respect to school closings. Why would we trust a bogus commission that was clearly set up to circumvent the state process and fake community involvement?

5) Our children need stability NOW, not starting next year. CPS has failed utterly to keep its promises to follow the students whose schools were closed in past years and to supply them with needed support and resources. It’s time to start focusing on these students now, to stop harming more students, and to focus back on our neighborhood schools, working with their local school councils, and strengthening the core of the Chicago Public School system.

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Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.
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