Chicago Public Schools chided by affluent school communities for inequity

Parents and others argue money would be better spent at schools of need

June 26, 2014

(WBEZ/Becky Vevea)
Parents from Lincoln Elementary protest the inequitable treatment and favoritism of more affluent schools.

The Chicago Board of Education sat through its monthly tongue-lashing Wednesday, listening to speaker after speaker denounce their decision-making processes.

Even people from the most affluent schools in the city argued against recent decisions made by Chicago Public Schools to further benefit their schools.

A group of parents and community members from Lincoln Elementary in Lincoln Park want the district to take back the $20 million it has allocated to build an annex on the school’s playground and spend it on something else.

“If there was a perfect world and our city and state were overflowing with capital, people would approve of this type of investment,” said Thaddeus Wong, a parent of four kids at Lincoln. “But after closing so many schools in neighborhoods that are less advantageous economically, it’s hard to see how a 20 million dollar addition on a 100-year-old school makes sense just to accommodate a few hundred kids.”

The group is ready to file an appeal to any zoning changes that would allow construction to go forward.

CPS spokesman Joel Hood said the annex at Lincoln Elementary is “paid for entirely by state funds.”

The parents from Lincoln weren’t the only group upset with CPS spending money on schools that are not the most in need.

James O’Toole, a rising senior at Jones College Prep, one of the public high schools that students have to test to get into, spoke as part of a group called Chicago Students Union. Many of the students go to the top selective high schools, yet they said building another selective school is not a smart move.

“I believe that this money could be used to better fund the already existing schools that are not receiving the funds that they deserve,” O’Toole said.

One of those schools? Prosser Career Academy. That’s where Gabriel Portillo is a student. He is also with the Chicago Students Union and spoke at the Board of Education yesterday.

Portillo said there’s one word to describe funding at his school: “sucky.”

“Last year, I had a textbook in my algebra/trigonometry class and it was dated from 1993--1993, which was four years before I was born--21 years ago,” Portillo said.

Despite all the questions about the district’s spending priorities at the meeting, officials have yet to release a budget for the coming fiscal year. The budget is on track to be publicly released in early July and voted on at the July board meeting, Hood said.

Other highlights from Wednesday's meeting:

  • A coalition of librarians from CPS called on the board to again provide a certified librarian position to every school, rather than have principals decide whether  to hire one. In recent years, due to budget cuts and a change to funding schools, many librarians have been cut or reassigned to teaching positions. Hood said there are 314 full- or part-time certified librarians in CPS schools.
  • Several speakers and community activists spoke against the expansion of a charter school on the agenda. The Des Plaines-based Concept Schools already runs three schools in Chicago and is seeking to open another. However, the FBI recently raided a number of the schools they operate in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Speakers want CPS to hold off on opening the school until the FBI investigation is complete. Hood said in an e-mail that the district is monitoring the situation.
  • The Board unanimously approved the district’s new student code of conduct.
  • Two aldermen came to talk about Academic Centers in their wards. An academic center is a middle school that students have to test to get into. Fourth Ward Ald. William Burns wants the Academic Center at Kenwood Academy to move into the old Canter Middle School building. Canter was phased out this year. Ald. Anthony Beale also requested the district explore the option of opening an academic center inside Brooks College Prep, a selective high school on the south side.
  • The agenda included a revised Principal Eligibility policy, but the item was withdrawn before the board voted. There was some speculation the revisions came as a response to the rejection of an alderman’s sister for the principal position at a grammar school in Portage Park.

Becky Vevea is a producer and reporter for WBEZ. Follow her @WBEZeducation.