Double dose of criticism for CPS officials over proposal to close 54 schools

School board, city council education committee hold simultaneous meetings

April 3, 2013

(Becky Vevea/WBEZ)
The Chicago Board of Education holds it's monthly meeting two weeks after school leaders propose the closure of 54 schools.

City school officials got a double dose of criticism Wednesday during simultaneous meetings regarding the proposal to close 54 public schools.

The Chicago Board of Education meeting drew morning protesters and a packed house, while down the street, the City Council education committee held a hearing to discuss school closings.

At the start of the school board meeting, board members asked everyone who showed up to speak to be respectful and professional.

“Give us actionable, implementable ideas that help this process move along and improve it,” said Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz. “That’s beneficial, that’s constructive critique. Name calling is not.”

But when it came time for Justice Stamps to speak two hours into the meeting, she didn’t listen to Ruiz’s request.

“I don’t want to be professional,” Stamps said. “Truthfully, I want to make you sad. I want to make you nervous. I want to make you uncomfortable. I want to make you feel unloved. I want to make you feel kicked to the curb. In other words, I want to make you feel like a George Manierre Elementary School student and the rest of these students how they feel right now.”

Stamps used to teach at Manierre Elementary, which is slated to be shut down. Manierre students will be reassigned to Jenner, rather than to an even closer school, Franklin, one of the city’s high-performing magnets.

CPS officials said receiving schools, like Jenner, will be given extra resources, like art, music, science labs, air conditioners and iPads for all third through eighth graders. It’s a promise they repeated at Wednesday’s school board meeting and down the street at a City Hall hearing.

Ald. Pat Dowell asked for it in writing.

“The people in my community wanna hold CPS accountable because you all never keep your word,” Dowell said.

At the city hall hearing, CPS officials weren’t the only ones being grilled. Ald. Anthony Beale challenged a Chicago Teachers Union official to offer alternatives to the school closings.

“Is there any concession that the unions are willing to make in order to keep all these schools open?” Beale asked CTU political director Stacy Davis Gates. Gates paused while Beale hummed the theme to Jeopardy.

The alderman didn’t get a straight answer. But ultimately, they don’t have any official authority to stop the closings. That decision is left up to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s appointed school board.

The school board is also considering a different kind of shake up for a small group of schools—a school turnaround.

A group of parents showed up at the Board of Education Wednesday to protest the planned turnaround of Barton Elementary. If approved, all the staff—from the principal to the lunch ladies—at Barton and five other schools will be fired. District leaders said that is necessary to turn the school around academically.

Gordon Matthews came to protest the changes at Barton.

“Barton has been a part of my family for about, almost going on, over 30 years,” Matthews said. His five kids went to Barton and now he’s got six grandchildren there.

“All of them graduated high school, my kids. Two of ‘em graduated college. All of ‘em have good jobs, and none of them on drugs or in jail or anything like that. So Barton’s doing something right. The way I look at it, if it’s not broke don’t fix it,” Matthews said as he marched up and down the sidewalk outside CPS headquarters. Besides his family, Barton said he worries what the turnaround will do to his already struggling community.

“That’s not a way to bring jobs to the city,” he said. “To me that’s like throwing ‘em out.  How can you say you want to bring jobs to the city but you want to go into the school and fire everybody in there. I mean, that’s kind of double talk isn’t it?”

Barton, Stamps, Beale and the rest of the aldermen, parents and teachers will have more opportunities to express their concerns.

CPS will hold three hearings for each proposed closure and turnaround before the school board votes on closures in May. The community meetings begin on Saturday.

WBEZ's political reporter Alex Keefe contributed to this report. 

Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @WBEZeducation.