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School officials to name potential closures before February

Public school officials will put out a list of schools still eligible for closure by the end of the month.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said Friday that list would still be far from final.

“It does not mean that that list that we’re discussing is yet the final list,” Byrd-Bennett said. “It’s just the second iteration, phase two.”

From there, CPS leaders plan to hold at least 28 meetings throughout the city, two for each geographic cluster of schools, in order to get more specific feedback on the individual schools. Dates and times of the meetings are still being determined, but are scheduled to begin on January 28.

“If the community were to say, ‘You really shouldn’t close this school because there are safety issues,’ or ‘You shouldn’t close this school because we have a kiln and a full art program and we service a lot of special needs students,’ well, then we need to look at that despite the fact that it may have fallen into our formulas,” Byrd- Bennett said.

In a rare move, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis agreed with the plan and said Byrd-Bennett clearly “has taken a different direction than we’ve seen in the past,” and is not falling for just “dog-and-pony shows.”

But Lewis did say CPS needs to make sure there’s professional development for teachers and community support when schools are closed and consolidated. In the past, the union and other community groups have criticized the district for not following through on the transition plans for students in closed schools.

The step toward a more detailed list of potential closures comes less than 24 hours after a commission appointed by Byrd-Bennett issued its recommended guidelines for closings.

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said district officials could accept, reject or tweak the commission’s guidelines. Byrd-Bennett said she’ll decide which recommendations to follow by next week Wednesday.

School officials also said closing schools will mean better resourced schools down the road, not necessarily savings for the cash-strapped district.

Right now, there are 681 public schools and just over 400,000 students to fill them up. The way funding works, schools with fewer students tend to get shortchanged when it comes to resources. They’re less likely to have art programs or a music teacher, district officials have said.

“I’d rather not continue to invest in electricity and heat and paying for utilized space and reinvest in teachers and reinvest in students,” Byrd-Bennett said.

At the same time CPS is grappling with this year’s round of school closings, there’s another piece of the puzzle one group says can’t be forgotten.

State law says Chicago public school leaders need to come up with a 10-year facility plan by May 1, and members of a state task force overseeing the process are reminding the public that time is ticking.

“We don’t want this to fall on the wayside,” said Cecile Carroll, a member of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force.

“We should have been having these conversations a long time ago, but there have been so many distractions at the district level that we haven’t been able to get a concrete plan moving forward,” Carroll said.

A CPS spokeswoman says district officials are working on the 10-year plan and they on schedule to meet the May deadline. 

The task force is planning to hold public meetings on the second Saturday of every month starting today, at 10:00 a.m. at New Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church, 4301 W. Washington Blvd. The rest will be as follows: February 9 at 10 a.m. at Chicago Embassy Church, 5848 S. Princeton; March 9, TBD, and April 13, TBD.


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