Southwest Side Ald. Matt O’Shea announced this week he will abandon the most controversial part of a plan to reorganize area schools after it was criticized as racially motivated.
The 19th ward alderman’s plan had been to relieve overcrowding at a mostly white school by closing or consolidating nearby schools with more racial diversity.
O’Shea said this week he will abandon the idea to close Kellogg Elementary School and send its students to Sutherland Elementary. Both of the schools have a majority black student body.
Scott Smith, who is a member of the newly formed 19th Ward Parents United, said members of the group are relieved, but the proposal has opened up a broader discussion about education in the community.
The area has some schools that pride themselves on diversity, and others that are overwhelmingly white in a district with less than 10 percent white students.
“A lot of things about the 19th Ward makes its educational needs and opportunities a little different than a lot of the other wards and surrounding areas,” Smith said.
Smith noted the neighborhood has several well-attended Catholic schools that draw students away from the neighborhood schools. He said parents from all the schools need to be in on the discussion about how to balance enrollment and make them all robust.
19th Ward Parents United want O’Shea to create a community-driven task force. O’Shea has not yet done that.
The alderman said he decided to take the merger of Kellogg and Sutherland off the table because parents from these two schools told him they believe such a merger is “not in the best interests of their children.”
Sutherland and Kellogg parents had been vigorously opposed to the plan, and more than a dozen came to speak against it at last month’s Chicago Public Schools Board of Education meeting.
Some parents also think O’Shea’s decision to abandon part of the plan has to do with Kellogg recently receiving the highest rating possible from CPS. Typically, the school district has a policy against closing high performing schools.
O’Shea wanted to move Kellogg students to Sutherland so Keller Regional Gifted School could vacate its building and move into Kellogg’s building.
All this would be done so Mount Greenwood Elementary, which has about 200 more students than CPS said its building can fit, would get Keller’s building. Mount Greenwood Elementary School’s student population is 84 percent white.
O’Shea said he still intends to try to find a way to get Mount Greenwood more space. It’s unclear if Keller’s building is still being discussed as an option for Mount Greenwood.
O’Shea made his announcement in a letter on his website, but couldn’t be reached Wednesday. His office said he presented several options to CPS.
State law requires CPS to announce any school actions, such as mergers or closings, by Dec. 31.
O’Shea said he came up with his original plan because the ward was promised $20 million from the Capital Improvement Tax, which was passed by the City Council last year for building and repairing schools. The Board of Education plans to borrow up to $900 million and pay it back with the tax, which is expected to bring in about $45 million annually.
The district plans to detail how it intends to use that money soon, but a list of projects obtained by WBEZ shows $20 million to relieve overcrowding at Mount Greenwood.
O’Shea said he didn’t want to build Mount Greenwood another annex. Instead, he wanted to use the bulk of the $20 million to fix Esmond Elementary, another school in his ward. Esmond, a school that serves predominantly poor, black children, is in disrepair, according to O’Shea.
A spokesman from O’Shea’s office says the alderman still wants to help Esmond, but the timetable for those repairs is up to CPS.