Ill. Rep. Dunkin determined to halt CPS school closings - FOX 35 News Orlando

Ill. Rep. Dunkin determined to halt, parents protest CPS closings

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  • Ill. Rep. Dunkin determined to halt, parents protest CPS closingsMore>>

  • OFFICIAL LIST: 61 CPS school buildings to close

    OFFICIAL LIST: 61 CPS school buildings to close

    Thursday, March 21 2013 6:52 PM EDT2013-03-21 22:52:49 GMT
    Chicago Public Schools officials said Thursday they plan to close 54 schools in an effort to address a $1 billion budget shortfall and improve a struggling educational system.
    Chicago Public Schools officials said Thursday they plan to close 54 schools in an effort to address a $1 billion budget shortfall and improve a struggling educational system.
CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Facing a $1 billion deficit, CPS said consolidating schools and moving students to locations where they'll have more access to better resources is the best way to fix problems that have developed over decades, and save $560 million over 10 years.

If the plan is executed, it would be the single largest bout of school closings in U.S. history, affecting around 30,000 students and parents as well as 1,000 teachers.

State Rep. Ken Dunkin is very upset about CPS's plan to close 54 elementary schools. He is the president of the black caucus in Springfield, and said there is tremendous concern for African American and Hispanic students.

Dunkin said he would call Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan immediately, because he was the closure plan to come to a halt. He fears for the safety of the students who have to walk to and attend new schools in areas where gang territory lines have been drawn.

The state representative told FOX 32 News that has been trying to get clarification from CPS and City Hall, to no avail.

CPS spokesperson Becky Carroll said they have not been stonewalling State Rep. Dunkin, and that Mayor Rahm Emanuel – who ultimately leads the school district - is simply out of town on vacation.

She said the announcement was planned, but CPS wanted to make this announcement before children went away for spring break. If they didn't release the list while the mayor was out of town, the district would not be able then to meet the criteria of the 60 days of notification, which is required by state law.

Carroll also said the Black Caucus did meet with CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett recently. Dunkin does acknowledge that, but says that was only to put out the fires.

"[I'm] very disappointed with the fact that the mayor and CPS did not give us the respect of educating our staff on this massive closure," State Rep. Dunkin said.

Mayor Emanuel's office did release a statement Thursday night:

"Over the past decade, this decision was delayed while we put more money into keeping buildings open rather than investing it where it should be - in our children's education. Now, we will be able to utilize resources to better our children's future, because every child in every neighborhood in Chicago deserves access to a high quality education that prepares them to succeed in life. By consolidating these schools, CPS can focus on safely getting every child into a better performing school. Like school systems in New York and Philadelphia where schools are being closed, Chicago must make tough choices. Our children's futures are bright and consolidating schools is the best way to make sure all of our city's students get the resources they need to learn and succeed."

CPS officials announced the list of school closings Thursday. Parents, teachers and community members are vowing to push back against a plan by Emanuel's administration.

Emanuel and schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett say the closures are necessary because too many buildings are half-empty. They say money being spent to keep underused schools open could be better used to educate students elsewhere as the district deals with the budget deficit.

But opponents say the closures will further erode troubled neighborhoods. The schools slated for closure are all elementary schools and are in low-income neighborhoods.

School Board President Jesse Ruiz told Good Day Chicago that the district is cognizant of parents' concern for their kids' safety. He explained that the consolidation plan includes increased funding for the safe passage program, and bussing for students who would have to walk more than 0.8 miles to get to school.

Ruiz also said that after many public hearings – held by CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett asking for public opinion - and independent research regarding how these schools were using their resources, this plan would benefit the children in the long run after the initial shock of change.

The teachers union has scheduled a protest march for next week.

CTU President Karen Lewis told Good Day Chicago that she believes the mayor and Chicago Public Schools are going about fixing the problem the wrong way. She called Mayor Emanuel a "murderer of schools" Thursday, after seeing the list of proposed closures.

The union president said the district has been closing schools for years to save money, that the process has done the students a disservice. She said it hasn't worked over time - teachers and students have not seen the promised benefits - and that the new plan is going to cost too much money.

A number of community activists and organizations have voiced their opposition to the district's historic plan, the single largest round of schools closings in U.S. history.

Raise Your Hand and the South Austin Coalition protested the plan on the West Side Friday, saying that the consolidation will contribute to the problems in Chicago's schools instead of curing them.

Leaders question why Mayor Emanuel and CPS would invest thousands of dollars in high school improvement without closing any, but close 54 elementary schools in poorer neighborhoods. They also said truancy is one of the biggest problems at the schools they plan to close, and said now the kids may be more likely to be absent because getting to school will be so much harder for some.

Those who have lived in the city for a long time and seen leadership in the school district and in Chicago as a whole change say that the problems have been getting worse for years, the rhetoric is the same, and the improvements have yet to take place.

FOX 32 sources with CPS and in City Hall say that CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett only wanted to close 40 schools, and that Mayor Emanuel increased that number to 54.

CPS spokeswoman Carroll said this statement is absolutely untrue, that there was never a magic number and the whole process has been very transparent. She also said the district has worked strategically with the schools and the police department to come up with a security plan. She acknowledges that the plan needs tweaking and some work but they are working very closely to keep kids safe.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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