Chicago parents, teachers and union members who spent weeks protesting the proposed closure of nearly 50 public schools have vowed to fight until the end, and the end is near.
The Board of Education is expected to vote Wednesday on whether to close dozens of schools in an effort to tackle the district's $1 billion deficit, make better use of under-utilized buildings and improve education.
Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis called the closings a "cowboy mentality."
"Mayoral control is out of control," Lewis told reporters as another round of protests began outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters.
Hours before that vote, Chicago Board of Education vice president Jesse Ruiz confirmed to NBC Chicago that CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett will withdraw her recommendation to close four schools. George Manierre Elementary School, Marcus Garvey Elementary School, Mahalia Jackson Elementary School and Leif Ericson Elementary Scholastic Academy were taken off the closure list.
Another school, Miriam G Canter Middle School, will be phased out over the next year and won't close until the following school year. Clara Barton Elementary School was removed from the turnaround list, which had slated the school to get new staff.
"These schools, for a variety of reasons, are trending well in terms of population, increases in attendance, utilization of the building, which is one of the primary factors for closing schools, academic progress, special needs populations," Ruiz said. "We just want to make sure [they] have the best possible setting, and leaving them in the schools that they are in was the best decision."
The Chicago Teachers Union has said a single school closure is one too many and 50 or more would be catastrophic for the district, but teachers admit the late move is a step in the right direction.
"It's a great start. We have 50 more to go," Chicago Teachers Union member Kristine Mayle said Wednesday. "They have a couple more hours to change their mind and do the right thing and protect our students."
"There's an old expression," CTU Vice President Jesse Shakey said. "Don't put a knife in my back six inches, pull it out a couple and say you're doing a favor."
- CPS to Shutter 54 Schools in Closure Plan
- Teachers, Supporters Rally in Opposition of School Closures
- Schools CEO: Delaying Closures Would be "Criminal"
- Lewis: School Closures Plan Racist, Classist and Unnecessary
- Commission Chief Defends Recommendation to Close Schools
- Mayor Not Concerned About Political Fallout from CPS Closures
The fight will go to the bitter end as teachers, CTU members and students rally outside the board meeting, scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. Plenty of public comment is expected before a vote.
Other union members left for Springfield Wednesday morning to press lawmakers to pass legislation that would put a moratorium on school closings, and in Chicago, there is optimism that more schools can be saved.
"We saw at the last board meeting that there actually was some dissention for the first time," Mayle said. "We'd never seen that before in all these years we've been doing this. Hopefully when they actually got out to these schools they saw what was actually happening in these neighborhoods."