A public hearing to help decide what schools will close next year drew 100 parents, teachers and community members angry not only about the closings but about CPS’ decision Friday to hike the number of new charters it wants to open next year.
The Chicago Public Schools announced late Friday it will add six new schools — five charter, one contract — to the nine it earlier proposed opening in September 2013. Locations for the new schools, expected to go before the Board of Education for approval at its Dec. 19 meeting, have as yet not been determined.
New charters CPS seeks approval for include Chicago Collegiate, Foundations Academy, Intrinsic, and Orange. It also seeks to convert a contract school, Frazier Preparatory Academy, to a charter, and open a new alternative school targeting high-school dropouts that would be a contract school run by Camelot.
But the CPS proposal added fuel to the fire for CPS stakeholders who came to the second forum held by the CPS-appointed Commission on School Utilization at Marquette Park to argue against the closings CPS says are needed due to empty schools.
“I’m a teacher. I’m a parent. So I understand this game. When I hear this word utilization, I’ve never heard that word used before in education,” said 12-year teacher Michael Doyle.
“This is some charade created by the Board, a fear factor game to scare people. They’re now adding five new charter schools to the nine, yet they want to close schools. It’s hard to talk about trust.”
Kelly High School parent Anita Caballero, in a impassioned plea that quieted the room, called the CPS announcement disheartening.
“I keep hearing about more charters. How about us not closing schools? How about keeping neighborhood schools open and giving them the resources they need, like counselors, nurses, better teachers, after-school programs, reading and math help?” she said.
“You’re sitting up there saying you care about our children, yet you’re taking away everything from them. How can you not expect empty seats when you’re giving away resources that they need?”
Many attending the forum at 6743 S. Kedzie reacted similarly to the Chicago Teachers Union to the news, charging the proliferation of charter schools is largely to blame for neighborhood schools with so many empty seats. And many saw a conspiracy in the addition of new charters when schools must close.
However, Frank Clark, chairman of the nine-member independent commission appointed by Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, tried hard to dissuade the crowd from that viewpoint.
“This is not designed to pave the way for charter schools,” Clark who founded and has a charter named after him, said of closings.
“Any of these schools closed will not be used for charter schools. I personally do not know why the majority of people here are against charter schools. But at the end of the day, I assure you there’s no conspiracy here for charter schools.”
Speaker after speaker argued against closings because of transportation, gang boundaries, under performance of receiving schools, community investment, and a host of other reasons.