Commission Chief Defends Recommendation to Close Schools

Board of Education will vote May 22 on proposal to close 54 Chicago schools

The man who chaired the commission on school facilities that made the recommendation to close more than four dozen schools admits the changes will be difficult but was adamant they're absolutely necessary.

"We want to educate kids. We want to put kids in an opportunity to succeed. You can't do that by maintaining the status quo," Frank Clark said Friday. "Some change is necessary. All change is hard."

The Chicago Board of Education next month will vote on the proposal made Thursday to shutter 54 schools.

Clark says one misconception about the plan is that it is about saving money. While the district has said that ever closed school ultimately save the district between $500,000 and $800,000, Clark said the Commission on School Utilization didn't consider it.

"Our focus was how do you take limited resources, allocated those resources the best you can, to provide a better educational environment for kids," he explained.

But more than one Chicago aldermen said they believe the commission's work was a charade, arguing that all of the targeted schools were targeted from the beginning.

"I think they set them all up for failure," said Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd). "And then what they set up even worse was the communities and the parents and the faculties and the administration against each other."

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said it wasn't "rocket science" as to why many of the schools eyed for closure or consolidation are on the south and west sides of Chicago.

"That's because they haven't put the resources in there," she said.

Clark said the suggestion that schools were targeted is nonsense.

As they've done repeatedly, parents gathered to express concern that the closures would put students' safety in jeopardy by forcing them to cross potentially dangerous gang boundaries. Clark insisted those concerns were considered and pointed out that's why high schools were taken off the table in the plan.

Then he turned the tables on parents.

"Are you going to say that your child is not entitled to a better education and a better school because a gang boundary says otherwise?" he asked.

Clark said that ultimately -- perhaps five years from now -- parents will look back on this week and see it in a different light.

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