The Chicago school system has narrowed the list of underutilized schools targeted for possible closing to 129.
The district, the nation's third largest, says it has capacity for 511,000 students in its 681 schools, but has only 403,000 enrolled in 2012-13. Closing some of the city's underutilized schools would help the system close a projected deficit for next year of $1 billion and would enable the school to allocate resources more efficiently.
“As a former teacher and principal, I know that our limited education resources are spread much too thin,” says Chicago Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. “By combining schools that lack sufficient numbers of students, we can redirect our limited resources to give all of our children the quality education they need and deserve to succeed.”
The district's calculations determined that 330 of its schools were underutilized. The district and an independent Commission on School Utilization held public meetings over the last few weeks and gathered input about the potential closings from more than 8,500 parents and community members. As of result of community feedback, 201 of those underutilized schools--including all high schools and elementary schools performing at the highest level--are no longer at risk for closing.
The Chicago Teachers Union, which earlier had called for a moratorium on all city school closings, again voiced its strong opposition to any school closings, which it has labeled Mayor Rahm Emanuel's "Hit List."
"The entire system of public schools in which every one of us works is targeted," the union's web site says. "In order to save it, we must insist that every targeted school must remain open."
The teachers union also finds fault with the way the Chicago administration calculated its space utilization. It says the method used class sizes that were too large--30 students per class. That has resulted in overstated numbers of underutilized schools, the union argues.
"A reduction in class sizes to levels of surrounding suburbs or elite private schools...would essentially eliminate system-wide underutilization," the union contends.
The union also asserts the 129 schools left on the potential closing list are disproportionately in areas with black and Hispanic students.
Blacks and Hispanics comprise more than 86 percent of the student population in Chicago public schools.
As the process for deciding which schools will close moves forward, the district is spelling out how a school will be removed from the closing list. The criteria for remaining open:
A. Level 2 schools that have gained enrollment over the last three years or
B. Any schools that are “sustainable and improving performance”. These schools meet ALL of the following:
--Greater than or equal to 300 students enrolled on the 20th day of 2012-13.
--Same or higher performance level for 2011-12 as 2010-11.
--Illinois Standard Achievement Test composite scores meet or exceed trend value that indicates increase in student proficiency.
--Students are performing at or above their peers in reading or math for each of the last three years.
In addition, the district says the safety and security of students will be an overriding factor in determining closings.
“I will not close any school where I don’t have confidence that children will have a safe and smooth transition at welcoming schools next fall,” Byrd-Bennett says.