CHICAGO – The Chicago Board of Education made history Wednesday when members voted to close 49 elementary schools and one high school program, beginning with the fall semester.
In numerical terms, it is the largest downsizing of a major school district in American history, according to the Chicago Tribune.
District leaders described the decision as painful, but added that Chicago Public Schools’ $1 billion deficit left them with little choice but to shutter many half-filled school buildings.
Without some dramatic way of saving money, the district would be forced to gut student academic programs and activities. That would further weaken CPS students’ overall educational experience – which is already shaky, to say the least.
The closures will save the district $867 million over 10 years. The displaced students “will be sent to better-performing schools with amenities such as air conditioning, libraries and upgraded facilities,” Reuters reports.
CPS has been hemorrhaging students because middle-class African- American families have been fleeing the dysfunctional school system – and even the city itself.
Board member Mahalia Hines compared CPS’ problems to a nervous dental patient deciding whether to put off necessary surgery, writes the Chicago Tribune.
“The decay is too much, and that’s why so many middle-class African-Americans have left the city,” Hines said.
Not everyone at Wednesday night’s school board meeting was as understanding.
Chicago Teachers Union members and concerned parents vocally opposed the decision. They said that by closing neighborhood schools, children will be forced to travel longer distances to and from school, thereby exposing them to potential violence, for which the Windy City has become infamous.
Unofficially, the CTU opposes the closures largely because it will lead to mass teacher layoffs. And that will take a big bite out of the union’s bank account.
According to the Illinois Policy Institute, each Chicago teacher pays about $1,000 a year in union dues. If 500 teachers are laid off, it will shrink the CTU’s annual budget by $500,000.
CTU leaders are contesting the school closings in court, though union President Karen Lewis has acknowledged that the “fight” must “eventually move to the ballot box.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was the driving force behind the decision to close the 50 schools, is up for re-election in 2015. Lewis has made his defeat a top priority.
Emanuel says he’s prepared to take a political hit for the closings, reports the Tribune.
“You can talk about the political consequence to me, versus the lifetime consequence to a child that drops out because of poor education,” Emanuel said Tuesday. “I will absorb the political consequence so our children will have a better future.”
Lewis said there will be consequences.
“I’m glad he’s prepared,” Lewis added.
By Ben Velderman at EAGnews.org