By Steve Gunn
CHICAGO – Just what do the teachers and parents of Chicago expect the city to do about the school district’s $1 billion deficit?
They reacted with anger Thursday when school officials announced the list of schools to be closed in the fall. Depending on what media outlet you believe, either 54 or 61 schools, all local elementary buildings, will be put out of service in September.
About 15,000 students will be forced to attend new schools under the plan, according to a report from Time.com.
This will be the largest mass building closing in the history of the district. Officials in Philadelphia and New York City are pursuing similar plans to save money and shut down low-performing schools.
City aldermen are upset because the vast majority of elementary closings are reportedly in black and Latino neighborhoods.
Parents are upset because they say children will have to cross through hostile neighborhoods on their way to new schools next year.
Some parents reportedly took a bus to protest in front of the homes of school board members Thursday. Others spoke of filing a lawsuit to block the closings.
“What’s gonna happen to these kids?” Irene Robinson, the mother of five children attending one of the schools targeted for closure. “Kids are being killed right now. They innocent. Why put them in harm’s way? It’s sad. It’s scary. It’s outrageous.”
The Chicago Teachers Union is planning a mass protest next week. Some members have reportedly been taking special “civil disobedience” lessons, presumably to maximize the havoc they cause with their protest.
“We are the city of big shoulders and so we intend to put up a fight,” Karen Lewis, president of the radical CTU, told the media. “We don’t know if we can win, but if you don’t fight, you will never win at all.”
Don’t complain if you can’t offer an alternative
The problem, of course, is that Chicago Public Schools are facing a massive $1 billion deficit with no relief in sight, and school closures appear to be an obvious cost-cutting target.
Many of the city’s school buildings are half empty, with roughly 403,000 students in a district that can house more than 500,000. City officials say the plan will save the school district $560 million over 10 years in capital cost and another $43 million per year in operational costs.
City officials also plan to make conditions more tolerable in the schools that will receive the displaced students, with new technology, air conditioning, tutoring services, increased security and libraries in every building. No students will be forced to go to school in dilapidated buildings anymore, they said.
Some teachers may be laid off, but that will be up to individual building principals, according to district officials.
If the question of closing the schools was put on the ballot in Chicago, it might go down to a resounding defeat. But what would all of the people opposing the plan do about the district’s severe money problems? They want the district to continue running half-empty schools, but they have no suggestions about how the district can continue to pay for that expense.
The CTU’s hypocrisy is the most sickening part of this entire situation.
Last fall the union went on strike for 10 days, pressuring the school district to cough up an absurdly large 17.6 percent raise for teachers which will cost about $74 million per year. We’re guessing that $74 million would be enough to keep a few schools open.
The union also pressured the district into recalling hundreds of laid off teachers to help cover the extra workload of longer school days that will start next year.
So the union is really good at spending school district money, but not so great at helping city and district officials figure out how to deal with the deficit.
We imagine the union’s kneejerk response would be for state lawmakers to increase funding for CPS. But the last time we checked the state was extremely pressed for money, and a lot of taxpayers were still struggling with the negative effects of the national recession.
So CPS is going to have to find its way back to financial solvency on its own. That means some tough decision will have to be made – like closing half-empty schools – regardless of what parents and the union have to say about it.
Until they come up with a rational list of ideas to help the school district save money (like an across-the-board employee pay freeze), union officials really have no right to say anything at all.