While Chicago’s Mayor and other administration officials seem to believe the closing of more than 54 public schools in Chicago is a done deal, resistance to the closures is about to peak just before the school board votes on the closures. This weekend, thousands plan to march to say no to the closures for three days beginning Saturday.
Resistance to the closures however, began months ago, with several protests and hundreds of hearings where parents, students, teachers and their supporters aired their grievances and demanded their schools stay open. Mayor Rahm Emanuel touts the closures will help close the $1 billion deficit. Officials within CPS said they could save as much as $560 million by shutting the doors to neighborhood schools, shuffling students to other supposedly better performing locations. However, WBEZ reported the calculation was off by $122 million. CPS admitted its mistake in arithmetic, calling it an “honest mistake.”
Mistakes in math however, are only the tip of the iceberg. The savings estimates in some cases came from estimating costs to repair and upgrade buildings slated for closure. Alderman Patrick O’Connor said in a meeting on the proposed closure of Trumbull Elementary
“The amount that is indicated is significantly higher than we would actually spend if in fact you were going to keep that school open and invest. Clearly, if you wanted to make it top of the line, $16 million would be a nice investment. But if you just wish to maintain the school and keep it open, you’re more in the area of $4 or $5 (million).”
In addition, the Chicago Tribune reports renovations to “welcoming schools,” which students from shuttered locations would be sent to, could cost millions. Records obtained by the Trib show CPS plans to spend tens of millions of dollars this summer to upgrade those schools. In one case, CPS decided to merge Lawrence and Burnham schools on Chicago’s south side. To fully modernize and take on the new students, Lawrence will need $14 million, $6 million more than it would take Burnham to upgrade. Peabody Elementary in Wicker Park, also on the chopping block, would cost $10.9 million to keep open. Instead, CPS will spend $12.2 million to overhaul nearby Otis Elementary to take on Peabody students. Even more outrageous – Peabody just spent nearly $40,000 installing new motion detector lights in March, even though it’s been slated for closure.
Despite the hundreds of hearings on the closures where parents and students told heartbreaking stories of how the school closings would negatively affect them, their cries have fallen on a deaf administration. The City has all but ignored all opponents of the closures, even those of other elected officials. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle told the Sun Times:
“Was it all a charade? If you weren’t going to pay any attention to the outcome of the public hearings or the recommendations of the public hearing officers, why would you bother to waste everyone’s time?”
“Despite the testimony of thousands of parents, teachers and people who work and living in the school communities impacted, Rahm Emanuel is dedicated to entering the history books as having destroyed the most public schools in one year than anyone in history.”
This is why the CTU and dozens of other allied activist organizations plan to flood the streets with thousands of supporters over the weekend. Already, things are heating up with smaller demonstrations. On Wednesday, five people were arrested in the Woodlawn area, on the city’s south side, for staging a die-in to show the potential effects some children could face when crossing gang lines to their new schools. CBS News reports Pillar Castro, a student and one of the five arrested told fellow demonstrators “All my great teachers taught me that if you believe in something, you can make change.” Paul Horton, a teacher at the demonstration told CBS News “What is happening here is democracy and I think democracy has not been allowed in our city.”
Marches will kick off on the south and west sides of the city at 10:00AM on Saturday.