CHICAGO — Amid protests and new accusations, the heads of the Chicago Public Schools and the Board of Education both denied that decisions have already been made on which schools to shutter next fall.
"There is no list of schools to be closed," insisted CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett. She said that after a "rigorous engagement plan" with neighborhoods to be implemented with "deeper, grassroots meetings" in January and February, decisions on which schools to be closed would be made "after the community has given its input."
School Board President David Vitale added that CPS had done preliminary work on the subject, as with its publicly released list of "underutilized" schools, but that "does not make it a plan" and that "saying it over and over again doesn't make it right."
Byrd-Bennett acknowledged that they were working to winnow down an initial list of 330 schools said to be "underutilized."
Yet protesters before the Board of Education meeting Wednesday pointed to a Chicago Tribune story releasing a September CPS "working draft" targeting 95 schools for closure or consolidation. Byrd-Bennett immediately disowned that as the work of previous CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, saying, "Any plans that have been floated are nullified."
That, however, did not exonerate the board or the Emanuel administration. Representatives of the Chicago Teachers Union attacked the apparent plan in the public-comment section of the board meeting. "How can the public trust this Board of Education?" said Kristine Mayle, CTU financial secretary.
"This trust can't be repaired," added CTU organizer Norine Gutekanst. "This board has proved itself cynical."
Several speakers also pointed to apparent contradiction of CPS planning to close schools to address a $1 billion budget shortfall while adding charter schools.
Later Wednesday, the board approved two new charters and the conversion of Frazier Prep to charter status. It deferred two other charter approvals at the request of Byrd-Bennett. But that came after board member Andrea Zopp questioned the uncertain location of the new charters.
"I need to know," Zopp said. "How can we approve them if we don't know whether we need them?"
The four originally designated for approval by Byrd-Bennett were Chicago Collegiate and Foundations Academy, both targeted for the Roseland-Pullman area; Intrinsic, for the Northwest Side; and Orange, an arts-education school tentatively set for Rogers Park. Foundations and Orange, however, were deferred for additional review.
Several Roseland residents said they welcomed the charters. Rogers Jones of the Roseland Safety Net Works Coalition cheered the arrival of Chicago Collegiate, saying, "They're doing something I want done."
Others, however, also questioned the need to open new schools while closing others. Jennie Biggs, 40, of Bridgeport said that CPS working from an expectation of 36 students in a class creates "flawed" data that means "overcrowded schools are underreported and underutilized schools are over-reported."
Dozens of protesters gathered in the lobby before the meeting. Cabrini-Green teacher Tara Stamps called for a moratorium on school closings, saying, "Our schools are not underutilized. They are under-resourced."
"Chicago deserves well-resourced schools for all students, not charter and selective-enrollment schools for some students," said Prudence Browne of Teachers for Social Justice.