Bridgeport Parents Plan Rally Before CPS Utilization Forum

By Casey Cora on February 5, 2013 6:44am 

 Students let out of Armour School, 950 W. 33rd Place in Bridgeport, on Feb. 4, 2013.
Students let out of Armour School, 950 W. 33rd Place in Bridgeport, on Feb. 4, 2013.
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DNAinfo/Casey Cora

BRIDGEPORT — Neighborhood groups have organized a rally to take place before Wednesday's CPS utilization forum for schools in the district’s Pershing Network.

The groups are focusing on three Bridgeport elementary schools — Phillip Armour School, Alexander Graham School and George B. McClellan School — they say are in danger of closing based on CPS calculations for utilization.

The rally is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at First Lutheran Church of the Trinity, 643 W. 31st St.

Organizers said they’ll provide bus transportation to the CPS forum, slated for 7 to 9 p.m. at the Fuller Park Field House, 311 W. 45th St.

CPS said it has to close schools to address a budget deficit projected at $400 million. It faces a state-imposed deadline at the end of March to announce the closings for the fall, and 100 or more schools could be shut down.

CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett has said high schools would not be part of the closures.

Across the Pershing Network’s 31 elementary schools, which cut through the Bridgeport, McKinley Park, Chinatown, Bronzeville and Englewood neighborhoods, 10 are considered underutilized, four are overcrowded and 17 are labeled efficient.

But activists, including those from the citizen advocacy group Illinois Raise Your Hand, have said the school district is using old data and flawed formulas to make crucial decisions about the future of the city's public schools.

Jennie Biggs, a Bridgeport parent and vocal critic of the CPS closures, said the district is relying on spreadsheets, not site visits, to create their utilization data, available for download here on the CPS website.

She pointed to a recent forum for the Far South Side’s Lake Calumet Network, where activists from one school, W.E.B. DuBois Elementary, clutched blown-up photos depicting a dilapidated, vacant building on the school’s campus that they said CPS used in its calculations to determine classroom utilization.

“How many other schools are like this?” Biggs asked.

At Armour School, CPS has counted 29 classrooms in its calculations for both of the school's buildings. But the schools, Biggs said, were left with only 22 classrooms after a recent elevator installation and renovation to a school library.

At McClellan, a source at the school said school officials have appealed its original designation as underutilized, thrust upon it when CPS overlooked a handful of special education classrooms. The school, 3527 S. Wallace St., is comprised of 25 percent of special education students.

CPS did not immediately return messages seeking comment for this story.

Those are just a few of the concerns that parents and activists will bring to the CPS-hosted forum.

So far, the gatherings have been volatile, with reporters barred from reporting on breakout sessions and parents shouting down the speakers at a recent North Side forum.

On the Southwest Side, activists are hoping for a strong turnout for the rally and forum.

“We’re trying to accommodate everyone as best we can. We realize how important it is to show up in numbers,” Biggs said.

A second CPS forum is scheduled for Feb. 21 from 7-9 p.m., also at Fuller Park.

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