CHICAGO — A collection of parental and community groups called for independent probes into the entire Chicago Public Schools school-closing process Tuesday.
Making use of the Lincoln's Birthday holiday for Chicago Public Schools, Parents 4 Teachers and other local community groups called a news conference to ask for the state attorney general and CPS' own inspector general to trace charges of conflicts of interest, misleading the public, civil-rights violations and employee misconduct.
"Someone from the outside needs to come in and shine a light on what's going on behind closed doors," said Parents 4 Teachers co-founder Erica Clark.
CPS is expected to release a list Wednesday of schools to be closed. Clark said the list is "rumored" to have as many as 140 schools, and she attacked what she called "the misinformation and deception that's being spewed out to the public."
"The list changes every day," said Herzl School parent and Action Now member Windy Pearson. "They talk about trusting them. We can't trust anything they say."
"Chicago has 145,000 fewer children today than the last decade, and now CPS has too many empty classrooms and too few students to fill them," CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said.
"This is stretching our limited resources too thin and depriving children at all schools of critical investments they need to be successful such as air conditioning, playgrounds, technology and computers, library, art and music. Once CPS combines schools and resources, we will be better positioned to provide every child in our schools with a well-rounded, high-quality education they deserve."
"CPS says that our district has a utilization crisis," said Parents 4 Teachers member and Coonley School parent Rhoda Rae Gutierrez. "We say CPS and our city leaders have a moral crisis. CPS says that the school-utilization hearings are needed to build trust with the communities. We say that the only way to build trust with the communities is to call for a moratorium on all school closings."
Several speakers asked Attorney General Lisa Madigan to explore civil-rights violations against CPS, in that the list of underutilized schools largely targets African-American and Hispanic communities. Several asked why CPS was closing schools while authorizing additional charter schools. Rosalie Mancera, of the Pilsen Alliance, called on Madigan to explore charges against the United Neighborhood Organization, recently charged with cronyism and nepotism in a Sun-Times report on how it spent a $98 million state grant.
A spokeswoman for Madigan said her office was closed Tuesday and couldn't respond, but UNO Chief Executive Officer Juan Rangel has stood by a statement denying any legal wrongdoing, but acknowledging, "Some of our processes are outdated and not at the level required for an organization of our current size and structure. We can do better.
"We understand there are high standards of accountability that come with receiving public funding," he added, "and we are committed to implementing policies that meet the highest standards of governance and transparency."
Clark charged that the school-closing strategy is basically about closing public schools, privatizing them and turning them over to charter schools.
"This community-engagement policy that they're running is trying to get people to feel that they're engaged when they're throwing us under a bus," Clark said. "So we don't believe a word they say."