Ald. James Balcer: McClellan and Graham 'Should Not Close'

By Casey Cora on February 20, 2013 3:01pm 

 Ald. James Balcer (11th) said Bridgeport's McClellan Elementary School and Canaryville's Graham Elementary School, should remain open.
Ald. James Balcer (11th) said Bridgeport's McClellan Elementary School and Canaryville's Graham Elementary School, should remain open.
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DNAinfo/Casey Cora

BRIDGEPORT — Speaking out publicly for the first time on the school closings issue, Ald. James Balcer (11th) pledged to support two local elementary schools eyed by CPS for potential closure.

Balcer said he has visited McClellan and Graham Elementary Schools — two of seven schools in the Southwest Side Pershing Network that may close — and made commitments to faculty “that the schools should not close.”

“I met with the teachers to let them know that I’m standing with [them] on this issue,” he said.

The alderman made his remarks at a workshop at Bridgeport’s Benton House on Tuesday, where several dozen residents — representing schools both on and off the list of potential CPS closures — showed up discuss strategies to save the neighborhood schools.

“They can not divide us. We need to stay united,” said Jennie Biggs, a Bridgeport resident and a member of Raise Your Hand, a parent activist group.

Balcer, who did not attend the first round of the CPS feedback forums earlier this month, said he would be at Thursday’s forum for the Pershing Network, slated for 7 p.m. at Fuller Park, 331 W. 45th St.

He downplayed his influence, though, saying the community needs to present its case accurately and with conviction.

“…The power is with the people. You have to know what you’re talking about,” he said.

To that end, the grassroots Bridgeport Alliance and Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation community groups hosting the workshop outfitted attendees with fact sheets from CPS about school enrollment, utilization and academic performance.

If those figures are wrong — faculty and parents have claimed multiple errors in the CPS calculation of building utilization, the main criteria used for closing schools — then it's now up to those citizen groups to correct the record at Thursday’s forum.

The community groups are also pushing Balcer, a City Council veteran, to pressure another council stalwart, Ald. Richard Mell (33rd), to bring a resolution establishing a moratorium on opening charter schools out of the rules and ethics committee and in front of the full council for discussion. Mell chairs the committee.

Balcer was one of 35 aldermanic sponsors of the resolution.

Critics of the measure say a moratorium would restrict education choices for Chicagoans.

Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, wrote in a Feb. 16 Sun-Times op-ed that the City Council should "instead focus on the real educational problem facing our city: the lack of high-quality schools of any type."

Still, it’s unclear if the resolution even has a future.

It's a nonbinding agreement, which means it carries no legal authority, and the rules committee has long been criticized as an arena “where good legislation goes to die.”

Community groups hope that's not the case.

Maureen Sullivan of the Bridgeport Alliance said the group "believes that a corporate takeover of our public schools is not in the best interest of our children or the community."

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