CPS Should Close or Consolidate Up to 80 Schools, Commission Says

By Kyla Gardner on March 6, 2013 5:37pm | Updated on March 6, 2013 8:09pm

 A student holds up a sign that reads "Brentano our neighborhood public school" at the second CPS Fullerton Network community engagement meeting, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013.
A student holds up a sign that reads "Brentano our neighborhood public school" at the second CPS Fullerton Network community engagement meeting, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013.
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DNAinfo/Victoria Johnson

CHICAGO — Up to 80 Chicago Public Schools should be closed or consolidated, the Commission on School Utilization said in its final report Wednesday.

In a CPS list released Feb. 13, 129 schools were still on the chopping block, whittled down from 330. A final list is scheduled to be released later this month.

The commission's report said students should only be moved if they are moving to a better school, and only if they can be moved safely.

"School actions ... are only justifiable if, as a result, students are moved into better educational environments," the report said. " ... CPS has a responsibility to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, the safety of students who are being moved."

The commission, made of up eight private citizens, clergy and politicians, was created by CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett in the wake of the controversy over proposals to close underutilized schools.

Byrd-Bennett will take the commission report "into consideration" as she prepares to make recommendations to the Board of Education.

"We did not get here overnight, and we are not going to fix everything overnight," she said in a statement. "But our children deserve for us to work every day to improve their chances to succeed."

Another round of community engagement will begin after Byrd-Bennett makes her recommendations, including two community meetings and one public hearing for each proposed school action, according to the statement.

The commission's final report also recommended CPS take to heart plans created by communities over the last several months that focus on annex space, children with disabilities and pre-kindergarten classrooms.

"Wherever thoughtful community plans have been developed and vetted — for example, in Woodlawn, Humboldt Park, Englewood, Bronzeville, and a number of other communities around the city — those plans should weigh heavily in any decisions," the report said.

The report also recommended the school actions — which could mean a closing, turnaround or co-location of a school — take only one or two years.

"As soon as possible, CPS must lift the cloud of potential closures and get back to the work of
investing in schools, curriculum, instruction, and students," the report said.

Plans also need be made to use closed school buildings for another purpose so they do not become "eyesores, or worse," the report said.

The district followed other earlier recommendations from the commission, agreeing not to close any high schools, schools with more than 600 students or top performing schools.

Byrd-Bennett has cited a $1 billion budget deficit as the reason CPS needs to close underutilized schools.

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