UPTOWN — A North Side alderman is already saying "no" to the possibility of a charter school takeover in his ward as Chicago Public School officials inch closer to the March deadline to announce closings, consolidations and other school actions.
"I've been very vocal about this: I don't want a school to close down that would have a charter school replace it," Ald. James Cappleman (46th) said.
The former teacher and social worker described himself as "a huge advocate" for public education, and said "no alderman wants a school closed in his or her ward."
The district said this latest round of school actions is about "right-sizing" the school system and saving money on the costs of maintaining underutilized buildings. Enrollment below 80 percent of "ideal enrollment," as defined by CPS, is considered underutilized.
CPS said that half of its schools are underused and 140 are more than half empty and that the district can enroll at least 118,000 more students in light of a decline in Chicago's school-age population.
Cappleman acknowledged that CPS faces a "tricky and tough" problem with a $1 billion budget deficit, but said he doesn't want to see an Uptown school closed.
CPS has levied the maximum possible property tax increase on Chicagoans for two fiscal years in a row to help ease its budget pains, and Cappleman indicated that he believed money saved through school closings might help avert such increases going forward.
"I'm balancing my desire to keep schools open with my desire to keep taxes down," he said. "We put a lot of money into some of these schools, and I certainly don't want to see them closed down."
Joseph Stockton Elementary School has received about $12 million from CPS for building improvements in the last two years. According to CPS standards, the building should serve 1,020 students, more than double the 475 counted this year.
Two Stockton school teachers who declined to be named, including the young teacher who authors the Support Stockton School blog said some in the school feared that improvements were being made in advance of a private charter school taking over Stockton, which is on probation.
Stockton principal Jill Besenjak, who said she has not seen any list of closures and does not know the district's plans, said her "gut feeling" is that the school won't be turned into a charter.
Updated enrollment and space use data for the 2012-2013 school year show that of the 40 schools in the Ravenswood-Ridge network, 12 are underutilized — including four in Uptown.
A DNAinfo.com Chicago analysis in December found that renovations at underutilized Uptown schools would cost about $34 million. Cappleman said that "he wouldn't be surprised," if CPS closed one of Uptown's neighborhood schools.
He said Uptown's high vacancy rate is "something that we have to wrestle with."
"I think we're going to see that some tough decisions have to be made."