CHICAGO — The Board of Education has rescheduled its next meeting from the end of March to the first week of April.
The board cited spring break, but in refusing Chicago Public Schools parents, teachers and students a rare opportunity to attend a weekday meeting on a day off, it also pushed its next meeting past the deadline for school closings to be announced.
That means that, community meetings aside and typically not attended by board members anyway, the public will not get one last chance to address the board formally before schools are designated for closure.
At Wednesday's board meeting, CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett again cited a $1 billion budget deficit for the necessity of closing schools. She said half of all CPS schools are "underutilized" with low enrollment. Some 129 schools have been targeted for potential closure based on CPS' utilization study.
"Our already limited resources are spread much too thin," Byrd-Bennett said.
Yet she added that community meetings for input on the final decision were ongoing and insisted that "every voice matters."
At the meeting, Chicago Teachers Union organizer Norine Gutekanst questioned the board's commitment to that concept.
"This meeting is held at a time that parents, students and teachers cannot attend," Gutekanst said, saying it would be "impossible" interested parties to attend the rescheduled meeting.
"My conclusion is that you are afraid to hear from the people that you have been appointed to represent," Gutekanst said.
The board is known for its tight security and regimented public comment, limited to 60 persons over approximately two hours, and recently required advanced registration for that comment session.
It usually meets at 10:30 a.m. on the fourth Wednesday of the month, but next month's meeting, originally set for March 27, has now been rescheduled for April 3. Board President David Vitale cited spring break as cause for the delay.
The board usually is required to designate schools for closure by Dec. 1 of the year before a school is closed in the fall, but it won a four-month delay in the General Assembly with promises that it would impose a five-year moratorium on school closings after this year. It now must announce the final list of schools to be closed by March 31.
CTU President Karen Lewis questioned the very reason for the closings.
"The underutilization did not happen from thin air," she said, pointing to how the district is opening non-union charter schools at the same time it's insisting neighborhood schools are half empty.
While repeating the CTU's request for an immediate moratorium, she called on the board to execute an impact study examining school closures over the last 10 years and their effect on students and neighborhoods.
"We must do the research," she added. "We must reflect on what we've done in the past and not make any of these problems more difficult in the future."
Lewis also called on the board to get directly involved in the process, saying, "I would hope that, before you make any momentous decisions, you also visit the schools as a board that you intend to close, and that you look in the eyes of the children and the teachers and the parents and the community."