CHICAGO — More than a dozen representatives, including city aldermen and Illinois Senate and House members of the black and Latino caucuses, on Monday called for a one-year moratorium on a plan to close dozens of Chicago Public Schools.
Appearing at a news conference at the Thompson Center, the leaders said that the list of schools that could face action, compiled by CPS, was based on misleading or inaccurate data and could hurt the surrounding communities, especially on the South and West sides.
Sen. William Delgado (D-Chicago) and other legislators called for a halt on school closures for the 2013-14 school year.
Delgado requested support for his newly introduced legislation, SB 1571, and companion HB 3283, which would require CPS to spend the year establishing a more comprehensive closure plan that he said focuses on improving student academic performance.
Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th) said she believes one school on the closure list in her district doesn't belong there, which suggests that other "underutilized" schools could be equally misrepresented.
"Miles Davis School is the only STEM school on the South Side of Chicago. It's on the list: Level 2, it's underutilized," Foulkes said.
"You know why it's underutilized? Because they won't give us buses," Foukes said.
Foulkes said she has a list of more than 200 parents who want their children to go to Davis "but there's no buses."
"So when they have the expos for the schools, guess what? Nobody wants to send their kids to Miles Davis because there's no way for the child to get there. But yet, we're underutilized," she said. "So whose fault is that? It's not Miles Davis'."
The alderman suggested the closure was part of a plan to add more charter schools to CPS.
"Do charters just want to take our brand new, beautiful school?" she asked. "And I let CPS know: It's going to be a fight in Englewood. It's going to be a fight."
In February, CPS identified 120 schools — about a fifth of the system — that it claimed are underutilized and are being considered for closing. In March, a citizens commission, organized by CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, recommended 80 closings.
Hours after the news conference, Byrd-Bennett repeated her argument that some schools need to be closed to improve overall education across the city.
"Every child in every neighborhood in Chicago deserves to have a high quality education that will prepare them to succeed in life, and right now that is not happening, in part because our resources are stretched much too thin," Byrd-Bennett said.
"By redirecting money from underutilized and dilapidated schools, we will free up the resources to invest in quality schools where all students can flourish, with the support of a dedicated community, principals and teachers," Byrd-Bennett said.
At the news conference, Clarice Berry, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, said she attended the news conference immediately after a scheduled meeting between CPS and the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, a group organized by the Illinois State Board of Education. She said CPS representatives failed to attend the meeting.
"We have met with nothing but being ignored, stonewalled, people not showing up," said Berry.
But Becky Carroll, a CPS spokeswoman, said CPS attended the meeting and claimed "with certainty" that John Rizboli, representing CPS, testified Monday.
Bronzeville resident Steven Guy, whose grandchildren attend several CPS schools on the South and West sides, said he worries the current closure list is short-sighted and doesn't account for population changes coming to his neighborhood.
"They're building over 5,000 housing developments [in Bronzeville]," he said.
If the new residents have children, but local schools are closed "Where are they going to go to school?" Guy asked.
Carroll said that CPS understands that school closings are an emotionally charged issue, but she said that moving forward with the plan to close and consolidate some schools is necessary.
"We can't keep putting off these difficult decisions. They've been put off for far too long," she said. "The time to act is now. We fully respect Sen. Delgado and others today who also feel very strongly. . . . We will continue to work with them and listen to them throughout this process."
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said she "absolutely" holds Mayor Rahm Emanuel politically responsible for the conflicts between parents, teachers and the School Board over closure decisions.