ENGLEWOOD — Five days a week, Kansas Gilmore travels from her Chicago home on the far Southwest Side to Miles Davis Magnet Academy in Englewood, where her two daughters are honors students in the fourth and sixth grades.
"It would be so much easier, though, if the school had bus service," said Gilmore, a 36-year-old medical administrator. "I have had to make special arrangements with my job to pick them up but not all parents have that flexibility with their jobs."
Miles Davis — which enrolls students from across the city and features science, technology, engineering and math programs — does not have school bus service. School officials and parents believe that has contributed to the low enrollment at the school, which has just 288 students although it has capacity for 600. It is now on the list of 129 schools potentially slated for closure.
But if bus service was provided five years ago when school officials first requested it, Miles Davis would not be struggling to remain open, Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th) contended.
“They say that the school is underutilized, as are so many other schools, but what they are not telling the public is that a lack of transportation is to blame for the school’s low enrollment,” Foulkes said. “And because of no free bus service available to parents, its enrollment has remained low.”
School Principal Cheryl Armstrong-Belt said she was "sure we would have more students" if the school had busing. "I have requested bus service from [Chicago Public Schools] but do not know if my request was approved or not," she said.
Robyn Ziegler, a spokeswoman for CPS, said the school district is attempting to address the school's transportation needs.
"CPS will be working with the school community to identify and address the transportation needs for those students," Ziegler said. "The school opened in 2008 and a decision was made at that time not to provide bus service to that school or the four other magnet schools that opened about the same time."
Unlike neighborhood schools where students are automatically admitted if they live within the school's boundaries, Miles Davis, like all other magnet schools, holds a lottery to determine admission.
Ziegler said providing bus service to all schools that request is difficult in light of CPS' growing deficit, now projected at $1 billion for next year. The budget for busing this school year is $108 million.
CPS officials said busing was not delivered on a school-by-school basis, but instead on a program basis. The vast majority of students receiving bus service are special education students, attend selective enrollment schools, live in temporary housing situations or are covered under No Child Left Behind busing requirements.
Gilmore said taking public transportation is not an option for her kids.
"There is no way I would allow my kids to take the CTA. Look at where the school is," she said. "They do a lot of shooting around here and I am not about to have my babies standing on one of these bus stops where they could be killed."
If Miles Davis closes, it means parents like Michael Thorpe would have to scramble to find another school that offers STEM programs.
"I would be at a loss if the school closes. None of the nearby schools are on solid academic ground and I am not about to send my son anywhere," said Thorpe, whose son, Michael Jr., is a third-grader at Miles Davis. "He has been here since kindergarten I had hoped he would graduate from here and not be bounced around."
Foulkes contends that many parents have chosen not to send their children to Miles Davis because it does not offer bus service.
“So, when they have [school] 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,” Foulkes said. “But yet, we’re underutilized. So whose fault is that?”