CHICAGO — Student enrollment at several Chicago Public Schools could balloon over capacity if the district closes 54 schools as planned, data shows.
As many as nine elementary schools would exceed 100 percent capacity if every closure and consolidation is approved by the Board of Education next month, an analysis by DNAinfo.com Chicago shows. CPS classifies schools with 30 students per homeroom as being at 100 percent capacity.
Those schools included Mollison Elementary School in Bronzeville; Earle Elementary School in West Englewood; Laura Ward Elementary School in Humboldt Park; Chopin Elementary School in West Town and Dulles Elementary School in Woodlawn.
In addition, the closure of Paderewski Elementary School could push the enrollment at Little Village's Cardenas and Castellanos elementaries over capacity, depending on how attendance boundaries shift. The same could occur at Ray and Harte elementaries in Hyde Park if Canter Middle School closes as planned.
Critics say it doesn't make sense to solve what CPS has dubbed a "crisis" caused by under-utilization by adding to the district's roster of 133 buildings that already over capacity.
"If you are going to come up with a plan, you need to look at the entire picture. You can't close schools unless you look at overcrowded schools, too," said Pavlyn Jankov, a researcher for the Chicago Teachers Union. "Even if [schools] hire more teachers, that doesn't alleviate the issue of overcrowding."
The CTU believes any school with more than 25 students per homeroom is too many; under that definition, at least 24 schools would be overcrowded if the district plan goes into effect this fall.
CPS, though, doesn't consider a school "overcrowded" until it is at 120 percent of its ideal capacity, or up to 36 students per homeroom. Based on that definition, Mollison would be the only school to become overcrowded due to the closings.
CPS officials say that although the plan targeted underutilized schools, it could actually help ease classroom overcrowding. That's because some of the schools considered underutilized often have too many students for a single classroom in a particular grade, for example, but not enough students for two classrooms.
"By combining smaller, underutilized schools, principals will have more resources to hire needed staff and be better positioned to avoid the larger class sizes that we often see in our under-enrolled, under-resourced schools," CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said.
Mollison, 4415 S. King Drive, with 237 students, or slightly more than 13 students per homeroom, currently is considered underutilized. But if all 431 students from nearby Overton Elementary School transfer to Mollison, as proposed, the number of students per homeroom would jump to more than 37.
"There won't be enough people to watch the kids. There's going to be fights. If they are going to have more kids in a classroom, they need more teachers," said Dolores Morris, 52, a grandmother of a Mollison second-grader. "I don't see the district giving the school what it needs."
Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) said that "It is true that if every student would go from Overton to Mollison, Mollison would be overcrowded."
But Dowell said her office is working with CPS to make sure that doesn't happen, by possibly giving Overton parents an option to send children to nearby Burke Elementary School at 5356 S. King Drive.
However, that could cause other problems. Burke's academic performance was worse than Overton's, which would go against CPS' declaration that all students at closing schools will transfer to better-performing schools.
Still, schools that are overcrowded aren't necessarily poor performers. About 54 percent of the schools currently considered overcrowded by the district are classified as "excellent," according to CPS student performance measures from the 2011-2012 school year. Just 13 percent of underutilized schools and 39 percent of schools at 100 percent capacity are considered excellent.
Most of the city's overcrowded schools are in middle-class neighborhoods with sizable white populations, both of which factor into school performance, the union's Jankov said. But even in these situations, the schools don't have all the resources they need, he said.
Bridge Elementary School, for example, has 1,030 students, but its main campus at 3800 N. New England Ave. in Dunning has a capacity of 480, according to district data. The school rents space at nearby St. Priscilla Catholic Church for its junior high classrooms.
But the school is still in "excellent" academic standing, according to CPS rankings.
Lynda Jurewicz, chairwoman of Bridge's Local School Council, agrees the large enrollment hasn't severely affected the quality of the school.
"It is very overcrowded. Our numbers are very high, but we've been an above-average school," Jurewicz said. "If you find the space and have the support of the community and teachers, you can really do it."
In some cases, CPS is planning to combine two schools into one, but maintaining multiple campuses, a move that avoids building overcrowding.
Owens Elementary, for example, is closing and becoming part of Gompers Elementary in West Pullman. But both buildings will remain open. De Diego Elementary in West Town will absorb students from Von Humboldt and De Duprey elementaries, which are both closing. But the consolidated De Diego will still operate classrooms out of Von Humboldt's current building.
And Ryerson, at 646 N. Lawndale Ave. in Humboldt Park, is slated to close, but its 399 students will remain in the building, which will be renamed and combined with Ward's 398 students next year.
Torrence Shorter, vice chairman of Ryerson Elementary School's Local School Council, said he believes the school has just the right amount of students for its building now. Doubling its size so the building is well over capacity is wrong, he said.
By bringing in Ward students, some of the building's flexibility, such as offering indoor recess space in a violence-prone neighborhood, will be lost. Shorter said stuffing the building with more students would strain the staff and shift the building "from a schoolhouse to a jailhouse.
"What's going to happen to the art rooms? What's going to happen to the music rooms?" Shorter asked. "How are you gonna gratify the needs that these kids have for recess?"