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CPS Charter Expansion Talk Draws Flak From Aldermen, Teachers Union

By Ted Cox | October 4, 2013 7:47am
 Ald. Matthew O'Shea is urging debate on his proposed moratorium on new charter schools.
Ald. Matthew O'Shea is urging debate on his proposed moratorium on new charter schools.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — A new request for charter school proposals has aldermen lining up in opposition in neighborhoods where they say constituents want stronger public schools.

Chicago Public Schools in August put out a request for proposals for schools in targeted areas on the Northwest and Southwest sides where overcrowding is an issue, with a deadline for the first "tier" of proposals to be received Sept. 30.

Those neighborhoods include Albany Park/Irving Park, Ashburn, Belmont Cragin, Chicago Lawn, McKinley Park, Midway, Little Village, Dunning and Sauganash, as well as a request for high schools on the Northwest and Southwest sides.

The request immediately attracted criticism in McKinley Park and elsewhere in areas still reeling from school closings.

 Ald. Nick Sposato said CPS should concentrate its resources on neighborhood schools.
Ald. Nick Sposato said CPS should concentrate its resources on neighborhood schools.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

Ald. Nick Sposato (36th) said building new charters makes little sense after CPS closed 50 schools earlier this year.

"You shut down a community school, then you put a charter in the same place?" he said. "It does raise a lot of questions."

Sposato said more and more of his constituents are opposed to charters, including Latinos, who have a reputation for supporting charters sustained by the UNO Network.

"Everybody wants good schools," Sposato said. "They want to solidify their community schools — put the effort and the money into community schools.

"I just think [CPS'] efforts could be better channeled ... in solidifying our community schools," he added. "Schools are anchors to communities."

"The justification for charter schools is there's a demand for charter schools," said Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey. "Well, now you're going into neighborhoods where there is a demand for public schools, as evidenced by ... more people trying to get into those schools than they have seats.

"So where there's more people trying to get into charter schools, they build more charter schools. And where there's more people trying to get into public schools, they still build more charter schools. So there's a real double-standard there. Their agenda is showing."

CPS spokeswomen Keiana Barrett said the district received 12 proposals "to address the needs of communities facing an overcrowding/overutilization problem through the authorization of new, high-quality schools."

The Board of Education is expected to decide on any new charters in January. The district routinely issues calls for charter-school proposals.

The debate is not new to the City Council. In fact, Ald. Matthew O'Shea (19th) proposed a moratorium on new charters for the 2014-15 school year — the period addressed in the CPS request — back in February. The proposal, signed by 35 of the 50 aldermen, states: "It is not sound fiscal policy to fund the creation of any additional schools while facing such a large gap between enrollment and capacity," addressing the "utilization" formula used to close schools in May.

"CPS should not simultaneously close schools for budget reasons and fund the creation of additional privately operated charter schools," O'Shea's ordinance added.

Yet the ordinance is one of several sidetracked to the Rules Committee, which has been called "where good legislation goes to die."

"I still want there to be a discussion on it," O'Shea said Thursday. "I think we need to talk about this — closing schools and opening new ones."

But O'Shea said residents in his Southwest Side ward have no interest in charters.

"I have yet to have anybody approach me to get a charter school in my ward," O'Shea said. "That won't happen on my watch."

The council figures to get embroiled in the debate over charter and neighborhood schools whether it's looking for a fight or not. Sharkey pointed to how Senn High School has thrived the last few years under the devoted attention of Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) — this year earning Level 1 ("excellent") status after years of foundering academically.

At the same time, Sharkey added, Sullivan High School in Rogers Park had been "severely wounded" while Ald. Joe Moore (49th) has supported charter schools.

Moore has come under attack from those opposed to charters in Rogers Park, and Sharkey said the union "intends to make aldermen who are enemies of public education pay a political price for that." He said union members are targeting the 2015 municipal elections.

Moore said the criticism is unfounded.

"I've been very supportive of the schools in my community — all of them." He added that Sullivan wasn't even in his ward boundaries until the recent ward remap.

Moore also signed O'Shea's ordinance on a charter moratorium.

"I thought, at a time school closings were taking place, it just was a good time to just deal with the school-closings issue first before we dealt with anything else," Moore said.

He added he'd reconsider his support for a moratorium now that the closings have taken effect.