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Parents, Community Groups Protest Proposed Charter School Expansion

By Quinn Ford | October 22, 2013 4:05pm | Updated on October 22, 2013 5:47pm
 Protestors accused CPS of fudging its numbers when it comes to claims that some schools are overcrowded.
Parents, Community Groups Protest Proposed Charter School Expansion
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THE LOOP — Protestors are accusing Chicago Public Schools of fudging its numbers when it comes to claims that some Chicago neighborhood schools are overcrowded.

CPS officials used the claim as justification to issue a request for proposal in August to bring new charter schools to areas on the city's Northwest and Southwest sides.

Tuesday morning, parents and community groups converged on CPS headquarters to deliver a report to CPS officials that found neighborhoods targeted for charter school expansion — such as Belmont Cragin, Sauganash, Midway and others — do not have overcrowded schools.

The report, which was authored by Communities United for Quality Education and Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools, makes a number of claims. Among them, it states CPS adjusted boundaries for targeted communities to "overstate the overcrowding crisis," like excluding undercrowded schools.

The report also states CPS excludes leased classroom space and included selective enrollment schools and special education-focused schools, which draw students from all over the city, something protestors called "disingenuous."

On Tuesday, Demian Kogan, a community organizer with Communities United for Quality Education, said the report did not make any specific recommendations for alternatives to charter schools but said such a sweeping answer to a problem critics debate even exists is not the best course.

"We really have to take a case-by-case analysis and earnestly look at what the needs are in each individual school building instead of making a blanket solution like bringing more charter schools in areas that honestly don't have overcrowding problems," Kogan said.

Based on numbers from a CPS task force on charter school funding, the report estimates 12 new charter schools, which CPS is considering in the RFP process, could cost between $14 million to $35 million in their first year.

Protestors did not deny overcrowding was a serious issue at some schools in the targeted areas but said they wanted different solutions than building more charter schools.

Rosa Antunec, a CPS parent from Belmont Cragin, said she wanted CPS to invest any money intended for charter schools back into existing neighborhood schools.

"I don't feel that it's right that they're taking away resources from neighborhood schools and then handing over millions to charter schools," Antunec said through a translator. "What is it they want by bringing in these charter schools in neighborhoods where they don't need them?"

Antunec said her daughter is a fourth-grade student at Dr. Jorge Prieto Math and Science Academy in Belmont Cragin. Antunec said one class is taught in a hallway where students have to sit on the floor. She said her daughter is in a classroom with 60 students. 

Antunec said the school has requested more resources, like mobile units that can serve as extra classrooms, but the school has not received any.

"My daughter is suffering the consequences of CPS ignoring this request for mobile units," she said.

Protestors like Antunec said solutions like providing mobile units or additional space to neighborhood schools and shifting enrollment areas for existing schools are more cost-efficient ways to address the problem of overcrowding.

At the end of their rally at CPS headquarters, protestors attempted to deliver their findings with a letter to CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, but they were told Byrd-Bennett was not available to accept it.

The Board of Education is expected to decide on any new charters in January.

In response to Tuesday's protest, CPS officials said the RFP was a way to provide every student "access to a high-quality education that prepares them for college, career and life."

"Just as we have worked to address our under-utilization crisis, CPS must also address the problem of overcrowding as there are several neighborhoods with our district with more students than seats available at their local school," CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said in an emailed statement.

"By issuing a state-mandated RFP, as we've done for the last 10 years, our goal is to seek out potential proposals to create more high quality school options for students and parents," Carroll said.