CITY HALL — A 10-year-old letter written by then-U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel asking the city to expand a Northwest Side elementary school surfaced this week when it was read aloud at Wednesday's Chicago Board of Education meeting.
The letter, addressed to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan when he was the CPS chief executive officer, called Canty, 3740 N. Panama St., "a top priority among Chicago Public Schools for the construction of an addition to accommodate its expanding number of students."
Only when Paolucci was finished reading the letter did he reveal it was written by none other than Emanuel, then representing the 5th District, which stretches through Dunning, where the school is located.
"The situation at Canty has not improved," Paolucci concluded, and called on the board and CPS to heed the mayor and expand Canty.
Emanuel's letter said school enrollment had grown from 364 in 1991 to 577 in 2004. According to Paolucci, the school now has a capacity of 479, but an enrollment of 828.
"And it continues to grow year after year," he said Thursday.
According to CPS, Canty's utilization rate is 150 percent, making it among the most overcrowded, if you just count the main school building. But if you factor in its modular building, which has eight classrooms, the school's adjusted utilization rate is 108 percent, giving it a rating of "efficient." That's fairly typical of schools in the area, Paolucci said. The school's 20th-day enrollment was 812.
"The situation has gotten dramatically worse in 10 years," Paolucci said.
The mayor was traveling to Washington Thursday, but his press office released this statement:
"Addressing school overcrowding is an important part of the work we are doing to modernize the district, and it is why the mayor and CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett have already relieved overcrowding at 33 schools across the city, have invested over $1 billion in capital improvements to local schools and continue to seek out available funds to improve the quality of learning facilities in every neighborhood throughout our city."
Paolucci said he was recently speaking at the school with Principal Lucja Mirowska-Kopec on the overcrowding issue when they came upon the letter in a file from a previous principal.
"Oh my gosh, look what he have here," he remembered saying.
Paolucci pointed to the mayor's recent announcement to expand Lincoln Elementary in Lincoln Park and said, "We're being jumped over."
Paolucci basically told the mayor, "You believed it 10 years ago. You were either telling us what we wanted to hear, or you really believe we need a new addition."
Paolucci said it was not his intention to embarrass the mayor: "I'm a city worker. I'm a fireman."
But he added that, as a Local School Council member, "That's how important I think this is."
The board did not respond to Paolucci after he finished speaking.