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Plan to Move Decatur School to Uptown Sets Off Heated Debate at CPS Meeting

By  Mauricio Peña and Tanveer Ali | November 20, 2014 10:39am | Updated on November 20, 2014 12:40pm

 One of the options to expand West Rogers Park's Decatur Classical School is to move it into Uptown's shuttered Stewart Elementary School.
One of the options to expand West Rogers Park's Decatur Classical School is to move it into Uptown's shuttered Stewart Elementary School.
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Metropolitan Planning Council (files)

HUMBOLDT PARK — Tensions were high at Wednesday evening's Chicago Board of Education meeting over a proposal to move Decatur Classical School into the former Stewart School in Uptown.

The tension arose over a plan, introduced at the meeting, to use Uptown TIF money to move Decatur into the old Stewart Elementary School, one of 50 CPS schools closed in 2013, so that one of the city's highest-regarded public elementary schools could add seventh and eighth grades.

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) supports the plan, and the chairwoman of the school's local school council said the vast majority of its parents support it.

But Kristen Kenefick, a parent of a Decatur student, urged the board to reject the plan.

"It is taking the labor and the resources from one community that needs these resources and giving it to a privileged community," Kenefick said.

For the past two years, Decatur has looked at options to expand, considering three options: expanding in its current West Rogers Park location at 7030 N. Sacramento Ave., creating a second school using Decatur's model or moving into an existing school building.

The school's expansion committee has said expanding or splitting the existing campus isn't viable largely due to money.

Safety, transportation and keeping Decatur exclusively selective enrollment — as opposed to reserving some seats for neighborhood children — were among the issues weighed by the school's expansion committee, documents show.

Students from any neighborhood — including Uptown — are eligible for admission to classical selective enrollment schools like Decatur based on test scores.

With about 100,000 square feet of space, Stewart's building at 4525 N. Kenmore Ave. is about three times larger than Decatur's current building.

"There have been many public meetings on reusing [Stewart] as a CPS school," Cappleman said at the meeting. "I was delighted when the principal and the [Decatur School] LSC members approached me about moving this school to the Stewart Building.

"I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to have this remain a public school and also support Decatur's goal to expand to seventh and eighth grade for making an easier transition into high school," Cappleman said.

Decatur Local School Council Chairwoman Jeannette Schar said "a supermajority of parents were in support" of the move into the old Stewart, calling it "the best and only option." She said a survey found 79 percent of parents favored the move.

"It's the right thing to do for Decatur, it's the right thing to do for current and future CPS students. It's the right thing to do for" CPS, Schar said.

But Kenefick and some other Uptown residents object to using money from an Uptown TIF district to move and expand another neighborhood's school.

"Yes, we want a seventh and eighth grade, and most of us would love it on our own campus. But if getting a seventh and eighth grade means depriving kids from Uptown [of] those resources, I'm against it and my child will not go to Decatur."

Another Decatur school parent, Jon Ross, called the proposal to fund the move with Uptown's public money "an injustice."

"When an injustice is perpetrated and it benefits me, I must be as outspoken against it as if it was injustice against me," he said. "We all want to expand the school but not on the backs of the community of people who deserve" the TIF money.

Board of Education President David J. Vitale said he was aware of Uptown parents' objections to using TIF money to fund the Decatur expansion. The board took no action on the plan at the meeting.

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