BRIGHTON PARK — Brighton Park residents and principals from nearby schools are organizing a public forum Thursday morning to voice their concerns regarding two proposed Noble charter high schools in the Southwest Side.
In April, Noble submitted an initial application to the Chicago Board of Education requesting three new campuses across the city. But as the process moved forward and opposition from residents in the North Side blocked one of the proposed Noble campuses, the request is now down to two schools farther south.
But some community groups in the Brighton Park area are not thrilled about the plan.
Patrick Brosnan, executive director of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, said the community has enough high schools already, and instead of bringing in two new Noble campuses, CPS should focus on strengthening the already existing neighborhood schools in the area like Kelly and Kennedy.
In addition, he said, there are five new high schools that have been built in recent years.
“There really isn’t a need for one more,” Brosnan said talking about the new Back of the Yards College Prep, Solorio Academy, Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy and two UNO charter schools. He also mentioned a Concept Charter School that recently opened across the street from McKinley Park.
“There are tons of choices for young people here,” Brosnan said, adding he has been in contact with area high school principals, parents and students who share the same concerns and are committed to attending Thursday’s public meeting.
Matthew McCabe, director of government affairs at the Noble Network of Charter Schools, said the two new schools would help alleviate school overcrowding at some of the nearby high schools.
“Right now we have 1,500 students that already come from the Southwest Side and we know that a lot of the high schools in the area are overcrowded,” McCabe said. “It seems like it will make a lot of sense to give families what they are already looking for. They are already traveling to other parts of the city to get the best possible education from a Noble high school.”
McCabe then said that just a few weeks ago Noble won the 2015 Broad Prize, a $250,000 award granted to the best charter schools in the country. As a former teacher at Noble Pritzker, McCabe said he has seen the difference that Noble makes, “and I think that’s why it makes sense for a lot of families.”
But James Coughlin, principal at Kelly, 4136 S. California Ave., said his school not only isn't overcrowded but has been losing students to other high schools in the city.
And with student enrollment decreasing, Kelly continues to lose funding tied to a per-pupil funding system used by CPS in which schools get a set amount per student for core instruction.
This upcoming school year, Coughlin said his school is already losing $850,000, and that’s not counting the $210,000 the school will have to pay in teachers' raises. In the last five years, he said, his school lost an estimated $6 million.
“We had to cut back on our drama program,” Coughlin said. “We had to go through mostly all private funding for our music programs.
"Our band is supposed to go to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans in December. It’s probably the best high school band in Chicago and we are only going to be able to do this now if we do private fundraising," he said
"I don’t have this type of money in my budget to keep the program going.”
Coughlin said the lack of funding also impacts basic infrastructure repairs that need to be done around the school.
“I can’t get my auditorium fixed, I can’t get my bathrooms fixed, I can’t get plumbing taken care of because they say there is no money in the capital fund,” he said. “Kelly High School always welcomed competition, but ... there are too many people competing for too few children now and that is self-defeating.”
At John F. Kennedy High School, 6325 W. 56th St., Principal George Szkapiak said the school has made significant strides in recent years, but without the resources it’s hard to attract area students.
Szkapiak said Kennedy is not at full capacity.
“At one time we had 1,800 students, and right now we have about 1,513 students.”
“Rather than re-investing in us, there are proposals to re-invest in other schools that are going to take resources away from our school,” Szkapiak said.
“I have a leak in my school library that hasn’t been fixed for seven years. It has completely destroyed the ceiling and there is plaster that is dropping on to our library tables. I can’t get that fixed, but there is money enough for charter schools," he said. "Our students are worth just as much as any other students in Chicago Public Schools.”
McCabe said while Noble has two schools in mind it could go down to just one school. He also said the start-up money for the plan has already been raised with private funding.
“This does not represent taking any sort of money out of the general pie, it doesn’t represent taking any money away from any other school to build these new schools,” McCabe said.
But he said once the new campuses would be up and running, they would receive CPS funding using the per-pupil formula.
Though the proposal is in its planning stages, the charter network is eyeing two tentative sites for the schools — an empty lot on 47th Street and California Avenue and a former Catholic school at 57th Street and Karlov Avenue that recently closed its doors due to budget cuts.
But those locations have not yet been finalized, McCabe said.
“My understanding is that in the next round of the CPS ... process, we will publicly announce the addresses," he said.
McCabe said CPS would be making a final vote during its October board meeting. If approved the proposed campuses will open in fall 2016.
CPS officials did not respond to several requests for comment.
Thursday’s meeting will be at 11 a.m. at Kelly.
Members of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, several local school councils, students, parents and teachers are expected to attend. State Sen. Martin Sandoval and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia have also been invited.
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