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'Kids Deserve Better' Than Faulty Alarms, Lead Paint at Gale: Schakowsky

By Linze Rice | November 13, 2015 7:15am
 U.S Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-9th) speaks at the State of Rogers Park meeting Thursday morning.
U.S Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-9th) speaks at the State of Rogers Park meeting Thursday morning.
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DNAinfo/Linze Rice

ROGERS PARK — Faulty fire alarms and peeling lead paint at Gale Elementary School are among issues local politicians are taking to Forrest Claypool, the head of Chicago Public Schools, in a meeting later this month.

At the State of Rogers Park meeting Thursday morning U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-9th), a Rogers Park native, said she and Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and 49th Ward Ald. Joe Moore were set to speak with Claypool about the neighborhood school's dire needs.

"These bright-eyed, beautiful kids deserve better; they're being deprived," Schakowsky told DNAinfo Chicago. "I'm just not going to give up on this."

Schakowsky said the school has two full libraries but no librarians, and computer labs with no technology teachers. She said families were beginning to enroll their kids elsewhere. Indeed, since 2010 the school's enrollment has dropped by 134 students to 381, according to CPS enrollment data.

As with many CPS schools, Gale also suffered repeated slashes to its budget, forcing it to cut off afterschool sports (though some programming was restored thanks to a grant) and cancel its free summer camp program. After backlash from parents, CPS was able to partially restore the summer program.

Over the past three years, Gale's budget has been cut by more than $1 million.

Gale has also suffered years of neglect at the hands of CPS, with peeling lead paint leaving some rooms "inoperable" in the school, the officials said.

According to documents, CPS knew about the lead paint problem for at least five years before it began to address the problem. Schakowsky said she's not sure if the issue has been fully eradicated, but intends to find out during her meeting with Claypool.

The school's fire alarm system also has been a problem in the past, according to Gale's Local School Council.

Both the council and Chicago Light Brigade found that the alarm sensors that tell firefighters where the fire is are faulty.

In at least one incident last year, a fire alarm was pulled that directed first-responders to the wrong floor, a council member said.

CPS currently is accepting bids for the installation of a new fire alarm system at the school. On Tuesday, contractors looking to put a bid out on the project convened at the school to learn more about the project.

In September, DNAinfo Chicago requested information on inspection, testing and repair records related to the school, as well as expenditures related to any repairs, from CPS through the Freedom of Information Act.

CPS issued a statement to DNAinfo on Oct. 1 saying it was "still working" on getting the records, however, after repeated attempts to procure the documents, CPS has not responded to requests as of Nov. 12.

Local school council members say CPS has known about the faulty alarms at Gale for several years, and that previous attempts at repair have been unsuccessful because the system's parts are too old.

"It's really concerning that we have a fire-alarm system that isn't working properly," council member Joshua Hartwell said in 2014. "How does a public building operate without a fire-alarm system?"

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