LINCOLN PARK — Lincoln Elementary School, which just a few months ago debuted a three-story, 19-classroom addition on its playground — a controversial solution to its overcrowding problem — is now deemed "underutilized" by the district's standards, according to a Chicago Public Schools report released Tuesday.
The Lincoln Park school, 615 W. Kemper Place, is one of more than 300 schools across the city that has fewer students than it should, according to the report.
By the 20th day of the 2015-2016 school year, the school, which now has a total of 47 classrooms, had an enrollment of 838 students, but its ideal capacity is 1,080 students, according to the report. The school's utilization rate is 78 percent, according to CPS.
That's compared to the 2013-2014 school year — the year the annex project was formally announced — when Lincoln had an enrollment of 813 students, but its ideal capacity was listed at 660 students, making its utilization rate 129 percent, according to CPS data.
"It's not particularly surprising, unless you thought the enrollment was going to grow" immediately, said Lisa Barrow, a member of the Local School Council who did not support the $19 million annex, which increased the school's capacity by 420 students.
Barrow said she couldn't speak to whether all of the new classrooms are being used or not, but suspects that some programs that previously had to share classrooms now have dedicated ones. Over the last few months, CPS has not responded to multiple messages seeking further information on the use of the new classrooms.
Daniel Klein, president of the Local School Council, was reached, but refused to comment on the utilization rate.
After years of heated debate, Lincoln debuted its $19 million annex in the fall as a solution to its overcrowding problem. It was a controversial decision, with some members of the school community questioning whether Lincoln was getting more attention than other schools with worse overcrowding because it's in affluent Lincoln Park.
Bronzeville's Dyett School hunger strikers and supporters crashed the ribbon-cutting ceremony in September, which led to shouting matches between Lincoln parents and supporters. Some needed to be physically restrained by other people at the event before they came to blows. One of the parents burst into tears.
Michelle Villegas, a former Lincoln parent and longtime critic of the annex, said the utilization rate demonstrates that Lincoln's overcrowding was not as severe as some made it out to be.
"It was a missed opportunity for re-envisioning schools in the area, and that, to me, is terribly sad," said Villegas, who, along with others in the community, wanted to see the boundaries for the school changed, which would have meant some future students would be sent to other nearby schools.
Wendy Katten, a spokeswoman for public education advocacy group Raise Your Hand, said CPS' method of reviewing school utilization is based on a "flawed formula" that calls for a class size of 30 students and doesn't take into account how classrooms are used or how large a school's special education population is.
"This basically encourages large class sizes, which we know is bad education policy," Katten said. "Fair-minded districts actually look at program use, look at what's happening in the building, they look at populations of students.
"We're not saying that there aren't any schools that have a low number of students; it's just that this particular formula exaggerates the under-utilization and isn't fair."
Barrow said her two kids, who both attend Lincoln, are in classes with a little more than 30 students.
The news of the utilization rate comes after school Principal Mark Armendariz told the Local School Council in November that the district is considering cutting Lincoln's international gifted program, which could lead to fewer students and teacher layoffs.
If the district cuts the program, the change won't take effect until sometime after the 2016-2017 school year and students who are currently enrolled in the program would be able to finish.
Armendariz has said that he would like to see the program replaced with a similar program if it is cut.
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