EDISON PARK — For the second year in a row, Chicago Public Schools officials have no plans to add space to already packed elementary schools across the Far Northwest Side.
Instead, city officials plan to expand Byrne Elementary School in Garfield Ridge and build new schools in Clearing and the South Loop.
Amy Dolhay, the chairwoman of the Ebinger Elementary School Local School Council, said the news left her "deflated."
"We have been working so long and so hard," Dolhay said. "We feel deflated. We have been patiently waiting our turn. What else can we do?"
Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st), who has three children at Ebinger in Edison Park, said he was "extremely upset."
At Ebinger, 776 students study in a building meant to house 510 students, giving it a utilization rate of 150 percent, among the highest in the city. Its enrollment grew 9.3 percent from last year to this year, based on data released by CPS officials.
But the school has an eight-classroom modular building, giving the school an adjusted utilization rate of 112 percent and a rating of efficient, according to data provided by CPS.
Several Far Northwest Side schools — including Ebinger — are more crowded than both Byrne Elementary School in Garfield Ridge — which is set to get a 16-classroom annex — and Dore Elementary School in Clearing — which is set to get an entirely new building, as first reported by the Sun-Times.
At Byrne, 648 students study in a building meant for 480 students, giving it a utilization rate of 135 percent. But the school has an eight-classroom modular building, giving the school an adjusted utilization rate of 98 percent and a rating of efficient, according to data released by CPS officials in January.
Even with the modular building, Byrne is "bursting at the seams" and does not have the space to offer preschool classes, according to a district statement.
At Dore, 715 students study in a building meant for 420 students, giving it an utilization rate of 170 percent. But the school has an eight-classroom modular building, giving the school an adjusted utilization rate of 98 percent and a rating of efficient, according to data provided by CPS.
Dore is among the top five most crowded Chicago schools based on its utilization rate, according to a CPS statement.
Both Dore and Byrne are in the 23rd Ward, represented by Ald. Michael Zalewski.
In the South Loop, the district plans to build a 1,200-student elementary school to ease overcrowding at South Loop Elementary, as first reported by WBEZ. At that school, 868 students study in a building meant for 690 students, giving it an utilization rate of 126 percent, according to data provided by CPS. The school has no mobile classrooms.
Thirty percent of the elementary schools deemed overcrowded by CPS officials are on the Far Northwest Side, according to the data.
At Dirksen in Norwood Park, 859 students study in a building meant to house 540 students, giving it a utilization rate of 159 percent, among the highest in the city. Its enrollment grew 10 percent from the 2014-15 academic year to to 2015-16.
But, like Ebinger, the school has an eight-classroom modular building, giving the school an adjusted utilization rate of 119 percent and a rating of efficient, according to data provided by CPS.
The second most-crowded school in the city is Bridge Elementary School in Dunning, which is operating at 231 percent of its capacity, according to data provided by CPS.
Taft High School in Norwood Park is the most crowded public high school in Chicago, with 3,212 students studying in a building meant for 2,184 pupils, putting its utilization rate at 147 percent, according to CPS data.
The district's utilization rate is generated by a controversial formula that multiplies CPS' ideal classroom population of 30 by 75 percent of the classrooms in a school to determine the building's capacity. In 2013, the report was used to justify the closure of 50 schools.
The effort to relieve overcrowding comes as city officials warned principals to expect budget cuts of about 26 percent as city leaders continue to push state lawmakers to change the way schools are funded and close CPS' $1 billion budget deficit.
Emanuel has repeatedly said CPS must address overcrowding "to ensure our students will live up to their full potential” and said it is unacceptable for students to be forced to study in hallways and closets.
CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement that district officials have 'hosted parent meetings to identify ways to best address capacity issues" at many schools "including: Canty, Edwards, Ebinger, Jamieson [and] South Loop Elementary."
Imminent relief from the space crunch is on the horizon for Canty Elementary School in Dunning, with construction set to start in June on an $18 million annex. It is scheduled to open in September.
New annexes opened at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year at Wildwood and Oriole Park to relieve years of overcrowding after a concerted campaign by both parents and school officials.
Efforts to convince CPSofficials to build an annex at Ebinger erupted in controversy this fall when Napolitano said Mayor Rahm Emanuel made it clear that plans for an annex at the Edison Park school could be threatened if Napolitano voted against his budget.
Napolitano was one of 14 aldermen to reject the $7.8 billion spending plan — and the largest property tax hike in modern Chicago history.
Napolitano has appeared before the Chicago Board of Education — whose members are appointed by Emanuel — nine times to ask officials to build annexes at Ebinger and Dirksen.
A study conducted by former alderman and University of Illinois at Chicago Professor Dick Simpson showed Napolitano was the only member of the Council to vote with Emanuel less than 50 percent of the time, at 44 percent.
"I don't think this is political payback from the mayor," Napolitano said. "I want to believe that the mayor had these annexes promised before he promised us."
A new pot of money might — eventually — offer a permanent solution to overcrowded schools across the city. Emanuel earmarked $45 million from the property tax hike to relieve overcrowding, but it is unclear what projects those funds will be used to complete.
District officials have declined to identify the source of funds for the annex at Byrne and the new schools in the South Loop and Clearing.
Dolhay, who has two children at Ebinger, said while she was disappointed that a new annex for Ebinger isn't in the works yet, the news of expansion plans at other schools nonetheless gave her hope.
"If there is money for new schools and annexes, then that means there is probably more money from where it came from," Dolhay said. "There is no reason we shouldn't get our annex."
Tim Heneghan, the 41st Ward Democratic committeeman and a member of the Ebinger Local School Council, said it was unfortunate that so many Chicago schools are so crowded.
"We will keep pressing our case with concrete data," Heneghan said. "Hopefully, it will be our turn soon."
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