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Nearly Half Of All Far Northwest Side Schools Are Overcrowded, CPS Says

Canty's two-story $18 million annex is set to open in September, officials said. [Stacy Babich]

EDISON PARK — Nearly half of all public elementary and high schools on the Far Northwest Side are overcrowded, according to a report released by Chicago Public Schools officials.

In fact, relieving overcrowding is the top priority for district officials in the Far Northwest Side Planning Area, according to a "preliminary draft" update to a district's master plan published by school officials.

However, the 200-page plan does not include any specifics on how officials plan to relieve the space crunch beyond completing the under-construction annex at Canty Elementary School in Dunning, which is set to open in September.

Of the 47 public schools in the Far Northwest Planning Area — defined by officials as stretching from Howard Avenue and Touhy Avenue to the north, the Kennedy and Edens expressways as well as the Milwaukee Metra Line to the east, the Milwaukee District North Metra Line and Belmont Avenue to the south, and the Des Plaines River and O’Hare Airport to the west — 20 are overcrowded, according to the plan.

Only five schools are underutilized and 20 schools are considered "efficient," according to the report.

While promising to continue to "reduce overcrowding" the plan warns that the district's fiscal crisis means its resources are limited.

"Our current financial pressure will require us to focus on our most urgent needs, including testing for and remediating lead," according to the report.

There are no plans to add space to elementary or high schools across the Far Northwest Side in 2017-18. Overall, 30 percent of the elementary schools deemed overcrowded by CPS officials are on the Far Northwest Side, according to data released by the district.

Instead, city officials plan to expand Byrne Elementary School in Garfield Ridge and Skinner West Elementary School in the West Loop and build new schools in Clearing and the South Loop.

Several Far Northwest Side schools are more crowded than the schools set to be expanded, angering parents on the Far Northwest Side.

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.

Mayor Rahm 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.

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.

Although the city's population is falling, the population of the Far Northwest Side grew 21.5 percent from 2000-14 in the Dunning, Edison Park, Forest Glen, Jefferson Park, Norwood Park, O'Hare and Portage Park community areas, according to U.S. Census data.

District officials expect the Far Northwest Side’s student-aged population to decline among children age 5-9 and 15-19, but will increase among children 4 years old and younger and ages 10-14, based on projections by an independent firm, ESRI.

Despite the anticipated population growth, no additional classroom space is listed among the plan's priorities on the Far Northwest Side for the next decade.

The roof at Mary Lyon Elementary School in Belmont-Cragin Elementary needs to be renovated, and all classrooms at Foreman High School should be air conditioned, according to the plan.

In 2014, Emanuel vowed to make all schools air conditioned within five years. 

Another priority of the district is "continued lead testing and abatement," according to the plan.

CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool called for citywide testing in late May after a school tested positive as part of a pilot program. So far, at least 26 schools within the district have tested positive for lead. 

In addition, the district acknowledged the need to improve "the play space" at Taft High School, Locke Elementary School in Montclare and at Belmont-Cragin Elementary.

Taft remains the most crowded high school in the city.

At Taft in Norwood Park, 3,212 students attended class in a building meant for 2,184 pupils during the 2015-16 school year, according to data released by Chicago Public Schools officials.

The report notes that several other high schools in the area have excess space.

Schurz High School in Old Irving Park has approximately 500 empty seats, according to a utilization report released in January. Steinmetz High School in Belmont-Cragin has approximately 650 empty seats.

Both are rated lower than Taft by district officials, making some Far Northwest Side parents reluctant to send their children there.

The draft plan contains no mention of plans for a new junior high and high school near Oak Park Avenue and Irving Park Road in Dunning.

In June, Sposato said discussions were underway to finalize plans for the new school.

Since Taft is so crowded, Sposato said "there's no decent high school for folks to send their kids to."

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