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'Sick' Of Selective Enrollment, CPS Parents Say 'Fund The Schools We Have'

By Mina Bloom | July 15, 2016 1:39pm | Updated on July 18, 2016 8:42am
 Sherise McDaniel, 16-year Old Town resident, demanding an in-person interview with Ald. Burnett at a Friday morning protest over Obama College Prep.
Sherise McDaniel, 16-year Old Town resident, demanding an in-person interview with Ald. Burnett at a Friday morning protest over Obama College Prep.
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DNAinfo/Mina Bloom

CHICAGO — As a resident of the Marshall Field Garden housing complex in Old Town, Sherise McDaniel lives near some of the city's best selective-enrollment schools.

"I drive by Walter Payton [College Prep] everyday," said McDaniel, who has lived there for 16 years. 

But when it comes time for her middle school-aged son to pick a high school, McDaniel said the chances of him getting into the elite school are "next to none."

"The selective-enrollment situation ... I'm sick of it," she said. "It's a horrible process for kids to fight and claw to get into these schools. Very few kids get in, and the rest are left out there."

RELATED: CPS School Budgets: Here's What Every School Is Getting This Year

McDaniel was one of a few dozen residents and activists who participated in a protest Friday morning against a long-running, controversial proposal to build another selective-enrollment school on the Near North Side — Obama College Prep — using $60 million in Tax Increment Finance dollars.

The group began protesting outside Ald. Walter Burnett Jr.'s (27th) ward office, 4 N. Western Ave., on the sidewalk before moving inside and demanding an in-person meeting with the alderman, causing friction with his staffers.

Police were called and officers threatened to arrest the protesters for trespassing. But protesters left before any arrests were made after staffers were able to arrange a meeting with the alderman at City Hall.

Over the past year, officials with the city and Chicago Public Schools have not spoken publicly about the proposal for the Obama school, which was first introduced in 2014. Some CPS critics believe that's because the district doesn't want to advertise the "decadent" project during one of the worst fiscal periods in CPS history.

No officials have come out and said that the proposal is dead, either. Last year, Burnett told neighbors that the school would likely be built on a private piece of riverfront land near Halsted and Division streets. That came after Mayor Rahm Emanuel's idea to build it in the middle of Stanton Park was shot down due to its unpopularity with neighbors and activists.

Many principals have spoken out against the proposal as well, with 67 of them saying the district should nix the proposal due to the budget stalemate. A petition to cancel plans for the school currently has more than 2,500 signatures. 

Under the proposal, 70 percent of the students would be admitted through selective enrollment. The other 30 percent of the 1,200 students would come from a neighborhood boundary around the school.

For CPS parents like McDaniel, the proposal is downright confusing.

"It's the neighborhood schools that are suffering. They're being cut, year after year. That's where the funding should be," she said.

"If CPS and the mayor is saying there's no money, how do we have the money to build new schools? Where is this money coming from?"

Erika Wozniak, a fifth-grade teacher at Oriole Park Elementary School, 5424 N. Oketo Ave., who has publicly called for more resources, shared a similar opinion.

"It doesn't make any sense to me," Wozniak said. "If CPS is projected to have $60 million in cuts and Obama College Prep costs $60 million, then perhaps what would make sense is to not build the new school and fund the schools we already have."

CPS did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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