CHICAGO — Northwest Side aldermen and community leaders are speaking out against a proposed expansion of ITW David Speer Academy in Belmont Cragin. They say expanding the Noble charter school will take resources away from the area's neighborhood schools, which they argue desperately need investment.
"Our schools are falling apart. We have 40 kids in classrooms, we have kids in hallways. Instead of investing in our neighborhood schools, CPS is investing in charter schools," said James Rudyk, executive director of the Northwest Side Housing Center, which is based in Belmont Cragin.
Rudyk was among a group of local leaders, including Ald. Milly Santiago (31st), Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) and Northwest Side parents, who spoke out against the expansion at a press conference in front of the Chicago Board of Education office, 42 W. Madison St., Monday afternoon.
Last month, Ald. Emma Mitts, whose 37th Ward includes the school, 5321 W. Grand Ave., announced the expansion at a Ward night event.
The expansion, which calls for an addition in an adjacent building, would mean a few hundred more seats at the school, according to Cody Rogers, a spokesman for The Noble Network of Charter Schools.
According to Rudyk, Noble has already bought the building, but Rogers couldn't immediately confirm the sale.
Rudyk said the neighboring school communities weren't notified of the meeting.
"We feel tricked by CPS. They made a commitment to us not to open any new charter schools in our community," he said.
"When CPS intentionally disinvests from the public schools and invests in charter schools, it's taking away from us and our community. We can't help but think there's some tie between the population of Austin and Belmont Cragin that's black and brown. It's really concerning to us and our parents."
CPS officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a prepared statement, Rogers defended the expansion, saying the demand at ITW-Speer Charter High School is "off the charts."
According to Rogers, last year the school saw 1,200 applications for 150 freshman spots. This year, the school received nearly 2,000 applications for 150 spots.
Noble issued the following statement: "It's really unfortunate that a group of politicians decided to try to hijack today's board hearing with a cheap political stunt, in direct opposition to thousands of parents who are desperate for quality schools."
But both Villegas and Santiago argued existing neighborhood schools should be the priority right now — not charter schools, especially given the dire financial state of CPS.
"When we see we don't have the same support, we question [it]. Where are their priorities?" Santiago said. "The schools in our area have lost about $20 million within the last four years. This is a lot."
The coalition of local leaders crafted a letter it intends to deliver to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools officials. In it, the group argues that "there is capacity at all of our local high schools to meet the needs of our children."
Mirella Bandera, a parent at Steinmetz College Prep, said there's room for more students at Steinmetz, which is also located in Belmont Cragin.
"Steinmetz enrollment drops every year. There's room there. All of our neighborhood schools lose students every year. So there's no need for this expansion," Bandera said.