WEST TOWN — Chicago Public Schools has hosted its final forum on the proposed merger between Jenner Academy of the Arts and Ogden International School, leaving parents from both schools wondering: what now?
The school system says it will announce by May 15 whether the controversial merger between the Cabrini-Green and Gold Coast schools will proceed. If it does, CPS has until Aug. 30 to draft a merger transition plan outlining teacher posts and other specifics.
"This is where the rubber meets the road," Herald "Chip" Johnson, the CPS network chief overseeing both schools, told parents at a merger forum Tuesday.
Principals of the two schools first proposed a merger last school year in an attempt to solve Ogden and Jenner's contrasting enrollment problems. Ogden reports overcrowding at its neighborhood elementary school in the Gold Coast, 24 W. Walton St., while Jenner's building seven blocks away at 1119 N. Cleveland Ave. is so under capacity it was nearly closed by CPS in 2013.
Ogden's student body is relatively affluent and is one of the most diverse in the entire school district. Conversely, 98 percent of Jenner's students are black and live in low-income households.
Supporters view a merger as an attempt to integrate Chicago's de facto segregated schools. But opponents are skeptical that a merger would do anything to solve Ogden's overcrowding problem as more developers build high-rises in their school boundaries.
With even the last day of school up in the air at CPS, some parents are wondering if now is the right time to pursue the unprecedented endeavor that merging Jenner and Ogden would be. CPS has closed and consolidated schools in the past, but never before has it merged and maintained two existing schools at the behest of parents.
Here are answers to Jenner and Ogden parents' frequently asked merger questions, as answered by CPS:
If Ogden's east campus is no longer considered overcrowded, what problem are we trying to solve?
Ogden's east campus in the Gold Coast is at 103 percent capacity, which isn't dire, but the risk of future overcrowding "remains significant" amid the rampant high-rise construction nearby, CPS said.
CPS said it "recognizes the potential" for the merger as a means of addressing Jenner and Ogden's contrasting enrollment problems. CPS also recognizes the merger can better integrate the school district.
"This is another dimension that we are carefully considering," the district said in a statement.
What are the next steps?
• May 15: CPS will announce by May 15 whether Jenner-Ogden merger talks will proceed.
• May 15 to Aug. 30: A "draft transition plan" will be developed.
• Dec. 1: The latest date CPS can recommend a merger to the Board of Education.
• January: Two more "community meetings" and another "public hearing" should the merger be proposed.
•February: The Chicago Board of Education will vote on the proposed merger plan.
The combined school would be open in time for the 2018-19 school year.
Why isn't CPS considering a school boundary change?
CPS said "given the distances and limited capacities of the schools with boundaries adjacent to Ogden," boundary changes are not feasible.
How does a high school factor into the Ogden-Jenner issue? Will transportation be provided?
CPS said dividing elementary school grades across three buildings (Ogden East, Jenner and Ogden West) is burdensome. The school district otherwise is mum, saying it will also "consider" how high school grades — and location — will factor into a recommended merger.
Ogden currently houses grades six through 12 at its West Town campus, a converted elementary school at 1250 W. Erie St. Jenner only teaches up to eighth grade.
Will CPS commit to building a Jenner annex to ensure adequate space for a combined school's future growth?
CPS said it "does not intend" to build any new school facilities in the Jenner-Ogden area.
Preserving the Jenner name is important to Jenner parents. Is the name of the school changing?
Only one name would survive the merger, CPS said the board of education has school naming and renaming policies spelled out in its bylaws. Renaming the school starts with the local school councils at Jenner and Ogden, CPS said, and would be addressed in the transition plan.
What will happen to current Jenner and Ogden teachers at a combined school?
CPS said it will follow rules outlined in the Chicago teachers' union contract, which means "highly rated tenured teachers" will be reassigned to the combined school "to the extent that new positions for which the teacher are eligible are opened."
CPS said it will share more specific hiring information with both schools' staff should the merger move forward.
Jenner and Ogden have different curricula, different demographics and different levels of poverty in their student bodies. What support is CPS committing to provide?
CPS said it will work closely with Jenner and Ogden's local school councils to "tailor a plan to the school communities." The work would start immediately should CPS decide to move forward with a merger.