Chicago Announces List of School Closures, Opponents Fume

The list of Chicago schools that will be closed in order to meet financial obligations of the cash-strapped school district has been made public. If district leaders hoped that the release would calm the tempers of those who have been opposed to the closures all along, they were greatly mistaken. Harsh words both for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools officials flew almost as soon as the list was published.

In total, 61 schools around the city will be shuttered, mainly in the South and West sides where the majority of the population is African-American and where student numbers have been falling for over a decade. The shutdown is anticipated to affect roughly 30,000 students from kindergarten to 8th grade who will be transferred to other schools nearby.

Prodded by Emanuel, officials have been working for months to downsize the facility footprint of the district, which they say faces a $1 billion projected deficit next year. “We have resources that are spread much too thin,” said Todd Babbitz, the district’s chief transformation officer.

Savings from closing schools, though, won’t kick in immediately. Officials estimate school upgrades and enhanced security and other transition costs will add $233 million to expenses in the short term, most of it paid for through bond debt at a time when the district’s credit rating has dropped. Some of the increased costs will also be covered by staff cuts from schools that close.

The district estimates that it will realize more than half a billion dollars in savings over the next ten years. However, for many parents, these are savings expensively bought, since for their kids it would mean not only a displacement from their familiar environment but also a longer commute to school through some of the most dangerous and gang-ridden neighborhoods in the city.

For students like Jayshawn Vinson, the closure of their nearby elementary schools means that they will now be walking nearly a mile to the new school they’ve been assigned – the commute taking place mostly along the Martin Luther King Drive, where crime is a daily occurrence.

Opponents of the closures have also noted that the majority of the schools that are being shut down are in African-American neighborhoods, prompting calls from activists accusing Emanuel of racism.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports, to hear some tell it on the West Side, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is a racist liar who doesn’t care about the kids. And they’re just getting started.

“I don’t see any Caucasians being moved, bussed, or murdered in the streets as they travel along gang lines, or stand on the steps of a CPS school,” said activist Wendy Matil Pearson as opponents of the school closing plans protested outside Horatio May Elementary Community Academy in the Austin neighborhood.