Administrators of the Chicago Public Schools have given their final approval to the closure of 49 schools. The move, which was pushed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, means that thousands of students throughout the city will be transferred to different schools starting next year.
Members of the Board of Education were set to vote on four additional schools, but those candidates were withdrawn by CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett after it became clear that she didn't have the votes to get the closures approved. On the whole, however, the Board vote appears to support Emanuel's reform agenda of which the closures were a controversial part.
Critics were unconvinced, and many forcefully expressed objections during and after Wednesday's board meeting. Ald. Ameya Pawar, 47th, one of several City Council members who spoke on behalf of schools in their wards, argued that schools serve as the glue of many neighborhoods.
"Closing a school is akin to closing a community," Pawar said.
Byrd-Bennett, however, argued that communities didn't need undersubscribed and underperforming schools that were taking money to maintain and run that could have gone to other schools. The vote to close 47 elementary schools and one high school were unanimously passed, while the vote to close Von Humboldt Elementary school passed with a vote of 4-2.
Not waiting for the vote to become final, the Chicago Teachers Union — staunch opponents of the closure — have already filed two lawsuits challenging them in federal court last week. The lawsuits seek to block the district from going through with the closures.
Although CTU President Karen Lewis said that she hoped the courts would step in, she already outlined a Plan B – making the union's displeasure felt during the next mayoral election.
The decision to shut so many schools in Chicago, while unprecedented in number for a major urban center, did not occur in a vacuum. School systems in many large U.S. cities, facing similar challenges, have also been closing schools. In March, officials in Philadelphia voted to close 23 public schools, a list significantly pared from a much bolder proposal in the face of the same fierce resistance from parents, students and teachers that has roiled communities for months in Chicago. The Philadelphia cutbacks represented 1 in every 10 schools there, an even larger share than has now been marked for closing in Chicago.
One of the reasons for the fall in the number of students is the fact that middle-class African-American families are leaving the city in record numbers.