School Consolidation: A tale of two sides - CPS and the people

Date: 
03/25/2011

Broken promises, bad timing, questionable attitude and a failing grade in communications are all components in the big issue of Chicago Public Schools' (CPS) consolidation plans for 2011-12 announced by interim Chicago schools chief Terry Mazany.

The proposed plan is to "merge hundreds of students at 14 public schools, lead to the slow death of a 15th school and cost the jobs of nine principals," according to Rosalind Rossi in the Chicago Sun-Times on Wed.  According to CPS, the reason for these actions is an estimated $720 million budget gap for year 2012.

A one-time Federal stimulus payout funded elements of this year's operating budget and will not be available for 2012. "In addition, there are the very big questions about what decisions the state will make, both in terms of funding level and the current backlog of $236 million in state payments due CPS," Mazany added. He noted that repayment of that money would cut the current deficit significantly.

Six of the fifteen schools that are part of the proposed consolidation fall in our area and are described by CPS as follows:

George Schneider, 2957 N. Hoyne Ave. is to consolidate with Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, 3149 N. Wolcott. Schneider is phasing out and has a projected fall 2011 enrollment of sixty-five students in grades 2-8. Jahn has more than 400 students, is a magnet cluster school and features robust after-school programming. More than eighty percent of Jahn students meet or exceed state standards.

Hans Christian Andersen, 1148 N. Honore St., rolls into LaSalle II, 1148 N. Honore St. (the two schools already share one building). Andersen is phasing out and has a projected fall 2011 enrollment of sixty-one students in grades 6-8. LaSalle II, which will have its first eighth grade class next year, is a magnet school focused on World Language, with more than eighty-five percent of students meeting or exceeding state standards.

Philo Carpenter, 1250 W. Erie St., merges with Mancel Talcott, 1840 W. Ohio St. Carpenter is phasing out and has a projected fall 2011 enrollment of 108 students across six grade levels (3-8). Because of low enrollment, it has split-grade classrooms that do not provide an ideal learning environment for students. Talcott is the best performing school in the immediate community.

"The proposed school actions would provide better and more complete educational environments for students whose schools are being consolidated into others," said Mazany.  "In every case, students would be offered the opportunity to attend a school that is as good as or is better performing than the school they currently attend."

From the perspective of the people, however, this announcement translates into  broken promises, educational disruption, family disruption and, for some teachers, lost options. The timing of the announcement makes the situation even more volatile.

In order for students to be considered for enrollment or drawn by lottery for non-neighborhood schools, applications must be submitted the December before the new school year. That was about two and a half months ago. Teachers who may be close to retirement can take advantage of the Pension Enhanced Program PEP, a form of buyout for early retirement. That deadline was Mar. 18.

An example of these merging schools is Anderson. Students, parents and teachers were assured that all students in the school would be able to graduate from Anderson when La Salle II school was brought in to the 1st Ward school a few years ago. Each year there would be one less grade level until the last class graduated from eighth grade in two years.  As little as six weeks ago, 1st Ward Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno checked with CPS to make sure that Anderson was still on track with the phase out. He was assured all was well.

"Anderson is like one big family. If there were problems with a student, the 'family' pulled together. Teachers would contact the parents and together, the problem would be solved," explained one parent.

Another parent said, "While LaSalle II is a diversified school, it does not have many Latinos and African American students and there is often a feeling of not being welcome. Not being welcome is stressful on the kids and the parents. Several of the teachers are not as engaged as the Anderson teachers were. We're heart broken. I do not understand it.  The Anderson scores have been going up, but that does not seem to matter. Now kids may not be able to graduate with the friends they have grown up with."

"This plan means that parents of students at these two schools have had their choices severely and unacceptably limited,'' Moreno said. "I'm not pleased at all by the way this has been handled. And it speaks to a larger problem in CPS administration."

CPS says that there will be a public hearing. Between CPS, the Local School Council and even the Teachers Union, the dates given for the meeting are different. One thing that is clear is that CPS has instructed all CPS staff and teachers to provide no information or comment about the situation to the press.

"I have been working with Jahn school for the last couple of years," explains 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack. "It is coming along nicely. Both enrollment and their scores are rising. Because of the shrinking number of units in Lathrop Homes, we in the 32nd Ward, along with the 1st Ward, knew that Schneider students would probably be moved to Jahn at any time.

"Enrollment in Schneider was mainly from Lathrop. Right now there are about 100 units in Lathrop. While that could rise to 1,000 units once the complex is redesigned and thus a greater demand for school enrollments, that will not happen for at least another three years."

According to Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr. of the 27th Ward, "We expected these changes and have worked with the students since last year. Some of the students moved to other schools for this year.  I am not saying that everyone is happy with these changes but we came to a compromise.

"Schools receive a certain amount of money per student. That money has to pay for the cost of the building and the maintenance as well as teachers. When there are only sixty or so students, expenses are not covered."

One thing that appears certain is that Marzany's "proposal" will be the topic for much discussion between and among parents, students, teachers, government officials and the public.

Just posted on the CPS website: Public hearings for proposed consolidations will be held at the Central Offices of the Board of Education of the City of Chicago, 125 South Clark St., Board Chambers, 5th Floor.

Apr. 7, 5:30 p.m. -- Hans Christian Andersen into LaSalle II
Anyone wishing to speak at the hearing must sign up between 4:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.  The hearing will conclude at 7:30 p.m., or after the last person who has signed up to speak has spoken, whichever occurs first.

Apr. 8, 5:30 p.m. -- Philo Carpenter into Mancel Talcott
Anyone wishing to speak at the hearing must sign up between 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. The hearing will conclude at 7:30 p.m., or after the last person who has signed up to speak has spoken, whichever occurs first.

Apr. 8, 8 p.m -- George Schneider into Friedrich Ludwig Jahn
Anyone wishing to speak at the hearing must sign up between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. The hearing will conclude at 10:00 p.m., or after the last person who has signed up to speak has spoken, whichever occurs first.

 


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