This has been a school year of endless anxiety for thousands of students, parents and teachers in the Chicago Public Schools. A list of more than 100 school closures led to 50 schools ultimately being shuttered. You would think everyone deserved a breather after endless public meetings and a herculean effort on the part of the communities of the schools slated for closure to make the case for their schools.
Yet, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett have not let up. They recently rushed parents to register their children in just a handful of days after the vote to close those schools, and now they are pushing principals to throw together budgets for next year in the next few days.
This harried timetable is a direct result of their wrongheaded decision to close all of those schools in one fell swoop, more public schools than have ever been closed at one time in this country. We suspect this is a harbinger of the coming year — chaos, nonsensical timetables and policy decisions by CPS administrators that are oblivious to the reality on the ground at the schools they are charged with managing. This does not bode well for the future of public education in our city, and it is going to do significant harm our schools in Hyde Park.
Massive budget cuts are adding to the absurdity of the task CPS and Emanuel have set for principals. Kenwood Academy Principal Gregory Jones, for example, is reportedly expected to continue to operate our local high school with $1.7 million less than he had last year. That is the entire budget for some schools. To continue to spout rhetoric about excellent education for our children and make impossible demands like this is the height of hypocrisy.
Ray and Bret Harte elementary schools are the receiving schools for the students who would have been sent to Canter Middle School, which was on the list of schools to be closed and is now to be phased out so students there can finish out their last year at the school. They are now being told that they will not get as much support as they expected to prepare for those students because of the phase out. Somehow having a full year to prepare to add two grades of students seems to be too generous for the new CPS under Byrd-Bennett.
Meanwhile, we are finding money for vanity projects like stadiums, while the tax dollars that have been closeted away for years through Tax Increment Financing continue to be protected from use for public services as fundamental as education for our children. It seems that we are struggling as much with a shift in the priorities of our city as we are with a challenging economy. In many instances, despite claims of doom and gloom, our politicians are spending where they want to spend. That just doesn’t include spending on our children’s future.
This rushed budget timetable for principals has to be extended. Parents need time to comprehend what cuts are coming to their schools, principals need more time to plan and school communities need time to find ways to cover expenses where possible and engage in constructive dialogue with CPS administrators where the cuts are just too deep. Meanwhile, the mayor should want to delay these decisions so he has more time to find money for our public schools.
If these schools were a priority for Emanuel, he would find that money.
Hyde Park is a neighborhood known for our ability to manage change in our community. How are we responding to these changes in our schools? Our public schools are a barometer of our civic health, and we need to recognize that they are in a state of crisis. Regardless of whether you have children in these schools, you should make it a point to find out how you can support these important public institutions during this difficult time.