Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Chicago Simmers over School Closings. Is That Bad for Mayor Emanuel?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Chicago Simmers over School Closings. Is That Bad for Mayor Emanuel?

Article excerpt

Chicago's controversial decision to close 50 public schools was challenged by a third lawsuit Wednesday, inflaming a public relations war between City Hall and the teachers union that polls say is being waged at a time that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is more vulnerable politically.

Two federal lawsuits were filed last week by parents saying that the closings violate the civil rights of special needs children and those living in poorer, marginalized neighborhoods.

On Wednesday the Chicago Teachers Union announced it is filing a lawsuit in Circuit Court against the Chicago Public School System, saying the school board violated its own code guidelines in closing 10 elementary schools.

In each case, the union and the parent groups say they want the closures delayed for at least a year, giving time for the matter to be given due consideration in court.

Both the Chicago Public School System (CPS) and its challengers say they are pressing forward for the sake of Chicago's schoolchildren. The CPS is making the case that the closings - it is the largest mass school closure in US history - are justified to achieve meaningful reform in the lagging school district, while its critics say the sheer magnitude of the closings will create irreparable harm to those neighborhoods, which are suffering the most from neglect, and will heighten gang violence.

Becky Carroll, chief communications officer for CPS, says union leadership "remains committed to a status quo that is failing too many children trapped in underutilized, under-resourced schools."

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CPS, which came under fire from teachers and parents groups when it proposed the closings months ago, announced last week it would close 50 schools, the majority on the South and West sides of the city.

A prime reason cited for the closures is financial. The city's public school system, which is the third largest in the nation and operates under the control of City Hall, faces a $1 billion budget deficit in the new fiscal year. It maintains that each closed school will save the district $500,000 and $800,000.

CPS also says that transitioning children from low-performing schools to higher-performing ones will inevitably make them better students.

Critics are disputing those assertions, and many say that while they expected some consolidation, the high volume of schools closed suggests that Mayor Emanuel is paving the way for more charter schools, and is intent on crippling the teachers union.

"He is creating a vacuum to bring in the charters. [Emmanuel] always had this Republican attitude for school reform, there's no other way to describe it," says Chicago Alderman John Arena of the city's 41st Ward. "This is probably one of the worst approaches to [school reform] I can imagine."

One of the biggest issues to emerge is violence. …

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