By Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah
3:10 PM CST, November 26, 2012
Trying to help sell drastic school closings this year, Chicago Public Schools is planning to commit to a five-year moratorium on shuttering schools starting in fall 2013. New schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced the commitment to a moratorium Monday at a City Club luncheon.
The moratorium may help CPS convince state legislators in the veto session to sign onto a four-month extension on announcing this year's list of school closings.
A 2010 state law requires the district to release the list of school closings every year by Dec. 1. But CPS officials have asked for an extension to March 31 and have said they will issue the 5-year moratorium should the Illinois General Assembly grant the extension request. Byrd-Bennett plans to be in Springfield Tuesday lobbying for the extension.
In a statement, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that with a commission appointed by Chicago Byrd-Bennett parents will be more involved in any proposed changes to the district this year.
"After this year, I have directed CPS to implement a moratorium on CPS facility closures, ending unnecessary disruption to students and parents and bringing stability to our schools,” said Emanuel.
"In the past, there has been too much uncertainty around changes to our schools: year after year, Chicago Public Schools did not do an adequate job of engaging communities in these critical decisions, and year after year students, families and communities were left wondering of what was to come. That ends this year."
The moratorium comes out of the mayor's office. District officials said Monday Emanuel wishes to implement a vigorous school closing plan this year and then give communities "peace of mind" for the next five years.
"Mayor Emanuel recognizes that for many years CPS has made too many piecemeal decisions around school actions, which has caused unnecessary disruption to students, parents and schools across our city," said Byrd-Bennett in a press release. "Once we execute a final, comprehensive plan to address the utilization issues facing our district, the Mayor has requested that we implement this moratorium as we believe this will bring stability to our school communities, and I will personally commit to ensuring that this is a commitment CPS keeps."
CPS officials argue that with a $1 billion deficit for next year and almost 140 schools half empty, they need to close under-used schools. Sources have said the district plans to close between 80 to 120 schools this year — a number CPS officials continue to deny.
CPS has said it needs the extra time to engage the community around school closing actions. Byrd-Bennett this month formed a commission to study the issue and recommend school closings this year. That commission is holding its first public meeting this afternoon at UIC Forum.
Critics have charged the extension only seeks to delay announcing this year’s school closings, making it harder for community groups to launch a united opposition.
Meanwhile, the Chicago Teachers Union has called for a moratorium on all school closings — including this year's — until an independent body can study the financial and social impacts of school closings. The union disputes that the district can save up to $800,000 for closing a school and says shutting a school building has negative effects on students' education. Critics also argue that neighborhood schools are often closed down to make room for privately run charter schools that take over many of the buildings.
Byrd-Bennett's commission is to submit written recommendations in March. CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said it's unknown how much of the report Byrd-Bennett will accept.