CHICAGO (CBS) — Gov. Pat Quinn has signed legislation extending the deadline for the Chicago Public Schools to submit a list of school closings from Saturday to March 31.
The move gives school officials four more months to decide where to make cuts in the number of schools the system operates.
CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett thanked the governor for signing the measure.
“We look forward to the independent Commission on School Reform continuing its work and providing us with recommendations to implement a comprehensive plan to right-size our District so we may direct more resources to the classroom to support our students and their growth,” Byrd-Bennett said.
She has said the district has about 140 schools that are sitting half-empty, and the district needs to close some of those schools to save money.
Byrd-Bennett told lawmakers earlier this week that pushing back the deadline would give the district more time to get input from parents and the community about which schools should close.
Chicago Teachers Union members and community activists also traveled to Springfield this week to urge lawmakers not to extend the deadline, and to ask for at least a year’s delay on all school closings.
However, lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the delay during their veto session this week, sending the measure to Quinn, who signed off on Friday.
Bennett has pledged a five-year moratorium on school closings starting next fall, but has said some existing schools would have to be shuttered before the moratorium would start, in large part because of the number of low-enrollment schools.
“The fiscal reality facing the Chicago Public Schools is a billion-dollar deficit, and it dictates that we not … hesitate to make difficult decisions,” Bennett told lawmakers this week.
However, CTU has argued the district’s problems with low-enrollment schools was the result of its own policies. The union released a study Friday that it said showed many low-enrollment schools are the result of CPS opening charter schools near existing neighborhood schools, depleting the student populations in those schools. As a result, those neighborhood schools wind up being half-empty, and targeted for closure.
“These policies are going to increase educational segregation. Educational segregation does not produce better results, it produces worse results,” CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said Friday.
Byrd-Bennett defended the district, saying it simply has too many empty seats, and not enough students. She promised the community will have a say in any plans to close schools before next school year.
CPS officials have repeatedly denied reports that the district has a list of up to 120 schools that could be closed after this school year, and insisted they will engage parents and the community before closing any schools.