CHICAGO (CBS) — Next week, Chicago Public Schools officials will release a tentative list of schools it is targeting for closure, after which it will hold a series of public hearings to get feedback from parents and the community.
The move comes after an independent commission issued a preliminary report Thursday recommending which schools should stay open, and which should be considered for closure. The panel was appointed by CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett to study each of the district’s schools.
The commission held series of public meetings before issuing its preliminary report. Byrd-Bennett told CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine she’ll hold another series of public meetings across the city to get public feedback about individual schools before making any final decisions.
She said the meetings will give the public and individual schools the opportunity to show that their facilities don’t need to be closed.
“I want to hear from them, and I want to know,” she said, acknowledging she can’t know what’s going on at every school from her office at CPS headquarters.
CPS is facing a $1 billion budget shortfall, and is looking to cut costs by closing schools that are sitting half-empty, or are underachieving. Byrd-Bennett said it’s frustrating to have many of its schools with so much unused space.
“I walk into buildings, I see classrooms where there aren’t any children in them,” Byrd-Bennett said.
One such school is Willa Cather Elementary School at 2908 W. Washington Blvd.
“Our whole school is actually located here on the first floor,” Principal Hattie King said. “The second floor is completely empty.”
A special commission appointed to review possible Chicago public school closures has recommended the highest-performing “Level 1” schools like Cather not be closed. Byrd Bennett said she agreed with that assessment.
“I think that schools that are doing really well, we probably ought to leave them alone, learn from them,” she said.
Within three or four blocks from Cather are several other only partially-filled elementary schools. So, rather than closing Cather, it’s a good bet that its now-empty second floor classrooms could be full come next fall, with students from other nearby schools.
“If you have a thriving culture in a school, I think it’s much easier to build on that thriving culture,” King said. “We’d be happy to have additional kids come in, and to bring them in, incorporate them into the things that we do and the culture that we have.”
The commission also has recommended the Chicago Public Schools not close any of its high schools, and keep any school with more than 600 students open. The report also recommends keeping open schools that were recently consolidated, or designated for “academic turnaround.”
The commission will make a final report in March. CPS must issue a list of schools to be closed by the end of March.