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Byrd-Bennett: Children Suffer More If Low-Enrollment Schools Left Open

(Credit: Thinkstock)

(Credit: Thinkstock)

dellimore250 Craig Dellimore
Craig Dellimore, political editor for WBBM, joined the station in 1983...
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CHICAGO (CBS) – The head of the Chicago Public Schools said Tuesday, despite what critics say, closing some underused or poorly performing schools would be better for the children in them in the long run.

WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports CPS has until March 31 to issue its list of schools that will be closed or consolidated at the end of the school year.

CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett said the list will be finalized within a week or so, and then parents and others can react and ask questions.

“I simply know that we’ve deferred these decisions – these kinds of decisions – far too long, and I believe that the longer we defer them, children suffer far deeper consequences than they will after imposed consolidations,” she added.

Byrd-Bennett spoke to Newsradio at Willa Cather Elementary School, a woefully underutilized, but high-quality school on the West Side. She said she hopes students from a suffering school might end up coming to Cather, to boost enrollment.

The deadline for the school closing list was originally set for Dec. 1, but state lawmakers extended the deadline, after the district said it needed more time to decide how many schools would have to be shut down or consolidated due to low enrollment or poor performance.

“When we were granted the extension, it seemed like a long time, and now that we’re actually living in it, it isn’t,” she said. “And now we are really at crunch time. March 31st is our deadline, and so I have been having far less sleep as we read through all of the transcripts, all of the documents from our community engagement sessions.”

From late January through early March, CPS hosted a series of community meetings to discuss a preliminary list of schools facing possible closure — initially a total of 330, later whittled down to 129 — as the district seeks ways to close a $1 billion budget shortfall. Those schools were targeted due to low enrollment. The final list is due by March 31.

After those meetings concluded, a school closings commission Byrd-Bennett issued a final report stating CPS has the capacity to close or consolidate approximately 80 schools.

The Chicago Teachers Union has criticized the list of possible school closings, stating nearly half of the targeted schools are in African-American communities. The union also has questioned whether the district can ensure the safety of students who would end up going to schools in different neighborhoods than their current school.

CPS has unveiled a security plan, promising students won’t have to walk more than four-fifths of a mile to their new school, or else buses will be provided.

As for Illinois lawmakers who have proposed a two-year moratorium on school closings in Chicago, Byrd-Bennett said, “I haven’t really given that much thought to that part of the equation.”

State Sen. William Delgado (D-Chicago), who heads the Senate Education Committee, has sponsored proposed legislation to place a two-year moratorium on school closings in Chicago starting at the end of this school year. The Education Committee was scheduled to discuss that measure at 1 p.m. in Springfield, and a group of 50 parents, teachers and students from Chicago Public Schools has traveled to the Illinois State Capitol for that hearing — a trip organized by CTU.