Updated 03/27/13 – 2:17 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Rahm Emanuel staunchly defended his administration’s plan to close more than 50 schools, as well as the head of the Chicago Public Schools, as thousands planned to gather downtown to protest school closings.
WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports the mayor said CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett is not trying to do what is politically easy by planning the closure or consolidation of 53 schools at the end of the school year.
“Yes, it’s difficult, and yes it has to be done sensitively and thoughtfully; but every child has a potential to achieve great things, and the question for all of us as adults is whether we live up to our responsibility to give them a chance,” he said.
The Chicago Teachers Union has organized a protest rally starting at Daley Plaza at 4 p.m. Wednesday, before marching to City Hall and CPS headquarters to voice opposition to the school closings. Organizers have said they expect thousands of parents, students and teachers to take part.
While the mayor didn’t directly address CTU President Karen Lewis’ description of him last week as “the murder mayor” – for, in her words, killing schools and housing – he seemed to allude to her heated criticism of him.
“I’m interested in ideas, not insults,” he said. “Do you have an idea that would ensure that 56 percent of the African-American male adolescents don’t drop out? Ideas are what matter, not insults. Do you have an idea of how to move not only our graduation rate, but our college attendance?”
Some critics have labeled the school closings plan as racist, since most of the schools targeted are in African-American neighborhoods, but the mayor insisted it would be unconscionable not to do something about the poorly-performing schools on the West and South Sides.
“Forty-four percent of African-American males are graduating; 56 are dropping out,” he said. “Yet the city has got 61 percent graduation rate, and climbing. And yet we have to make the changes to give every child the potential.”
Emanuel said the school closings plan is the right thing to do for the students who will be displaced. The district is seeking to close or consolidate 53 schools and 61 buildings, because they are either half-empty, performing poorly, or both.
He said leaving children in failing schools would be unacceptable.
“Keeping open a school that is falling short year-in and year-out means we haven’t done what we are responsible for; not what our parents did for us and what we owe every child in the city of Chicago,” he said.
Asked if he would heed calls to delay the school closings, Emanuel said action on inadequate and low-enrollment schools already has been delayed far too long.