Reporting Bob Roberts
CHICAGO (CBS) – The City of Chicago, which plans to close dozens of schools this summer to save money, has received 11,000 requests for help getting children to their new schools along safe-passage routes and will hire 600 adults to work along the routes.
It’s an expansion of the board’s existing Operation Safe Passage, and school board spokesperson Becky Carroll said it will roughly double the size of the program, raising its budget to $15 million a year.
Carroll said parents at more than 40 schools receiving students from closed schools have had a chance to see the proposed safe routes and have given their input.
The program is similar to initiatives in New York and Los Angeles.
Carroll said the board is in negotiations with 47 community groups that have expressed an interest in training and overseeing the adults, who will be paid $10 an hour for up to six hours of work each day schools are in session.
She said each adult is expected to know the neighborhood, its streets and its problems. Hiring will begin next month.
In May, the Chicago Board of Education voted to close 50 schools and programs, the largest number of closings at any one time by any school district in recent memory, according to many experts.
The plan sparked protests and lawsuits from opponents who say the school closures disproportionately affect minority neighborhoods and will endanger children who may have to cross gang boundaries to get to a new school.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his schools chief, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, have acknowledged the danger of mixing young people from different neighborhoods. Byrd-Bennett agreed in January not to close any high schools. And the district consulted maps of gang lines when choosing where to send elementary students whose schools were closing.
In a parallel effort, Chicago officials are inspecting hundreds of vacant buildings along the school routes, said city Buildings Commissioner Michael Merchant, who has asked the public to report vacant buildings along school routes, so inspectors can secure them. Some buildings have been referred for possible demolition.