CHICAGO (STMW) — A hearing on 21 proposed new Chicago Public Schools charters drew at least 300 people to CPS headquarters on a snowy Monday evening, with supporters and opponents equally passionate about the need to propel or quash charter efforts.

“I feel like I’m in the twilight zone, because last year we had a billion-dollar deficit, and the district said we must close 51 schools. This year, we have a $950 million deficit and the district wants to open 31 new charters in two years,” said Wendy Katten, of the citywide CPS parents advocacy group Raise Your Hand. “This is absurd, and fiscally irresponsible.”

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Katten echoed the sentiments of many opponents of the 21 charter proposals CPS announced last week, which, if approved, would join 10 charters already approved by the board for next fall, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

But parents supporting the charters were just as adamant that they are needed.

“Chicago public schools have been down and dilapidated for a long time. If they were up to par, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. We need a change, and I urge you to approve Concept Schools’ Horizon Science Academy in Chatham,” said parent Anita Westbrook.

Concept Schools, among nine charter operators proposing the 21 schools, seemed to have the largest contingent of supporters, a sea of folks wearing blue T-shirts emblazoned with the logo filling one of the two hearing chambers at CPS headquarters.

Concept has heavy-hitter support, as part of Fellowship Baptist Church’s redevelopment of the historic Johnson Products site in Chatham.

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Fellowship’s pastor, the Rev. Charles Jenkins, and a number of prominent church ministers and community activists also came to support the proposal.

During more than three hours of testimony, charter operators and parent and teacher supporters they brought with them extolled the benefits of proposals by Asian Human Services Passages; Be the Change; Chicago Education Partnership; Connected Futures Academy; Curtis-Sharif STEM Academy; Great Lakes Academy; Intrinsic Schools; and Noble Network.

“I met Dr. Umrani when I was just a young girl in the eighth grade, and a participant of the Early Outreach program at UIC. To date, I have earned my master’s degree. Dr. Umrani will bring to the Curtis-Sharif STEM Academy a purpose for educating and inspiring inner-city youth to realize their potential,” Symone Young said of Curtis-Sharif founder Deborah Umrani.

The 21 charters, including elementary, high schools and at least one alternative school, are proposed for neighborhoods including Belmont Cragin, Chatham, McKinley Park/Bridgeport, Austin and South Shore. But CPS says it’s prioritizing six areas throughout the city that are overcrowded, including Ashburn, Belmont Cragin, Chicago Lawn and McKinley Park.

The Chicago Teachers Union said the union doesn’t believe more charters are needed. The board will vote on the proposals in January.

“I am against chartered schools because they are taking away resources from the public schools and taking the brightest students. Don’t close the public schools. Improve them,” said Sandra Brinson, of North Lawndale.

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(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2013. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)