Now that Chicago Public Schools has spoken, staff and parents at 16 schools set for closure are scrambling to save their jobs and students from upheaval. CPS announced the closings last week and some faculty and students are expected to be relocated. Some schools will be consolidated or others partially phased out with one grade eliminated each year.
Federico Flores, principal at Peabody Elementary on the West Side, 1444 W. Augusta, which is on the list, said he’s disappointed with the district’s decision to close his school. Despite surpassing stringent federal standards for the last two years, Peabody and five other schools made the chopping block because their enrollment has fallen.
Rather than closing a performing school because it has too few students, Flores insists that the district should support academic success by filling the building.
“Our parents worked hard, our teachers worked hard, our students worked hard to improve our school. So everyone’s going to band together and try to keep our school open,” he said.
CPS began public hearings on the closings this week. Overseen by an independent reviewer who then recommends whether to close the school, the hearings allow concerned parents and faculty to petition the board’s decision. Peabody’s hearing is set for today. Flores said parents and staff are rallying together in hopes of persuading the district to spare them, adding: “I’m sure we’ll be open next year.”
But if the past is any indication, the hearing process might not yield the results supporters are looking for. Since 2002, at least one school has escaped the cut list. But Abbott Elementary on the South Side, which was spared last year, is back on this year’s list. During last week’s announcement, CEO Arne Duncan, recently tapped by President Obama to head the U.S. Department of Education, said the closings are largely a cost-saving measure. Duncan added it’s an effort to combine resources and cut the costs of operating several partially-filled buildings.
According to CPS data available online, Peabody costs around $3.3 million a year to keep open. Similarly, Princeton and South Chicago Elementary, also on the closure list, each cost around $2.8 million a year in salaries, supplies, utilities and maintenance.
The cost savings that comes from closing a school is found mostly in utilities costs, not from academic programs, according to CPS.