The Chicago Plan Commission voted Oct. 17, to rezone a closed lumberyard near Prosser Career Academy in order to build a new $20 million charter school in that section of Austin.
Noble Charter School would be built across the street from Prosser, 2148 N. Long.
But opponents of the proposed, open-enrollment school fear for students’ safety due to likely increases in traffic on that busy street. They also fear increased gang conflicts from the sheer number of teens in such close proximity.
About 1,500 high school students attend Prosser, according to Chicago Public Schools. Local School Council members at Prosser have been critical of how Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) has handled the matter.
Prosser teacher and LSC member Kassandra Tsitsopoulos said teachers expressed their concerns at the alderman’s ward night on Sept. 30. Mitts told the teachers she supported opening a new charter school, Tsitsopoulos recalled. Mitts, a long time community member of Prosser’s LSC, resigned that post the night before the LSC’s Oct. 8 meeting.
In an emailed statement to AustinTalks, Mitts said she resigned due to the remapping of the 37th Ward, which takes Prosser out of the area she represents. Mitts said she supports the addition of the charter school because Prosser is overcrowded and has a waiting list of 3,000 students.
But others say there’s plenty of room at surrounding high schools for students living in the area.
The 37th Ward has 14 grade schools that feed into two high schools, only one of which is within ward boundaries, according to Mitts.
“We appreciate Prosser, but it can’t be the only option we can build upon in the future,” Mitts said in her email.
Because of district remapping of all 50 aldermanic wards, both schools will be in Ald. Nicholas Sposato’s 36th Ward.
Sposato has said he opposes the new charter school because of the negative impact it could have on Prosser. More than 700 signatures have been collected on a petition opposing the charter high school.
One of the signers, Araceli Carrasco, had children attend Prosser since 2006. Two have since gone on to college, including her daughter who is in her third year of nursing school.
Carrasco’s son, Michael Ruiz, is a Prosser senior and captain of the school’s water polo team; he wants to go into the medical field.
The school is helping prepare him for college, Carrasco said, adding that the teachers’ dedication has helped him build character. Carrasco contends that she’s never had to worry about her children’s safety.
Carrasco stressed that she’s not opposed to charter schools in general, but she doesn’t think there should be one right across the street from a successful public high school.
The mostly Hispanic-enrolled school has an 83 percent graduation rate compared to a 65 percent rate for CPS schools overall, according to CPS data. Carrasco isn’t sure why the charter school is interested in that location.
“Why there? Prosser has been a good school. Why so close? Why put funds there when we’ve been asking for funds?” she said. Prosser’s budget was cut by roughly a million dollars this year, according to CPS data.
The new charter school would be built without the use of public funds and will provide jobs for local residents, according to Mitts,
With the plan commission’s approval last Thursday, the zoning request now moves to the city council’s zoning committee and will ultimately need approval from CPS.