CHICAGO (AP) — The city of Chicago has begun informing teachers, principals and local officials about which public schools it intends to close under a contentious plan that opponents say will disproportionately affect minority students in the nation’s third largest school district, teachers said Thursday.
Chicago Public Schools hasn’t said how many schools or students will be affected, but administrators identified up to 129 schools that could be shuttered, saying many serve too few students to justify remaining open. Administrators say the schools that are closed will cut costs for the district, which faces a $1 billion budget shortfall, and allow it to better funnel resources to its students.
The pending closures, which are expected to fall far short of 129, have been the subject of highly charged community meetings all over the city. Critics say that, among other things, the closures will threaten the safety of students who may have to cross gang boundaries if their schools are closed and that they will cause major inconveniences for families.
The proposed closings have led to yet another clash between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Teachers Union over the direction of the city’s schools. The union’s 26,000 teachers went on strike a week into the new school year last fall during a contract impasse with the city. The strike idled roughly 350,000 students for seven days before a bargain was struck. Emanuel has also clashed with the union over his push for lengthening the school day.
At Lafayette Elementary, a school in the Humboldt Park neighborhood where 95 percent of its 483 students come from low-income families, the principal read teachers a letter from the district Thursday saying the school is among those it plans to close, said teacher Rosemary Maurello.
The message said a final decision would be made in May after more community meetings are held and budget plans are reviewed. But Maurello said letters and information packets were already being sent to parents, and the district’s message to teachers included a mention of specific plans to move the Lafayette students to another school about 10 blocks away.
“It sounds like a done deal to me,” Maurello said.
Like many teachers, she is worried about where her students will end up. As a tenured teacher, the contract allows her to follow her students to their new school, but she wonders if some of them will opt to go to other schools instead.
The district has plans for community organizations to help students get to their new locations safely, but Maurello wonders how long that will last.
“I truly believe that it’s going to be chaos,” she said.
Many of the schools targeted for possible closure are in parts of south and west Chicago that are beset by gang violence and that have the highest homicide rates, leading to concerns for the safety of students who might have to enter areas farther from home to get to their new schools. Chicago registered more than 500 homicides last year for the first time since 2008.
Chicago Public Schools has until March 31 to announce which of the 129 schools it will close.
After published reports late Wednesday said the announcement would occur Thursday, a CPS spokeswoman said she could not confirm that information. The district released a one paragraph statement from CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett that reiterated that the announcement would be soon.
“For too long children in certain parts of Chicago have been cheated out of the resources they need to succeed in the classroom because they are in underutilized, under resourced schools,” Byrd-Bennett said in the statement.
The district did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
The list will not be final until the Chicago Board of Education votes on it in late May.
The Chicago Teachers Union, which has vigorously fought the closure plans, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.
Associated Press writer Jason Keyser contributed to this report.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.