Closing schools—the Hunger Games, Chicago style

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Mayor Emanuel delivered the public schools of Chicago—and all their students, parents and teachers—a staggering one-two blow yesterday.

In the morning, the mayor's aldermanic puppets hit them low—below the belt, actually—by sending a resolution calling for a moratorium on charters to the Rules Committee, where it will undoubtedly die without a hearing, much less a vote.

Thus leaving the mayor free to dole out even more money to his charter cronies and political supporters so that they're free in turn to dole out more money to their own chums.

Here, read all about that. Once again, great job, Mr. Mihalopoulos—you are on a roll!

And then in the afternoon, the mayor finally released his long-awaited list of grammar school closings—129 in total, or about 27 percent of the 472 grammar schools in Chicago.

You might say that Mayor Emanuel's determined to get out of the business of public education, at least on the south and west sides, where most of the closings are concentrated.

It's not clear what the mayor's endgame in all of this is. He says he wants to save money by closing underutilized schools. Fair enough. But the controversial metrics he uses to define underutilized are fixed so that hundreds of schools could fit the bill. And the money he'll save by closing schools is relatively paltry—once you calculate the cost of transferring teachers, moving kids, mothballing buildings, etc. It certainly can’t be worth this turmoil.

Certainly, it's a spoonful of savings in what he calls a school debt of $1 billion, if that debt's real. And, of course, you could find the money you need to keep these schools open by dipping into the TIF slush fund—$1.4 billion and counting.

Why, they could probably hire art, drama and music teachers in every school just by taking the $29.5 million he wants to give to some of the world's richest developers to build an upscale skyscraper in one of the wealthiest corners of town.

That's why I keep telling you, folks—you got to keep an eye on those TIFs.

At the very least, it's not a good idea to close dozens of schools in high-crime areas when we're in the middle of a crime wave—over 500 people murdered last year. That only forces kids to cross rival gang lines by changing schools.

Well, as the mayor points out, this school-closing list is only preliminary. His final list comes out in March.

That means another round of hearings where parents and teacher and students get yet another chance to beg and plead and cry and wail and throw themselves at the mercy of their all-powerful mayor.

The school communities that wail the loudest will be saved. The rest? Off with their heads!

Think of it as Chicago's own version of the Hunger Games, with Mayor Emanuel in the role played by Donald Sutherland.

In the meantime, the message to any young person thinking of coming here to pursue a career in teaching is this: don't come! Not unless you want to subject yourself to days of uncertainty as you worry if the job you have today will be around tomorrow.

And all the while, the mayor gets to dole out those charter contracts. What's not to love about the charters? They pay their teachers less. As we all know, cheap labor is what makes education great.

A group of aldermen—including Rick Munoz, Pat Dowell, Robert Fioretti and Matt O'Shea—wanted to slow the charter handouts with a moratorium on conversions. That would allow the council's education committee to hold hearings, where CPS officials could explain and justify their charter policies.

But by dumping the moratorium resolution in the Rules Committee—which is chaired by Alderman Richard Mell—the mayor has effectively killed it. "I asked Alderman Mell when he was going to hold a hearing," says Fioretti. "And he said, 'yeah, right.'"

Let the Hunger Games begin, Chicago!

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