Monroe: Trumbull Elementary Among 50 CPS Schools Closing
Protesters outside of CPS headquarters. (Photo/Josclynn Brandon)
By Joe Ruppel
The Red Line Project
Posted: Thursday, May 23, 2013
When James Morgan left CPS headquarters Wednesday, distraught after the Board of Education voted to close 50 neighborhood schools, his mind was on his oldest son, a fourth-grade special education student at Trumbull Elementary.
For Morgan’s son, navigating his surroundings is an exercise in consistency and recognition. The close proximity between the Morgans’ home and Trumbull in Andersonville is what makes his trek to school possible.
But that will soon change as Trumbull is among the schools Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s appointed board voted to close. CPS plans to transition Morgan’s son and other Trumbull students to McCutcheon next year – more than a mile away from his current school.
“If I dropped my son off in front of McCutcheon, he would not know how to get home,” said Morgan, the Local School Council chair at Trumbull.
City officials struggled to keep up with the hundreds of Chicagoans who showed up at CPS headquarters Wednesday morning for the Board of Education meeting.
As the meeting began, dozens of people chanting “Let us in!” pressed against the glass doors of 125 S. Clark, barred from the meeting as officials said even the overflow room was at capacity. However, as news that there were dozens of open seats shot across social media, observers were slowly allowed to trickle into the supposedly at-capacity room.
“This is truly underutilized,” Sonia Kwon, co-director of Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education tweeted from the overflow room.
Inside the board room, the needs of special education students like Morgan’s son continued to be a contentious point of debate in the legitimacy of the utilization formula–the tool used by the Commission on School Utilization to determine which schools should be closed–and the school closures.
Critics argued high enrollments of special education students skewed the formula because greater resources and space are required by law to be provided for them.
Ali Burke, a Trumbull LSC member and parent, addressed the Board of Education, echoing what she had been saying at meetings for months.
“We have 146 students currently in our SPED program and those children’s progress depends on consistent and routine behavior,” Burke said. “Moving those children and splitting them is detrimental to their progress.”
After that, all Burke could do was wait, as he had waited for months while the schools on the CPS hit list dwindled from 129 to 80 to 54, then to the final 50, hoping each cut would spare Trumbull. Now seated next to her school community, she waited for the 60 public speakers to finish, for CPS to make a statement, for the vote, and for the future of her preschooler’s future education to be decided.
“I can’t remember seeing such a public outcry in defense of neighborhood schools,” Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd) said from the podium. “I’m worried that all those hearings were a charade. I don’t believe the mayor ever attended a hearing.”
“I would hope whatever decision you make today you can live with,” Karen Lewis, CTU President, told the board. “History will judge you.”
Jeanne Olson, who launched the Apples to Apples study, which recalculated utilization formulas spoke to the board about the discrepancy between the findings.
Trumbull was determined to be 54 percent utilized by the CPS appointed commission, while the Apples to Apples study, backed by Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education, found the school 88.4 percent utilized after taking special education students and other factors into account.
“Is this a margin of error we’re comfortable with?” Olson asked.
Much of the discrepancy is due to CPS considering any classroom with less than 30 students underutilized, while special education students, 37 percent of Trumbull’s enrollment, require smaller classrooms.
“Don’t let bad data drive regrettable, irreversible decisions,” Olson said.
Observers in the overflow room cheered as speakers defended neighborhood schools and excoriated the closings over the televised feed from the boardroom. Several times the audio was muted and the camera cut away when unscheduled speakers attempted to take the podium.
CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett addresses the school board. (Photo/Joe Ruppel)
Over multiple protests, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett made a statement, citing the district’s $1 billion deficit and under-enrollment as causes for the closures.
“The status quo is not working for all of Chicago’s children. The greatest challenge facing our school system is that tens of thousands of students are trapped in underutilized schools,” Byrd-Bennett said.
CPS presented updates to the “living” transition plans, that included aided transportation for special education students, as well as renovations and reviews of services. According to the CPS transition plan, McCutcheon, where Morgan’s son has been placed, is currently “not accessible” to persons with disabilities.
When members of the Board of Education spoke, they chastised community members for being disrespectful and difficult to work with, but promised that the move to close schools was in the best interest of Chicago’s students.
“Those who say that no funds will be saved by closing underutilized schools are simply wrong. They just don’t know any economics,” board member Henry Bienen said.
“Listening doesn’t mean we will always agree,” board member Andrea Zopp said.
At long last, the wait for Burke, Morgan, and thousands of other parents, teachers, and students ended. Four schools were spared from closure: Garvey, Mahalia Jackson, Ericson, and Manierre. The rest–50 in total–were slashed en-masse with board President David Vitale’s words “Apply the last favorable roll call.”
At that moment the loss of Trumbull became a reality for the Andersonville community. Burke took a tissue from her purse to dry her eyes and embraced Wendy Kattan of Raise Your Hand sitting beside her.
“I was just shocked it ended up in one vote,” Burke said. “Half the people are still up there and don’t understand what just happened because they didn’t even give us the courtesy of saying our school’s name.”
“I thought we had a 50-50 chance. I thought maybe we’d be OK. Great things are happening at Trumbull everyday,” Morgan said.
“They got it wrong,” Burke said. “Our neighborhood depended on this school.”
“We have to let the kids know things are going to be okay, even though they may not,” Morgan said. “They cannot feel this pressure. They have to be able to keep learning.”