Monroe: Trumbull Elementary Hearing on CPS Closing
Parents, teachers and community members attend a public meeting at CPS headquarters
on Friday on behalf of Trumbull Elementary school. (Photo/Joe Ruppel)
By Joe Ruppel
The Red Line Project
Posted: Saturday, April 27, 2013
Maria Jordan struggled to hold back sobs as she spoke at a public meeting at CPS headquarters on Friday in defense of her school.
“When the 2012 school year began, you could feel a new life growing in the air around us,” Jordan, a kindergarten teacher at Trumbull, said at the meeting. “ A new school, a new community, a new family was forming at Trumbull.”
Trumbull’s new life however, may be snuffed out before the school takes a rejuvenated breath.
The North Side elementary school in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood is one of 54 that CPS plans to shut down this year to deal with a $1 billion deficit and what CPS sees as inefficient education.
“Give us time to grow and shine and we’ll show you that our plan is better than yours,” Jordan said, holding back tears at the meeting.
If approved on May 22 by the Chicago school board, the closings will be the largest in U.S. history. Communities across Chicago organized to protest the closings throughout the year, which culminated in a massive rally on March 27 outside CPS headquarters.
A month later, the interior of the CPS central office was occupied as well by deeply concerned teachers, parents, and community members representing Trumbull Elementary at a scheduled public meeting rife with emotion, in what may be the community’s last effort to plead their case.
Earlier this year, Trumbull, along with 129 other elementary schools, was marked underutilized by the CPS appointed Commission on School Utilization. The commission made its conclusion based on a formula that was reiterated at the public meeting, which calculated Trumbull at 54 percent utilized.
The utilization formula counts 76 percent of the total rooms in a school as homerooms and multiples the allotted homerooms by 30, the expected number of students per homeroom to calculate the ideal enrollment for the school. Plus or minus 20 percent of the ideal enrollment is accepted as the efficiency range. Schools below the efficiency range are classified as underutilized and those above it as overcrowded.
According to CPS data, Trumbull has an ideal enrollment of 720 students with an efficiency range between 576 and 864. The 2012 twentieth-day enrollment for Trumbull was 389. Speakers at the meeting criticized the twentieth-day enrollment number because since the beginning of the year Trumbull has increased to over 400 students.
Nearly every speaker from the Trumbull community at Friday's meeting fiercely debated the utilization formula. The chief criticism was the formula’s assumption of 30 students per classroom, which James Morgan, LSC chair for Trumbull Elementary, said was not applicable to the school because of its high enrollment of special education students.
Trumbull’s 146 special education students, 37 percent of its total enrollment, is one of the largest in Chicago. By Illinois law, class sizes for special education students cannot exceed 14 students.
In an appeal to the school board, Trumbull recalculated its utilization rate with the help of Illinois Raise Your Hand for Public Education, taking into account its special education population and found the school was 88.4 percent utilized. Of the 18 schools that appealed the CPS findings, Trumbull was the only school to not receive a reply.
If Trumbull closes, students will be sent to Chappell, McPherson, or McCutcheon elementary schools next year, however Morgan criticized plans to transition special education students based on the CPS draft transition plan.
The transition plan states that Chappell and McPherson are only “minimally accessible” and McCutcheon is “not accessible” to persons with disabilities according to the Americans with Disabilities Act. The plan also says that additional training will be required for the school staffs to work with special education students.
“I would beg and plead on behalf of the 146 special education students, three of which were received as new students at Trumbull on March 15, that this be taken into consideration,” Morgan said.
Craig Benes, the Ravenswood-Ridge Network chief, said final transition plans have yet to be published.
“It breaks my heart that students with disabilities were not even counted,” Trumbull parent Lisa Jones said.
Martin Ritter, an organizer for the Chicago Teachers’ Union accused CPS and the school board of using a “supply and demand formula” to “manufacture a crisis” in an effort to close neighborhood schools and open charters.
A School on Trial
When Leroy Blummert, an Edgewater community activist, took the podium, he used his allotted two minutes to turn the public meeting into a public trial.
“One good way of looking at this process is to view it as a legal proceeding in which Trumbull is the accused,” Blummert said.
The prosecution has advanced two charges, Blummert said.
“One is [Trumbull] is underutilized under a formula that the prosecution developed that isn’t a part of any law. And two, that it would require $16.3 million to maintain and update,” Blummert said.
“The defense has conclusively demonstrated that not only is the utilization formula faulty, but the application to Trumbull is faulty as well,” Blummert said.
The defense has asked for a breakdown of the specific costs to maintain Trumbull and has not received it, Blummert said. Under discovery, if a prosecution fails to provide the defense with that information, the case should be dismissed, he said.
“We’ve all heard of Johnnie Cochran’s phrase ‘if it doesn’t fit, you [must] acquit.’ He was talking about a glove, we’re talking about facts,” Blummert said. “Facts have been put forward. The facts do not fit. Trumbull should be acquitted and it should be allowed to remain open.”
After the meeting, Andersonville community member Mark Miller felt optimistic about the school’s future.
“Every third party that’s reviewed Trumbull’s case has disagreed with the decision to close it,” Miller said.
However, those third parties have not had the authority to influence CPS. But before the school board votes on May 22, an independent hearing officer has to review the evidence and conclude whether CPS complied with the law and Illinois school code. Unlike the other parties, the hearing officer has the authority to rule in favor of Trumbull remaining open.