U.S. Department of Education officials heard first-hand stories about the impact public school closings and consolidations are having in Chicago at a South Side community meeting held Monday night with parents, students and their supporters.
The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is currently looking into a complaint filed by education activists alleging "racially discriminatory" school actions and closings in Chicago. Organizers with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) and the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School spearheaded the town hall meeting, held at First Unitarian Church of Chicago in Hyde Park. The discussion was designed to allow education department reps to hear directly from the people affected by the school actions cited in the complaint. The two education department officials were at the meeting strictly to listen.
Although a citywide advisory referendum asking Chicagoans whether they support switching to an elected school board has been crowded off the ballot for a third time, education activists have a backup plan.
Parents, teachers and community groups are banding together to place a separate, non-binding question about an elected Chicago Board of Education on the February municipal ballot in each of the city's 50 wards. The coalition, which is unhappy with the policies endorsed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's handpicked school board, officially launched their ward-level referendum drive on Monday.
"While the mayor makes his moves by squashing democracy and disrespecting parents, we will make our moves by knocking on doors and by giving the people [the ability] to do the one thing the mayor's afraid of. We are going to give people the chance to vote for an elected school board," Action Now's Executive Director Katelyn Johnson said at the referendum drive's kick off, held in front of Ronald E. McNair Elementary School in the city's Austin neighborhood. (Back in April, the Chicago Board of Education voted to "turnaround" McNair, which involves firing and replacing all school staffers, to improve its academic performance.)
More than 50 Chicago education activists escalated their fight late Tuesday afternoon to save Bronzeville's Walter H. Dyett High School from closing at the end of this academic year.
Protesters chained themselves together and staged a sit-in outside of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office on the fifth floor of City Hall to demand equity for the 13 remaining seniors at Dyett.
The Chicago Board of Education voted to phase out Dyett in 2012 due to poor academic performance, and the school is slated to close completely in 2015 after its last senior class graduates.
The activists with the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School, a group spearheaded by the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), also urged the Emanuel administration to endorse their community-driven blueprint to keep Dyett open beyond 2015 and offer global leadership and green technology classes at the school, along with other programs involving agricultural sciences and cultural awareness. Community members have been developing the education plan for several years and formally presented it to the school district at the Chicago Board of Education's monthly meeting in April.
Residents of Chicago's 23rd Ward raised concerns about the city's tax increment financing (TIF) program after learning Wednesday evening that millions in economic development funds have yet to be spent in their community.
At the CivicLab's TIF town hall meeting at John F. Kennedy High School, Southwest Side community members learned that the six TIF districts located in the 23rd Ward had about $16.6 million sitting in their collective bank accounts at the end of 2013. Last year alone, the ward's TIF districts collected nearly $2.3 million in property tax revenue, according to the CivicLab's analysis.
Business owner and Southwest Side resident Martin Arteaga, who is running for alderman in the 23rd Ward, attended the meeting.
"There needs to be a lot more clarity and transparency as to where this TIF money is going," he told Progress Illinois. "Here in the 23rd Ward, particularly in the Midway Airport area along Cicero Avenue, you have a bunch of empty lots. We could use some of that money to redevelop that area and actually be able to expand our tax base, because we have thousands of people who pass through going to Midway Airport.
Education activists on Monday renewed their call to keep Bronzeville’s Walter H. Dyett High School open beyond 2015. The group also allege that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials are phoning Dyett’s few existing students and urging them to transfer because the school may be shuttered earlier than planned.
The demonstrators also called on the Emanuel administration to support more community involvement in CPS school reforms.