49th Ward residents ask alderman to oppose charter schools

Hundreds of North Side residents are asking their alderman, Joe Moore, to publicly oppose the opening of future charter schools in Chicago's 49th ward.

On Sunday night, the residents gathered at the Willye White Field House to discuss several issues, including charter schools. The Northside POWER group, which hosted the meeting, invited Moore, but spokeswoman Kristi Sanford said Moore told the group he was out of town.

When reached by phone late Sunday night, Moore, who was attending the National League of Cities meeting in Washington D.C., said he would not likely ever entirely oppose future charter schools in his ward, although he did vote in support of a moratorium on charter school expansion for the 2014-2015 school year, as Chicago Public Schools proposes to close more than 100 schools.

Sandford said the resolution doesn't mean much, because it is non-binding.

"We've been talking to (Moore) all week," Sanford said. "He supports the moratorium, but he has the opportunity to make a commitment to us publicly. However, he has yet to make that commitment."

Because of Moore's absence at the meeting, hundreds of people, spanning blocks, marched to Moore's house several blocks away, planting 582 small, yellow flags in his yard. The number of flags represented the number of students currently enrolled at Stephen F Gale Elementary School who would have been affected had the Chicago Public Schools not recently taken Gale off its potential closure list.

Moore said a long waiting list at the Chicago Math and Science Academy in his ward means some parents feel the schools have been successful. Some parents also feel that the public school options available to them aren't sufficient, he said.

Moore said he wants his residents – at all income levels – to have the opportunity to send their children to an excellent school. He said with more quality charter schools that could be more likely to happen.

"Who am I to say to a low-income family that: 'You know what, just wait, maybe someday the schools in my neighborhood will improve to the point where you feel comfortable sending your child there,' " Moore said. "Why shouldn't they have the same kind of options for their kids that middle income and upper income families have in my community?"

North Side residents at the public meeting said having competing schools would only segregate students further.

"Education is not a business," Bridget Harris, one of the group's founding leaders said. "Our children should not be treated like bags of potato chips or soap. Our children are not for sale."

This school year, UNO Charter Schools Network opened a K-8 charter school in the historic St. Scholastica Academy building in the Rogers Park neighborhood. When UNO signed a lease with the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago to open the elementary school last summer, Chief Executive Juan Rangel told the Tribune: "Rogers Park is a community we know, and it's a place we want to be. We're not going to allow political agendas to get in the way of what we're trying to do."

Some North Side residents believe that having more charter schools could mean fewer resources for public schools. They also worry that without union affiliation, teachers and parents would have less voice in their students' education. For some parents, charter schools aren't an option because in some cases, they're too expensive, Harris said.

Samantha Wright, a Rogers Park mother of three and a full-time college student, had enrolled her children in Passages Charter School after they had trouble with bullies at Gale. She had to pull them out, she said, because the cost of sending them to the charter was too great.

"I had to pay $325 a year for them to go there," Wright said, the total she paid for all three children.

Now, a frustrated Wright said, her children are back at Gale.

Moore said that with future charter schools, it might be possible for more lower-income students to attend. Becky Carroll, chief communications officer for CPS, said charter schools don't cost more to attend. Additionally, the fee Wright referred to at the meeting Sunday night is a $75 annual fee per student, that goes toward things such as field trips and science fairs, Patricia Yadgir, vice president of School Programs for American Quality Schools said. She also pointed out that Passages offers assistance to some students who needs help paying the fee.

Wright said she wants to send her kids to a quality, affordable, bully-free school where she has a say in their education.

"(Gale) would be a lot better if it had better resources," Wright said. "We live in a neighborhood where a lot of people are poor and are just getting by."

ehirst@tribune.com

Twitter: @ellenjeanhirst

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