Hours before the Chicago Teachers Union was set to lead a protest in the Loop, Mayor Rahm Emanuel today said the time for negotiations is over and he's moving forward on a plan to close 54 schools.
The plan unveiled last week to shut down 53 elementary schools and one high school program has fueled a fresh round of opposition from aldermen and community leaders. A group of African-American ministers today delivered a letter to City Hall calling for a halt to school closings
Asked repeatedly at an unrelated news conference whether he's willing to negotiate before an expected final vote on school closings by the Board of Education in late May, Emanuel instead said he's going to concentrate on working with Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett to enact the plan.
"Barbara and I met yesterday, and we'll be meeting also as we do regularly, and go through now the implementation process that's necessary to make sure that the 54 schools are ready and we are living up to the pledges we've made," Emanuel said.
The mayor spoke at length about the "new process" he said has already allowed the public to weigh in on the proposed closings.
CPS and a school closings commission held public hearings over more than four months on the issue, and said more than 20,000 people participated. The district now will hold three meetings for each school on the final closing list before the school board votes.
A group of a dozen African-American ministers who came to the Mayor's Office with a letter urging him to put a moratorium on closings asked about the point of additional hearings if Emanuel has already made up his mind.
“If nobody is going to be heard at the hearings, what’s the use of having the hearings?” said Pastor Marshall Hatch of the New Mount Pilgrim Church in West Garfield Park. “If it’s a done deal, then stop wasting everybody’s time.”
While Emanuel said today that school officials already listened to residents, which helped CPS whittle down a preliminary list of 129 schools to the 54 that now face closure, Pastor Gregory Seal Livingston of Mission of Faith Baptist Church in Roseland suggested the earlier list was an exaggeration and the process a sham.
“When they started off with that high number, they knew that wasn’t the number to begin with,” Livingston said. “But when you bring the number down, it makes it seem like you’ve done something. And we know better than that.”
Emanuel was not present when the ministers came to City Hall. They dropped off their letter with a police officer on duty in his fifth floor office.
Several African-American aldermen have also expressed anger that the closings will overwhelmingly effect black students in their neighborhoods. Asked about those numbers, Emanuel said African-American students in many cases attend under-performing schools, and he's making the tough political decisions to help them.
"What does it say to any part of the city when you decide because of politics or something else that you're not going to take the necessary steps, that you're going to leave kids locked in, trapped in a school that's not succeeding?" he said. "What does that say?"