School consolidation bill heads to Quinn

PoliticsLaws and LegislationCrime, Law and JusticeInvestmentsActivismRahm EmanuelChicago Public Schools

A school consolidation bill that may make it more difficult for Chicago to close or merge schools is now headed for the governor’s desk.

After passing the Senate in April, the legislation had stalled in House Speaker Michael Madigan’s Executive Committee for weeks as incoming Mayor Rahm Emanuel reviewed it. It passed the House Tuesday but with one significant change -- an oversight commission will no longer have the power to undo Chicago Public Schools’ decisions to close or consolidate schools.

Still, the bill, which came out of a year-long study by a legislative task force filled with community activists and lawmakers, would require CPS to develop a 10-year master facilities plan, something the district doesn’t do now.

It would require the district to release a five-year capital improvement plan for its buildings, something community activists say the district tracks but does not release publicly. And, it would require school officials to announce plans for school closures, mergers or phase-outs by Dec. 1.

This year many parents complained that consolidations were not announced until April, long after the Dec. 15 deadline to apply for lottery-based magnet schools and competitive selective enrollment schools.

“The legislation was not meant to tie anyone’s hands behind their back,” said Cecile Carroll, co-director of Blocks Together and a member of the Chicago Educational Facilities Taskforce, which drafted recommendations for the bill. “What we were seeing was that some schools were getting large capital investments and then they would close and re-open as charter and contract schools. This would help us see and prevent the moving of money to a neighborhood (school) building that then becomes a charter building.”

State Senator William Delgado, D-Chicago, who helped start the task force with Rep. Cynthia Soto, D-Chicago, one of the co-authors of the bill, said he was surprised by the new mayor’s willingness to work on the legislation and not just oppose it.

“It’s refreshing that Mayor Emanuel’s team is listening and they agreed upon many things,” Delgado said. “Prior to this, CPS was disrupting a lot of communities and making unilateral decisions to close schools so we needed to put a policy in place. This is a start.”

nahmed@tribune.com

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