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Fenger area canvass reveals large support for the moratorium on school closings

More than a dozen CTU members and school supporters met-up at Fenger HS on Saturday January 19, 2013 as part of the union's community canvassing against the proposed school closings. We were one of the seven teams that went out into the neighborhoods to collect signatures for a two-year moratorium on school closings. We planned to raise awareness of the attack on public schools by Rahm and his Board of Education that want to close over 100 schools and bring in more privatization; the charter schools.

Knowing the history of lies told by CPS officials, community activists and teachers on the far South Side of Chicago fear that CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd Bennett plans to close the Ralph Metcalfe Elementary School and then give its building away to a charter school at a lease price of one dollar per year. Despite the claims by Byrd Bennett and other officials of the Emanuel administration, the facts belie the claim that CPS will save money and relieve the "underutilization crisis" by closing schools like Metcalfe. In fact, during the past ten years CPS had routinely closed schools, often after expensive rehabilitation of them, and then a few months later leased them, for a dollar, to the charter schools. CPS also pays for the custodial and other services at those schools, thereby costing CPS money for the closings, despite the claims of "savings." In all directions from Metcalfe, community activists and teachers can point to schools that have been "flipped" to the charters. To the south, Caver Middle School in Altgeld Gardens was rehabbed, then given away to Chicago International Charter School. To the north, Calumet High School was expensively rehabbed and given away to the Perspectives Charter School. A few blocks from Calumet, the Bunche Elementary School was sabotaged (rehabilitation was done while the children were in classes, then the school blamed for lowered test scores by the Duncan administration) and then the building given away to Providence St. Mel's for a charter school. And to the east of Metcalfe, the South Chicago Elementary School, after an extensive rehab, was closed as a real public school and then flipped to a charter operator. Substance photo by David Vance. In fact some of the Pullman and Roseland schools on the Hit List are rumored to be flipped into charter schools. And one of the most dramatic examples of the problems with school closings -- the murder of Fenger High School student Derrion Albert three years ago -- was still alive in the memory of the community.

Some of us decided to focus on Gompers and Metcalf elementary schools because of rumors that they are targeted to be closed. Union sources mentioned that Metcalf is especially targeted because of its beautiful building and park location. For more than a decade, the school board has taken the best buildings (often, after tens of millions of dollars in rehab work) and turned them over to charter school operators at a leasing price of $1 per year.

We also decided because door knocking is a very slow process, we would go to 124th and Halsted where more people would be out on the street. On Halsted we passed out more flyers and collected a lot of signatures on the petition for a moratorium on school closings. We met a cross current of people, including alumni from Metcalf, students from Julian and Fenger. One conversation was especially important.

We met a young woman who wanted the best for her children. She supported charter schools, she said, because the quality of education in CPS was lacking. Closing the failing schools was a good idea to her, but she still had mistrust for Rahm and Board. Lastly, even though she signed the for the moratorium, she stated that the moratorium itself wouldn’t do anything to improve schools; it was just a ploy to buy time.

Another point in the conversation came to the funding issue where schools in poor neighborhoods don’t receive necessary resources. She seemed to say, “Anything is better than what we have now.”

Unfortunately, what many parents don’t realize is that our schools are being set up to fail. For 17 years, we have had “mayoral control” of the Chicago Board of Education and they do what the mayor says, not what the public demands. They don’t want to be held accountable. They say we are in yet another "crisis" now. But any reading of the news going back nearly 20 years shows that CPS creates a constant clamor about "crisis" so that this year's claims of a "billion dollar deficit" and an "underutilization crisis" are ringing as true as those of the past years of mayoral control.

Those of us who were canvassing hoped that by reaching out to our neighborhood school communities that we begin to build confidence that by uniting teachers, parents and community in struggle; better real public schools can be created. In our struggle we of course need to demand more funding -- and equality in funding. We have to demand our Mayor Rahm Emanuel, to stop closing, privatizing, union busting and support the public school system. "Our public school money and buildings are not to be given away," is what most people were saying, and supporting the CTU demand for a moratorium on the closings.

But that is exactly what is happening. The “Rahm Chicago Education Plan” doesn’t support public schools, but wants privatizers to come in using our public money. The fact is after 17 years of Mayoral control of Chicago’s 600 public schools we are told by the same planners of the crisis, “this is a crisis.”

And, this is why a moratorium is in order, not as ploy to buy time but to expose the destruction of our schools by the business class that want our public money and want to blame everyone. The blame of poor schools is not the parents and teachers but the underfunding of our schools; priorities for privatization and turnarounds.

I believe the public and parents want better schools, it is the great equalizer in a divided city. The teachers and CTU want better schools and smaller classroom numbers. Their working conditions are the students learning conditions.

Rahm and the Board of Education want our public money and our voices silent. They want no union for the teachers and no Local School Council for parent empowerment, oversight. We demand improvements in our schools. We demand accountability and democracy.

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