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Sudden School Shift Raises Questions About CPS Priorities

Oct. 9, 2008 – The last-minute relocation of a Southside elementary school has raised questions about the planning processes for area schools.

At the end of July, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) announced the immediate closing of the Crispus Attucks School building, at 3813 S. Dearborn, and the relocation of Attucks to the vacant Farren School, over 12 blocks away at 5055 S. State.

In an open letter to CPS chief Arne Duncan released Wednesday, Grand Boulevard Federation president Gregory Washington noted Duncan's promise to consult the community group over school closings, and says Duncan "did not keep [his] word." Washington requested meetings with CPS staff and the release of Farren's facilities report.

He said the Farren building's immediate needs include phone lines, internet connections, asbestos abatement and accessibility upgrades — as well as replacement of the auditorium's stage (it was previously removed), enlargement of the parking lot, safety cameras and desks and chairs.

Community members were told Attucks closed because it needed a new boiler and, with a $7 million price tag, replacement was "cost-prohibitive," said Grand Boulevard Federation education coordinator Andrea Lee.

According to Lee, CPS spent $6 million this summer upgrading nearby Raymond School before leasing it to Perspective Math and Science Charter School. Raymond was closed in 2004 because renovations required by the Americans With Disabilities Act were deemed too expensive. Raymond students were then sent to Attucks.

Lee said that, with limited capital funding available, CPS spent $11.5 million of a total of $15 million in last year's construction budget on charter schools. "It looks like CPS is intentionally disinvesting in these neighborhood schools," Lee said.

The last-minute shift of Attucks was especially difficult because, due to public housing demolitions, half the school's students no longer live in the immediate area, Lee said. Attucks has the highest homeless population of any city school, she said.

She said members of Grand Boulevard Foundation's parent network "pounded the pavement" to inform other parents of the change, and of a community forum called by local elected officials after CPS held no information sessions.

With an active education committee and a Peer Parent Education Network, the group is "working constantly to improve the schools, provide resources, work with parents and students," Lee said. "We're not just out here griping."

However, the lack of communication over Attucks "has left our education committee feeling disrespected," she added.

Grand Boulevard Foundation has called for an open planning process for CPS schools. Lee notes that no neighborhood schools remain on the northern end of the State Street corridor, while there are four within a one-mile radius on the southern end. She said there seems to be no coordination between CPS, which is closing neighborhood schools, and the Chicago Housing Authority, which is starting to repopulate the area through public housing redevelopment.

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