Members and leaders of three unions representing workers in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system criticized the city’s recent round of school actions in a joint report issued Tuesday, saying school closings hurt children, struggling neighborhoods, and working families.
They’ve called on the Chicago Board of Education, CPS and Mayor Rahm Emanuel not to close any schools.
“Strong schools are supposed to create strong neighborhoods,” said SEIU* Local 1 spokeswoman Izabela Miltko. “We all believe that Chicago needs to protect and invest in its children and not tear apart communities, tear apart schools.”
More than 125,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union, food services workers of UNITE HERE Local 1, and lunchroom managers and custodians of SEIU Local 1 live in the city and work in its public schools.
Many of those workers are also parents and grandparents of the city’s schoolchildren, making up about 20 percent of CPS’ student body, according to the “Strong Schools, Strong Neighborhoods” report.
The report comes as CPS continues public meetings on its plan to close 54 schools, consolidate 11 and turnaround another six.
“The school closings are being called a ‘change for the better’ and a ‘necessity for our city,' but it is a disruption to all of our lives — teachers, workers, students and parents,” said Donnel Pitman, a custodian at Goldblatt Elementary on the West Side, in a statement.
Closing schools will negatively impact public school children who come from economically disadvantaged communities of color and who need stability, the unions said.
It’s also bad public policy, they said, to disinvest in neighborhood schools in favor of charter schools.
“Obviously the [charter school] beneficiaries are not children, families and teachers, but in this case private corporations who receive millions of tax dollars,” Miltko said. “Privatizing and closing neighborhood schools shortchanges Chicago’s school workers, and at the same time good, middle class jobs are being taken away.”
For example, the report said schools do not have adequate custodial staff to keep them clean, but more than 200 custodians have been laid off in the last two years and more layoffs are currently underway.
Miltko said middle class jobs are either disappearing completely or becoming minimum wage jobs.
“In turn, that’s sort of a vicious circle,” she said. “You’re not going to be able to put food on the table. You’re not going to be able to go out to your local grocery store and buy stuff. These are also taxpayers, so if you’re not making this money, it hurts everyone.”
Valerie Betts, a music teacher at May Elementary Community Academy, said the school is a vital community resource, and closing it would deliver a hard blow to the Austin neighborhood.
“May school offers meals — breakfast, lunch and dinner year-round to our children,” Betts said in the report.
Austin’s YMCA member center shut down last year, and the center’s various afterschool, weekend and summer programs and youth services moved to May.
The school also provides parents with job readiness programs and assistance with resumes, Betts said.
“They would lose all of that,” she added.
Austin’s George Leland Elementary School would be relocated to May, and the building renamed Leland, welcoming May and Armstrong students.
But over the weekend, Austin residents and education activists released an alternative plan to closing May and other area schools.
Their plan calls for a co-location at May that way it can stay open with the present staff intact.
May’s primary grades would be moved to the main building, and Leland would move into the school’s annex building, Dwayne Truss, vice-chair of the Austin Community Action Council, wrote in the community proposal.
CPS can save on the cost of operating Leland by closing the building and demolishing it, he added.
The Chicago Board of Education is expected to vote on the various school actions next month.
* The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website.