Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Friday April 1st, 2016, 2:14pm

Chicago Parents, Teachers Rally Outside Shuttered West Side School

Roughly 20 CPS teachers and parents rallied this afternoon on the West Side outside the now-shuttered Robert Emmet Elementary School. Emmet, located in the Austin neighborhood near the corner of Central Avenue and Madison Street, was closed in 2013 as part of the massive round of 50 school closings.

CPS teacher Tammie Vinson, who worked at Emmet before it closed, is now a special education instructor at nearby Oscar DePriest Elementary School, also in Austin.

Vinson said teachers are hitting the picket lines to call for fair-share revenue solutions to pay for increased education and social service funding.

"The message, really, is tax the rich," she said. "Bring in what we need so that we can fully fund our schools, we can fully fund our communities. We're here now to show the disinvestment on the West Side ... Even when you get to the commercial areas of the West Side, that money doesn't stay in our community. The money that comes here goes right out ... We don't have a firm tax base, so the services that we need are not here."

Vinson weighed in on the four-year contract offer that CPS proposed before it was rejected in February by the Chicago Teachers Union's Big Bargaining Team.

"While they're saying that we're turning down a really good contract, a lot of what they were asking were givebacks," she said. "And even though we're not only here for our salary, the fact that we're actually educated professionals, and we spend a lot of money to go to college, we do expect to be compensated fairly. And for them to actually take a contract that would cause us to be making less money in three years than we are now, that's not fair."

CPS parent Yolanda Hoskins, who has two children at DePriest Elementary, joined teachers on the picket lines with her kids.

"I think it's best for them to come, because this is important," she said of her children. "I'm standing here in solidarity [with teachers] because enough is enough. CPS can do better than what they're doing. Enough is enough. Come on now."

Hoskins said DePriest is in need of resources.

"They barely have a library. They don't have any activities there," she said. "They don't have after school [programming] anymore. All that's been cut out."

She also called out Republican Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner for holding up the budget as he tries to win items on his so-called "turnaround agenda," which seeks measures to boost businesses and weaken unions.

"The children are our future. It's hard to stomach. They can do better than what they're doing with the budget," she said. "You can pass a fair budget for them ... to put more money into our schools ... If I have to fight everyday, I would do that. If I have to take my kids after school everyday to be on the picket line, that's what I would do."

CPS parent Zerlina Smith helped organized today's protest outside Emmet.

"As a single, black mother and a resident of the Austin community, this is not what I want my child to see," Smith said as she pointed to the closed Emmet building. "What I want to see is that parents unite and rally around their teachers and remember that this isn't a dollar issue, this isn't a union issue, this is a community issue."

Smith said she'd like to see Emmet converted into some sort of community center for the Austin neighborhood, which is hard hit by gun violence.

"What we need to do is turn this into a full-service, one-stop shop for the Austin community so we can put the guns down and educate our children," Smith said.

Smith's daughter previously attended DePriest and is now enrolled at Maria Saucedo Academy in Pilsen. Smith took her daughter out of DePriest when it began taking in students from nearby schools that shut down as part of the 2013 school closings.

"I thought with my daughter just being in Head Start, I didn't want her to see any of that. I didn't want her to be a victim of circumstances in our community," Smith said of her decision to remove her daughter from DePriest.

Smith is a former aldermanic candidate who made an unsuccessful bid for the 29th Ward seat last year.

Asked whether she plans to run again for alderman next cycle, Smith said "it's in the air."

"We've entertained it," she said. "It just depends. If we get a charter school here [in Austin at the Emmet site] and we don't see any development in the next year, then yes, I will run for alderman again. If it continues to keep going down, then yes, I'm running. If we get anything that I can say that it benefits us, the black community, ... then I won't. But if what we got is what we're gonna continue to have, then I will" run again.

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