For over a week, parents at Whittier Elementary  in Pilsen have been sitting in to block demolition of the school’s fieldhouse and demand a library for the school. Tomorrow morning they will rally with supporters (Friday, September 24, 10 a.m., 1900 W. 23rd Place).
The sit-in is sharply dramatizing issues of transparency and accountability in CPS facilities planning, long raised by advocates for neighborhood schools (see last year’s Newstips  report) and now under examination by a task force of the state legislature.
The task force has hearings scheduled for Saturday in Garfield Park and Tuesday in Humboldt Park (details here ).
For years Whittier parents have organized for improvements to the school including a library. When TIF money was allocated for Whittier earlier this year, it turned out $356,000 had been budgeted to demolish the fieldhouse long used for community programs including ESL.
They’ve requested that CPS provide a breakdown of the demolition budget and a copy of the engineering assessment that is said to have deemed the fieldhouse structually unsound, to no avail. An independent engineering assessment arranged for by the parents found the building to be sound but in need of a new roof, projected to come in at around $25,000.
That’s typical of information available about CPS facilities planning, said Cecile Carroll of Blocks Together, who is a member of the legislative task force. Since Ron Huberman took over leadership of CPS, the capital improvement budget has been presented as a single lump sum with no itemization, she said. Before that, the 2009 capital improvement budget showed millions of dollars being spent on schools that were being closed and turned over to Renaissance 2010, she said.
How many Chicago public schools lack libraries? It’s not generally known, she said. “I can guarantee, though, that schools serving more upscale residents have it all, libraries, math labs, science labs, everything,” she said.
In August the task force toured Whittier as well as Attucks Elementary in Bronzeville, relocated suddenly in 2008 (as reported here ), and Carpenter Elementary in Humboldt Park, which is being phased out to make room for an elite high school (more here ).
Parents at Carpenter and at Anderson Elementary, working with Designs for Change , have filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights, charging that CPS violated the students’ civil rights – not just in the process of deciding to close the schools, but in “gross inequities” in the allocation of classrooms and learning resources during the phasing-out period, including “indignities reminiscent of the Old South,” such as separate entrances and separate bathrooms.
Carpenter is now getting millions of dollars in renovations – far beyond anything noted in its official building assessment, Carroll said. And Whittier is still waiting for a library.
The task force hopes to propose legislation that would reform facilities planning in CPS in next year’s session in Springfield, Carroll said.