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Does Rogers Park need a new charter school?

A new charter school in Rogers Park will undermine neighborhood schools in multiple ways, say residents who complain there was “no discussion” about siting the new school.

UNO Charter Schools announced last week it is leasing the building which housed St. Scholastica Academy, 7416 N. Ridge, and will open a K-8 school there.  UNO chief Juan Rangel promised “a very aggressive recruitment campaign,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

UNO’s goal is to recruit 570 students.  Most “will be pulled from the surrounding community,” said Jim Ginderske of Occupy Rogers Park.  The group protested at the announcement of the new school last week.

Rogers Park has six elementary schools, he said.  They have a range of performance levels, but all “have a good mix of students,” dedicated teachers, and parents  who are involved in trying to garner more resources for their schools.  And all are seeing enrollments decline.

Every student recruited by UNO will cost a neighborhood school thousands of dollars in per-pupil state allocations, and by recruiting more motivated students, UNO will undercut local schools’ academic strength, he said.

It’s happened before (and not just here).  At a community hearing in 2009 Kristine Mayle, now CTU’s financial secretary, described the process where she taught, De La Cruz Middle School, which was closed in 2009, the year it won a Spotlight Award from the state board of education.

“We were an award-winning school, and then UNO started pulling kids away from our school and our numbers dropped,” she said, as Substance reported at the time.

(The De la Cruz building was then used to house UNO’s Paz school, its first and lowest-performing campus, while its facility was renovated.)

The big question is whether CPS really needs to open 60 new charter schools, as planned, when it has hundreds of underfunded neighborhood schools in buildings it says are underutilized.  Especially when charters  perform no better than neighborhood schools.

Meanwhile, UNO schools in non-CPS buildings get $400 thousand each in annual facilities funding from the school district,  WBEZ reports.

That’s a sharp contrast to neighborhood schools, where CPS funds repairs only “as needed,” with repairs often deferred for years.  Half of CPS schools will get no facilities funding under the proposed budget, BEZ reports.

And the CPS subsidy is on top of $100 million in state funding UNO’s getting for new school construction – from a state that fails to meet its constitutional mandate for fair school funding.

“What’s really happening here is starving neighborhood schools of resources,” Ginderske said.

Charter school proponents used to argue that public schools would improve with competition.  But with this kind of competition – for scarce resources – that’s not how it works.  This is cut-throat competition.

Ginderske criticized Ald. Joe Moore for backing the new school without consulting his constituents.

On top of Moore’s action squelching an advisory referendum on an elected school board, he said, “Many people feel they elected [Moore] as a progressive, and he’s no longer a progressive.”

“You don’t have to agree with the mayor on everything,” he said.

Brighton Park parents: new school should serve neighborhood

Brighton Park parents are asking that a new school now under construction be open to neighborhood students in order to relieve overcrowding in area schools – and they’re complaining of “deception” by local charter school operator UNO, which wants the building.

Parents will march from Shields Elementary School, 4250 S. Rockwell, at 9 a.m. on Monday, April 30, and hold a press conference at the site of the new school, 48th and Rockwell, at 9:30.

With 1,849 students, Shields is one of the most overcrowded schools in CPS, according to parent leaders with Brighton Park Neighborhood Council.

Many parents say UNO organizers collecting signatures on a petition to give the new school to UNO misled them about its purpose, with the petition’s text often not available or available only in English, said Patrick Brosnan of BPNC.  Parents will discuss this at the press conference, he said.

Parents leaders with BPNC have pushed for over five years for a new school in the neighborhood to relieve overcrowding.  A charter school that takes students citywide will not help, they say.

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Calumet Landfill-Park Proposal Revived

Despite the City Council’s extension of Chicago’s landfill moratorium last December, Waste Management Inc. is continuing an effort to expand its CID landfill at 134th and the Calumet River. It’s the last active landfill in Chicago — and the last of scores that once dotted the Calumet region.

Waste Management has proposed expanding the landfill and operating it for an additional five years, then closing it and building a public park on the property.

Asked whether the landfill-park proposal would require an exception to the moratorium, Bill Plunkett of Waste Management said, “That would be up to the city.”

An aide to Tenth Ward Ald. John Pope said that renewal of the city’s moratorium took the Waste Management proposal out of consideration.

But petitions supporting the proposal “to add debris and close the landfill forever in five years and turn it into an environmentally-safe, 200-acre ‘Gateway Park’” have been passed extensively in the 10th Ward in recent weeks.

Rosa Perea of Centro Communitario Juan Diego said a number of women from her organization were invited to a meeting hosted by the United Neighborhood Organization to recruit people to the petition for $20 a page. They attend the meeting but declined the offer, she said. “It’s not what we’ve been fighting for.”

Juan Rangel of UNO acknowledged “some people find it a little ironic” that the group is supporting the proposal, although 20 years ago it championed the moratorium.

“We continue to support the intent of the moratorium,” he said, but the proposed landfill expansion would merely be “filling in a space between two existing dumps.” He said a UNO poll of Hispanics in the 10th Ward found respondents “split down the middle” — until the promise of up to 200 new jobs connected with the proposal was mentioned. Then there was “overwhelming support,” he said.

According to Aaron Rosinski of Southeast Environmental Task Force, those jobs are mainly connected to a recycling facility which Waste Management plans to build regardless of the success of the proposal.

The proposal would allow 6 million additional tons of solid waste to be dumped at the site over five years — or 5,000 tons a day, according to Marion Byrnes of the Calumet Ecological Park Association. She cited studies linking landfill gas emissions to increased cancer and leukemia.

The I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor is planning to extend its boundaries through the Calumet waterways of the Southeast Side, Byrnes said. “At this point in the history of the Southeast Side — with the Calumet Initiative signed by the governor and mayor to preserve 3000 acres of wetlands and develop 3000 acres of brownfields as clean industrial development — we don’t need five more years of a giant garbage dump,” she said.

The landfill is a few hundred yards from the site of the Ford Calumet Ecological Center, slated to open in 2007, Byrnes said, adding that odors from the landfill “would certainly discourage return visits” to the center.

Without the landfill expansion, Waste Management would be responsible for closing the site, which is now virtually full; a city draft plan calls for landscaping using native vegetation, with a trail and provisions for public access, Byrnes said.

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