As the final phase of the schools-closing melodrama played out this week, a series of more than 150 public hearings commenced in all of the communities affected by the closure plan. The editorial pages of our two local newspapers took different approaches. The Tribune stood solidly behind the closures, and endorsed the creation of more charters. “Unchain the Charters” was their banner headline.
But the Sun-Times wasn’t completely on board with the closure plan. The paper called for a slower approach, and for the removal of schools it felt weren’t deserving of closure.
We invited Deputy Editorial Page Editor Kate Grossman to this week’s discussion.
“When you count the closures and these things they call co-locations and turnaround schools, we’re talking about 47,000 kids,” she explains. “They want to do something to their school, mostly very dramatic things, by August. This is why we say either whittle down that list, or do it over two years, and still whittle it down some. This is a bureaucracy that doesn’t do most things well even when everything is peachy-keen.”
Their recent editorial cites a UIC study that claims the school actions, only a few months away, will touch 133 schools, or 23 percent of the CPS-run elementary schools. But Mayor Emanuel’s administration has indicated that it’s time to get started, and has signaled that there will be very few changes to the plan.
“I think what will end up happening is they’ll dump a few schools off the list,” says Grossman. “And what we’ve been arguing for is that there are probably more than just a few, and they need to listen really hard because they’ve done this so quickly and…the formula is very blunt, and it packs kids into a school, and so a school that, on paper, it’s half empty, you go there and it does not look like it’s half-empty.”
She’s referring to a field trip she took to Garvey Elementary, a school that, despite the Mayor’s claims to the contrary, will be sending its students to a school that’s academically inferior.
Mark Brown had an emotional week. He became so involved with the tenants being kicked out of the Abbott Hotel, a single-room occupancy building on Belmont, that he resorted to ALL CAPS when he threatened the owners, who were performing a quick rehab of the building for wealthier residents.
“I will absolutely hound them in this column as long as this newspaper will allow me, because I CAN’T STAND BULLIES,” he said. He got a tip from a tenant to come and see what happens when a developer is hell-bent on rehabbing a building quickly to raise rents and maximize profit.
“They’ve shut off the heat,” he reported. “They’ve cut off the water, and in cutting off the water they disabled the sprinkler system, so then they tore out all the sprinkler systems. They had shut down the alarms. And people were still living there. They had valid leases.”
It put the columnist in a tough position. Writing about it might actually make things worse for the remaining tenants when the City saw his story and got involved.
“I wrote the column about the bad conditions there,” he says, “and unfortunately the only solution is the City had to shut down the building. And kick the people out. Which is all these guys wanted anyhow.”
The new owners of the Abbot, it turns out, are also owners of some of that famous rooftop property facing Wrigley Field.
Things got so bad that one couple, forced from the building with an undisclosed cash payment, was simply standing outside with their bags unsure where to go or what to do next. Brown loaded them in his car and drove them to a different hotel. His frustration was very apparent in his next couple of columns.
“I got upset about it,” he said. But to watch Mark Brown get worked up re-telling the story, you really just have to watch the show.