Chicago Teachers Union officials Monday tossed a wrench into the first high-profile project announced by newly named interim CEO Janice Jackson, announcing that they had challenged a plan to close four Englewood high schools in June.
Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey said the teachers’ contract with the Chicago Public Schools prohibits any school closings — unless those schools can’t offer the classes students need to meet graduation requirements.
“The language in the contract is very clear,” Sharkey said at a news conference Monday, adding that the challenge had been filed Friday.
A spokesman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel declined to comment on the union’s challenge of the planned Englewood school closures. A spokeswoman for the Chicago Public Schools said “the district is in full compliance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement.”
“More than 90 percent of students leave Englewood to attend high school, which means that the four existing schools are extremely under-enrolled and which is why we are making a significant investment in the community with an $85 million, state-of-the-art high school and more than $8 million in individualized support for the current students, including free transportation to a higher performing school,” spokeswoman Emily Bolton said.
Sharkey said he and the leadership of the union welcomed Jackson’s appointment to the top job at CPS, but urged Emanuel to “break with the policies of the past.”
“We want Janice Jackson to succeed,” Sharkey said. “We urge her to do what is right and not what is politically expedient for the mayor.”
While the number of students enrolled at the four Englewood high schools set to be closed — Harper, Hope, TEAM Englewood and Robeson — all are still providing the necessary classes, Sharkey said.
If those schools are closed, their students would go to other area high schools. In 2019, a new high school on a brand-new $85 million campus would open to freshmen. The yet-to-be-named school would offer a sports field as well as a community health center while offering students a chance to take classes at nearby Kennedy King City College.
In addition to objecting to the closure of the schools in Englewood, Sharkey called on Jackson “to break with the policies of the past” and consider ending the district’s student-based budgeting system, which funds schools based on the number of students they have.
In September, district officials announced they would not reduce the budgets of schools where fewer students enrolled than expected, acknowledging it could have resulted in deep cuts to core classes.
The union will also continue to push for an elected school board, Sharkey said.
“Mayoral control is a failure,” Sharkey said. “Student-based budgeting is a failure.”
After the news conference, Sharkey handed a copy of a six-point plan that details the changes union leaders would like to see made at CPS to one of Emanuel’s aides.
A full list of the community meetings set to be held in January can be found online.