Chicago Public Schools narrows its closing list to 129

Chicago Public Schools has narrowed the number of schools it will consider for closing to 129.

The preliminary list will be culled further before a final list is released by March 31.

Schools will be removed from the list as the district continues to gather information from parents, teachers and community groups during a new round of hearings that begin Wednesday night.

The district in December said 330 schools are underutilized, the chief consideration for closing, so the list released Wednesday offers a far better picture of what schools are still on the block.

Most of the targeted schools are on the South, West and Southwest Sides, many in impoverished neighborhoods that saw significant population loss over the last decade.

CPS last month removed high schools and high performing schools from consideratio. On Wednesday, the district told schools with student populations over 600 or utilization rates of at least 70 percent that they also were safe.

“We are going to take these 129 and continue to sift through these schools,” said CPS schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

Over the next month, CPS will look at schools on the preliminary list in an effort to determine what led to the declines in enrollment, and whether the schools have academic plans in place to drive improvement.

Safety issues connected with moving students to different neighborhoods will also be considered. CPS is working with the Chicago Police Department and using its own data to determine if closing specific schools could jeopardize the safety of students.

CPS says it needs to close a significant number of under-utilized schools to “right-size” the district and address a $1 billion deficit expected next year.

District officials say closings this year will be based primarily on under-enrollment but have begun looking at academic performance as they whittle down their list.

The district has been holding school closing meetings across the city since December. The initial round of meetings were overseen by the Commission on School Utilization, whose recommendations included removing high schools and the best performing schools.

Most of the additional criteria announced Wednesday came out of suggestions made by the commission and gathered during community meetings the district began holding in late January. Byrd-Bennett had asked for more time to study the commission’s recommendations and define parameters like which improving schools should be taken off the list.

Schools in the middle tier of performance, or Level 2, that have seen increased enrollment over the last three years will be removed from consideration. There are 33 Level 2 schools still on the preliminary list.

District officials have also decided to no longer target Level 3 or the worst-performing schools that have shown gains on state assessment tests while serving 300 or more students. Schools that were designated by CPS to take in students from school closings over the past three years or were forced to share their building with another school this year have also been taken off the chopping block.
In addition, CPS added a few parameters: Schools separated from another neighborhood school by more than a mile, and schools that are surrounded by neighborhood schools that are at capacity or overcrowded, are no longer targeted for a shut down.

Tribune reporter John Chase contributed to this story.

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