CPS insider: District can, won't close dozens of empty, near-empty schools
Dozens of Chicago public schools remain open for political reasons, despite being nearly empty, according to a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) insider familiar with facility operations who spoke with Chicago City Wire.
The source said today's announced closure of three Chicago public schools that are "already empty" is an empty overture to property taxpayers, who have been unknowingly paying to keep open barely attended schools across the city for fear of making black voters angry with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
"CPS announces it is closing three schools? Good start, but they need to close at least another 50 schools," the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said. "We've got schools all over the West and South sides that are 50, 60, 70 percent empty and down the street from two other schools that are 70 percent empty."
Marshall Middle School Career Academy at 8 W. Root and Early College High School at 1310 S. Ashland will close in June, CPS said. These closures will happen if the Chicago Board of Education follows CPS administrators' recommendations. It had until today to make these announcements.
CPS remains under a five-year moratorium on closing schools, issued in November of 2012. The moratorium was part of an agreement between CPS and state lawmakers to allow for more time to consider how to carry out mass closings. CPS officials have said closing "empty" buildings doesn’t violate that moratorium.
"All of these schools have enormous building costs," the CPS source said. "Maintenance and repair. Engineers. Custodians. Facility Managers. And that doesn't even count all the principals and teachers and staff. Why aren't we combining these schools?"
CPS officials aren't listening, the source said.
"Facility managers who know the buildings have made recommendations on what schools could be combined only to be told to 'sit down and shut up.' The Mayor's Office makes those decisions. It's insanity. We are throwing away money on a daily basis."
An analysis by Chicago City Wire of CPS' 2016-17 enrollment shows that the effectively bankrupt school district still continues to operate dozens of high schools that are nearly empty, operating at 10 percent to 20 percent capacity.
For instance, Robeson High School in Englewood, on the city's South Side, is staffed by 38 full-time employees who earn an average of $104,512 in compensation, a total of $3,165,215 in salary and benefits, plus an additional $806,246 in taxpayer-funded pension contributions, the most recently published CPS employee roster said.
That includes five security guards and a porter.
However, the high school's 2017 enrollment is just 148, down significantly from the school's high enrollment of 2,300 in 1977, according to the analysis.
This year, CPS’ contribution to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund is expected to reach $676 million, and it borrowed almost $1 billion this year. CPS's financial difficulties led to Moody's decision in September to downgrade the public school system's credit rating to junk status.
Many Chicago high schools are reporting significantly higher enrollment numbers to the state and federal governments than they publish internally, according to Chicago City Wire's analysis. For instance, Robeson High School reported an enrollment of 569 to the state, despite its 2017 10-day enrollment of not even half that number.
State and federal grants are calculated per student, using enrollment numbers provided by the district.