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CPS School Closing Report: Commission Claims District Has Capacity To Consolidate 80 Schools

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Chicago Public Schools' Commission on School Utilization late Wednesday released its final report on the district's plan to shutter dozens of its schools.

The report claims the nation's third largest school district has the capacity to consolidate 80 schools over the next two years, an astoundingly unprecedented move for a district that has never before closed more than 11 schools in one year, Catalyst Chicago notes.

(Read the full report. View a map of schools on the district's possible closure list.)

The CPS-appointed commission reportedly based the number 80 on the number of seats available in "better-performing schools" that students would -- and should -- be transferred to under the plan, according to Fox Chicago.

"Their report definitively states that the District does, in fact, have a utilization problem," CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said of the commission's findings, according to NBC Chicago, maintaining that the closures are inevitable. "We did not get here overnight, and we are not going to fix everything overnight. But our children deserve for us to work every day to improve their chances to succeed."

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis had a different reaction to the commission's findings and called the report "outrageous," the Chicago Tribune reports.

"Given CPS' history, there is no way it has the capacity to shut down 13 percent of our entire school district without mass chaos," the union head told the paper.

Last month, CPS released a preliminary list of 129 of the district's schools flagged as "underutilized" that are up for closure. While significantly pared down from the 330 schools previously flagged for possible closure by the district, the school closure plan -- which disproportionately impacts schools on the city's west and south sides -- has roiled parents and community groups.

The school closings also overwhelmingly impact black students. Per a Chicago Sun-Times analysis published on the heels of the CPS report Wednesday evening, nine of every 10 students potentially impacted by the closures are African American. Districtwide, just 41.7 percent of CPS students are black.

All told, 117 of the district's 129 schools flagged for closure are majority black, the paper notes.

The highly segregated city of Chicago lost 17 percent of its African American population -- or 181,000 people -- between the years 2000 and 2010, according to Census data, while the city's Latino population increased.

Still, one community activist described the racial disparity uncovered in the Sun-Times analysis as "a lawsuit waiting to happen."

While CPS has claimed that it must close schools it has deemed "underutilized" in order to save the reportedly cash-strapped district money, critics of the plan have raised significant questions concerning the math involved, arguing that closing dozens of schools would actually cost the district more money than it would save, per a Truthout story.

Thanks to a deadline extension approved by Gov. Pat Quinn last year, CPS has until March 31 to release its final list of school closings, which will then head to the Illinois state legislature to be signed off. The closures would then go into effect in June.

The final public hearing on the matter was held this week and the city's Board of Education moved its next meeting past their March 31 deadline, a move some criticized as dodging public criticism on the closures but the board claimed was due to spring break.

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