CHICAGO – Chicago Public Schools officials are considering a new $75 million high school for the city’s South Side neighborhood despite lagging enrollment other nearby schools.
CPS officials are collecting public feedback on a proposal to erect a high school in the Englewood neighborhood in the district’s Network 11, home to the shuttered Englewood High School and several others that have struggled to attract students, the Chicago Tribune reports.
About 2,300 students were eligible to attend Robeson High School in Englewood this school year, but only a mere 86 students from the area opted to enroll. Other schools, like Harper High School in West Englewood, face the same problem with only about 10 percent of the 1,166 students eligible to enroll opting to do so.
Regardless, district officials included funding to build a new South Side high school in a capital spending plan released in December. The district plans to borrow from future taxes to fund the project, but has not divulged a timeline for construction, according to the news site.
“We will continue to listen to the community’s feedback before moving forward or making specific recommendations about project details,” district spokeswoman Emily Bittner wrote in a December email. “The feedback of Local School Councils, aldermen and other elected officials, members of the faith community, Community Action Councils and others will begin after the new year and will be critical before making any recommendation about a new high school on the South Side.”
The Chicago Sun-Times reports:
CPS officials also aren’t publicly explaining why the district, with falling enrollment and budget woes, needs a new high school. But one source told the Sun-Times it’s likely that four to six schools could be closed and consolidated into the new school.
No schools have been targeted, but the existing CPS high schools in and around Englewood are among the city’s most under-enrolled. Not only have African-American residents departed the city, but students now have a wide variety of school choices in citywide CPS programs and dozens of charter high schools.
Beatriz Ponce de Leon, executive director for the Generation All advocacy group, is among those pushing for a return to neighborhood schools after the district closed about 50 underutilized schools in 2013.
“We still see a future for these neighborhood schools,” she told the Tribune. “Maybe there will be hard conversations about how many we need, where we need them and what needs to be invested, but we feel pretty strongly that we need to have strong neighborhood schools in our city.”
CPS data shows that out of a total of 20,005 students currently eligible to attend Network 11’s 32 traditional elementary and high schools, only about a third of them enrolled in 2016-17.
Ponce de Leon said school choice options like charter schools and selective-enrollment programs and other options have lured students away from traditional public schools in recent years.
“It’s not a surprise that students want to do that. That’s how we’ve trained them and their families as well,” she said. “I think we have to acknowledge that. We have a very strong culture of options and choice. That has created this pattern.”
The proposed new high school comes just a few months after Mayor Rahm Emanuel shelved plans for an $87.5 million Barack Obama high school to divert the money toward costs associated with a new contract with the Chicago Teachers Union.
That contract requires district officials to secure outside funding to establish 55 new “community schools” at a cost of at least $500,000 per year, per school, the Tribune reports.
“The district also agreed to create a task force to select those buildings and determine how they could include community health care, after-school activities and support for homeless or chronically truant students as part of their programing,” according to the news site.
CPS imposed a moratorium on school closings after officials closed 50 underutilized schools in 2013, and many education advocates and community leaders are calling on the board to devise a plan for the district’s schools before the moratorium expires in 2018.
“Given all those demographic trends, where are students and what do they need and what communities could use what resources so we are lifting all boats across the city?” Jesse Ruiz, vice president of the school board during the 2013 closings, told the Tribune. “You don’t just build and add without a lot of thought and without a lot of deliberative analysis about where we truly need it.
“That’s the trick, that’s always been the trick and the challenge, to make sure the great schools we have in Chicago aren’t in certain pockets.”