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Gripes and gratitude greet Chicago Public Schools capital budget at hearing

Parents and students attend a news conference Thursday before a public hearing at Malcolm X College. Photo by Carlos Ballesteros.

Parents and community members voiced a mix of compliments and concerns Thursday over Chicago Public Schools’ near-billion dollar 2019 capital plan at a public hearing hosted at Malcolm X College.

CPS chief financial officer Jennie Huang Bennett, Network 3 chief Randel Josserand and senior policy advisor Cameron Mock hosted the meeting.

Mock quickly went over an abridged PowerPoint version of the $989 million 2019 capital plan, highlighting the size and scope of the funds to be distributed.

Some parents and school stakeholders thanked CPS for allocating funds to their schools to address immediate needs.

Dr. Allison C. Tingwall, principal of Curie Metropolitan High School in Archer Heights thanked CPS for allocating funds for two case managers and one full-time social worker to service her 3,000 students.

But most of the speakers on Thursday derided the capital budget plan.

Their main gripes are long-running: CPS funds are distributed unequally along racial and neighborhood lines, and there is a lack of transparency as to how CPS decides to allocate its funds.

Many cited WBEZ’s analysis of the capital plan that found that mixed or majority white schools will receive around $2,800 per student in investment while majority black and Latino schools will get less than half of that.

(The report does not take into account $355 million of the capital budget plan in its analysis because CPS has yet to specify how it will spend those funds.)

Judy Rose is a parent of a senior at Richard T. Crane Medical Preparatory High School on the Near West Side. She asked officials why the school didn’t receive funding to fix its dilapidated boiler system.

“When I see that RTC Medical Prep doesn’t get the funding it needs for another year, I am incensed,” she said. “Why can’t RTC get adequate heating?”

Parents also questioned funding for two new schools in the Near West Side and Belmont-Cragin neighborhoods when many existing schools are in need of mechanical and infrastructure repairs.

“Our schools have basic funding issues. We don’t need new schools — we need repairs,” said Carmen Castillo, whose children attend James Shields Elementary in Brighton Park.

In November 2015, two teachers at Shields were hospitalized due to high carbon monoxide levels in the building from a gas leak in the boiler system.

Castillo says the school still suffers from poor ventilation.

Her nine-year-old daughter, Sonia, who joined her at Thursday’s hearing and attends Shield, said her gym gets unbearably hot.

Sonia says she’d like the mayor to come and hang out at the gym one day to see what it feels like.

“Consider it an official invitation,” she said.

Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.