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As CPS starts investing in neighborhood school improvements again, some are happy and some feel left out

Sullivan High School — which enrolled 660 students last year, 88% of which came from low-income families — saw the largest capital investment of any school in the district.

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Sullivan High School in Rogers Park would see the biggest capital investment in CPS if the district’s proposed budget is approved.
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Parents and educators of Sullivan High School heaped praise on Chicago Public Schools administrators at a public hearing Wednesday for their proposed $25 million investment to fix a crumbling roof at the Rogers Park school.

The hearing was one of a trio of sessions across the city that offered members of the public a chance to weigh in on the school district’s $619 million capital budget plan for the new fiscal year — which pays for improvements and repairs to school facilities, such as building infrastructure, heating and cooling systems and technology.

Though there was some frustration from parents and community residents, all three hearings were held at schools where students, educators and parents are happy about recent or upcoming major improvements at schools in their area.

The Sullivan community showed up to the hearing at Amundsen High School in Ravenswood. Another meeting was held at Morgan Park High School, which would receive $12 million for roof replacement and other renovations, plus another $10 million for a new turf athletic field in the proposed budget. The third hearing was at Whitney Young Magnet High School, which earlier this month unveiled a new, $4.3 million athletic field — paid for by tax-increment-financing funds and named after school alum Michelle Obama.

The move to fix neighborhood schools is a change from the times under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration, when CPS typically focused its capital budget on annexes to schools, usually leaving out worn down schools that served students from lower-income families and communities of color.

Sullivan High School — which enrolled 660 students last year, 88% of whom came from low-income families — saw the largest investment of any school in the district, receiving $25 million to replace the roof and make improvements to its building.

Sullivan’s principal for the past six years, Chad Thomas, said classrooms have had water dripping into them while debris has been falling from the ceiling.

”When kids look around and they don’t see that they’re being valued, how do they think their learning’s valued,” Thomas said after Wednesday’s hearing at Amundsen. “It takes a long time to right a wrong. I came to Sullivan and there were four principals in four years, and I wouldn’t have sent my own kid there. Now I would send my own kid.”

Parents, teachers and Rogers Park residents thanking CPS for the Sullivan fixes — which are set to be made next summer, in time for the 2020-21 school year — made up 10 of the 14 speakers at the Amundsen hearing. They praised CPS for “answering their prayers,” as one parent put it, to fix the roof.

The other speakers, including Chicago Teachers Union organizer Jhoanna Maldonado, asked when it would be the turn of their schools, which didn’t necessarily have the neighborhood allies and parents to stay in CPS’ ear about funding improvements.

“Here we are, the squeaky wheel gets what they want, so here I am being the squeaky wheel,” said Maldonado, who taught at Yates Elementary School in Logan Square for six years until she moved into her role with the union this fall.

Maldonado said it shouldn’t have to take people speaking up for CPS to know about problems at its schools. At Yates, she said, there are exposed wires, rat droppings and broken water fountains.

“We need a clear needs assessment, we need a clear process, and we cannot just be picking and choosing on the squeaky wheel year after year,” Maldonado said. “That’s not how this should be working.”

Among those in attendance to hear those concerns were school board member Lucino Sotelo and CPS Chief Operating Officer Arnie Rivera.

Thomas, the principal at Sullivan, said he supports those invested in other schools who are frustrated that they haven’t received funding yet. He urged patience and said he thinks this year’s budget is a sign that money will be divvied more equitably going forward.

”I know that some schools are upset that they didn’t get some of the funding. But you can’t do everything in one year, and you’re not going to always make everybody happy,” Thomas said. “But I think if you can get a clear vision going of what you’re trying to do and how you’re trying to do it and why you’re trying it, then we get some traction.”