Barbara Byrd-Bennett // Photo by Brian Jackson, Sun-Times
SPRINGFIELD-Despite an outcry from community activists, a plan to give Chicago Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett four more months to draw up a school-closing list unanimously passed House and Senate panels Tuesday.
The House Executive Committee’s 11-0 vote now moves the legislation, sponsored by House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), to the House floor for a vote. The Senate Education Committee voted 10-0 to move identical legislation to the Senate floor.
The measure would extend a deadline in state law for Chicago’s public school system to submit a school-closing list from Saturday to March 31, which Byrd-Bennett said would give the district more time to gather community input.
“We’ll have more opportunity for community participation at the front end of the conversation and not the back end,” she told the panel.
“Based on the district’s history as well as the district’s past actions, we need to acknowledge the community simply does not trust what we say or we do. And if you know this, then we must be inclusive and open, and we need to engage multiple levels of the community,” she said.
Tuesday’s hearing was disrupted repeatedly by community activists and Chicago Teachers Union members, who demanded more time and more input in determining which schools could close next fall and expressed anger at the lack of specifics Byrd-Bennett provided.
“How can you take a vote when they haven’t answered the basic questions of what they’re going to do, which makes me angry,” said Joseph McDermott, the CTU’s high school member coordinator and municipal political coordinator.
“This is not right,” McDermott said, pounding his fist on the committee hearing table from which he testified. “We’re not going to write a blank check to our leader. You’ve gotta respect us and do it right.”
Appearing at a separate Senate panel, Byrd-Bennett insisted that whatever schools are mothballed, the vacant buildings won’t be made available to charter schools and reiterated she does not have any sense of how many buildings actually will wind up being closed.
“There is no number,” she told the Senate Education Committee.