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200 attend hearing on proposals for 2 new charters on SW Side

Kennedy High School P Principal George Z. Szkapiak speaks at the hearing for a proposed charter school on the Southwest Side at Daley College on Wednesday, September 2, 2015. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

Why would Chicago Public Schools continue to plan to open new charter schools when the cash-strapped district can’t afford the schools it has, dozens of speakers wondered aloud Wednesday night.

Because, other speakers responded, Southwest Side students deserve educational choices too, and shouldn’t have to travel far to attend a Noble network high school.

More than 200 people signed up to be heard at a contentious hearing held at Daley College to collect feedback on two charter proposals on the Southwest Side, one for a 17th Noble campus, another for a new math and science school. Noble supporters wore navy T-shirts, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council members orange and the Chicago Teachers Union were visible in red.

Kelly High School, 4136 S. California, is the closest school to the proposed 17th Noble campus and physically is falling apart, its students and teachers said, and the school just lost more than $800,000 in budget cuts.

“The faucets aren’t working properly so I can wash my hands, toilets don’t flush. The huge hole that’s in our cafeteria ceiling,” Kelly High School senior Tykira Taylor said. “Why are you going to build a new school when we are in dire need?”

Angelica Alfaro of Noble told the hearing officer that Kelly High School, the closest neighborhood school to the proposed 47th and California site, was overcrowded, according to CPS figures.

“This proposal will reduce that burden,” she said. And thousands of students leave the Southwest Side to attend one of Noble’s other schools, she said, adding, “This proposal will meet their demand.”

Noble started out with proposals for three schools, but facing public opposition, withdrew one for Rogers Park and another one for the Southwest Side.

A coalition of local school councils, elected officials and principals also convinced the school to relocate The Noble Academy, which it had wanted to put in Uptown, to a temporary home on the Near North Side.

The remaining Noble school of 1,100 plans will go into an entirely new building using private money.

Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, whose district includes the Southwest Side, sent a joint letter to former CEO Jesse Ruiz stating their opposition. Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd) later wrote to CEO Forrest Claypool opposing the charters, but Ald. Ed Burke (14th) wrote on behalf of Noble’s proposal.

Five charter operators are seeking board approval to open 13 new schools in September 2016. That’s despite CPS’ recent withdrawal of all start-up money for new charter schools. State law requires CPS to accept proposals for new schools every year; any schools the district rejects can appeal to a state charter board.

CPS will hold a legally required public hearing on Sept 30 at its Loop headquarters and plans to make recommendations to the Board for a vote at the October 28 meeting.

“The community is clearly saying we don’t want a Noble charter school on the Southwest Side, am I correct?” CTU organizer Rebecca Martinez asked the crowd. “Thousands of people have said no to Noble but you continue to disrespect the community and you continue to press on with your proposal. You did not do that to the North Side parents. . . . Why do you choose to do that do that to our community which is a working-class community of color?”