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Lincoln Park school pushing cash-strapped CPS for new facility

Jitu Brown spoke during the chicago teachers rally outside of Dyett High School 555 E. 51st Street . Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012 | Brian Jackson~Sun Times

Afight breaking out in Lincoln Park over the former Children’s Memorial Hospital site could shape up to be a textbook example of how the squeaky wheel gets the oil.

On its face, a “demand” from the Lincoln Elementary School LSC that the cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools build a $30 million middle school is ridiculous.

The school district is facing a $1 billion deficit, and we still aren’t clear on how it intends to pay for the contract negotiated with the Chicago Teachers Union.

“If somebody wants to write a $30 million check, we can do it, but right now we don’t have that money,” School Board President David Vitale told Chicago Sun-Times education reporter Rosalind Rossi on Wednesday. “LSCs can vote for lots of things but at the end of the day they know there’s no money.”

But a developer’s plan to put 900 apartments in a high-rise building on the site is an opportunity too good for these parents to pass up.

David Roeder, a Sun-Times business reporter, reported on Wednesday that “people involved with Lincoln want McCaffery Interests Inc. to provide space for a new school somewhere on the site.”

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), whose ward includes Lincoln Park, had opposed the redevelopment because of its impact on the school. Because aldermen traditionally have had the last say about what gets built in their wards, Smith’s opposition effectively brought plans to a halt.

Although CPS told Smith it doesn’t have $30 million to build a new school in Lincoln Park, on Tuesday night, the Lincoln Elementary School LSC voted 10-2 in favor of demanding that CPS build a new middle school on the site.

“We are trying hard to make sure this happens,” Smith told me. “I support the efforts that need to be made in order to solve the overcrowding situation at our school.”

Smith claims kids are being taught in “broom closets” because of overcrowding. Enrollment at the school this school year actually fell below the projected 858, according to school officials. The school population is about 20 students over the amount considered “optimal.”

Caroline Vickrey, vice chair of the LSC, is against building a new school.

“I think it is too big. It’s too expensive for our overleveraged government to pay for,” she said. “I don’t think the parents of our school want a school that is double the size.”

Vickrey also pointed out that there are many other school projects in the city that need funding.

“The one closest to us is Lincoln Park High School, which has been trying to build a fine arts building for decades and couldn’t get money for that,” she said.

However, not everyone is sympathetic to the school system’s plight.

Jitu Brown, an education activist with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, noted that CPS came up with $25 million during the recent strike.

“If a community recognizes that the needs of its children are not being met, they have the right to demand that the school system meets those needs,” Brown said.

“But that same respect and consideration has to be citywide,” he said.

While Lincoln Parkers are demanding a new school, CPS is continuing to shut down schools on the South Side.

Brown pointed to the phaseout of Dyett High School at 555 E. 51st St. as an example of inequities in the school system.

“They have closed off the front of the school and children are not being allowed to enter through the front door. You have young ladies coming through the back door of the school at 7 a.m. in the morning because they are only using a portion of the building,” he said.

“Our point of view is CPS should administer a certain quality of education for every child in every neighborhood,” Brown concluded.

So while Smith acknowledges that CPS does not have the capital to build the new school, that hasn’t stopped her from supporting the project.

“Wouldn’t it be great if a little of the site could be dedicated again to helping children?” she asked.

I don’t blame these parents for using their power to push for what they believe is the best for their children.

Every community should be so bold.