March 22 (Bloomberg) -- Chicago will close 54 elementary schools to help erase a $1 billion deficit, a move the city’s teachers union said it will challenge.
Too many buildings are underused and stretch the district’s ability to provide programs and equipment, according to a district release. The system is the nation’s third-largest, with 403,000 students and 681 schools.
“What we must do is ensure that the resources some kids get, all kids get,” said Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the district’s chief executive officer, in a video on its website. “Those resources include libraries, and access to technology and science labs and art classrooms. Every child in Chicago does not get that now.”
Other cities have made similar moves. Philadelphia officials facing a $1.35 billion spending gap over five years voted this month to shut 9 percent of the public schools. Detroit also has shuttered buildings as the city’s population plunged.
In Chicago, closings would affect 10 percent of elementary schools and about 30,000 students, including those from shut facilities and the 55 that will accept them, according to district statements.
The move will save an estimated $990 million over 10 years. That will allow the district to equip remaining schools with such basics as libraries, air conditioning and technology such as iPads for students in the third through eighth grades, according to the district’s announcement.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a 53-year-old Democrat, said in a news release that the city delayed closings for a decade “and it’s out children and our city that have paid the price of inaction.”
The Chicago Teachers Union said it would fight the closures, saying most targeted schools are in black neighborhoods. The union, in a prepared statement, said transferring students would expose them to gang violence.
“No society that claims to care anything about its children can sit back and allow this to happen to them,” said union president Karen Lewis in the statement.
The union plans a rally March 27 to protest the proposed closures.
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