As more than five busloads of objectors waited in the wings to testify, Chicago Public School officials announced Monday that they were pulling a proposal to fold Beidler Elementary into Cather Elementary to make room for a charter high school.
The decision marked the second time in less than a week that CPS officials dropped a proposal intended to help the cash-strapped system deal more efficiently with under-used school buildings. Both withdrawn plans involved schools in East Garfield Park, and in both cases, opponents cited safety concerns.
Earlier this month, at a hearing at Beidler, the Rev. Paul Jakes of the New Tabernacle of Faith Baptist Church raised the spectre of Derrion Albert — the Fenger High honor student killed amid a melee of gang violence after a South Side neighborhood school was closed — during a fiery rant against sending more than 400 Beidler students to Cather Elementary, which holds about 200 elementary students. A consolidation would put Beidler kids into harm’s way by forcing them to cross gang lines, Beidler advocates said.
“We do not want another Derrion Albert killing,’’ Jakes said at that time. “We will not stand for it in East Garfield Park. We will not stand for this disrespect to our concerns.’’
To protest the proposal due for an April 27 vote, Jakes threatened to march on the homes of board officials, including the system’s School and Community Relations pointman, Jose Alvarez.
Monday, hundreds of Beidler supporters descended on Chicago Board of Education headquarters to attend a public hearing on the proposal. Just as the hearing began, district officials released a statement saying they were withdrawing the Beidler plan, based on “community meetings and discussions with stakeholders.’’
Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) also had voiced strong objections to turning over not just Beidler, but a $2.2 million campus park he helped build outside the school with tax increment financing funds, to Urban Prep Charter High-East Garfield Park, which admits boys only by lottery.
“I’ll be darned if I’m going to spend TIF money to build a campus park for my ward and then give it away to kids who don’t even live in my ward,’’ Burnett said previously.
In their statement, Chicago Public School officials warned that Beidler and Cather have been experiencing “declining enrollment” and “CPS continues to believe that action is needed in these and other schools to provide the best education to children.” CPS is working on a “comprehensive, long-range plan that includes criteria to address future realities facing its schools,’’ the statement said.
Still alive are plans to consolidate Schneider into Jahn, Andersen into LaSalle II, Carpenter into Talcott, Avondale into Logandale, and three small schools at the old Bowen High School campus into a fourth school there — New Millennium.