Nine traditional schools in Pilsen are “underutilized” according to Chicago Public Schools’ 2015 School Utilization Report, released last month.
More than 300 schools in the city had student enrollment under the recommended capacity. Locally, the neighborhood schools that made the list were: Pickard, Walsh, Whittier, Orozco, Finkl, Jungman, Pilsen, Cooper, and Perez.
Only three schools in the community make “efficient” use of their space, the report said: Juarez, Ruiz, and Instituto Lozano. Notably, students and administrators from these schools have been featured in the media for their academic excellence within the last year.
The good news is that none of the underutilized schools made the dreaded list of closures or mergers for 2016.
CPS has closed dozens of schools in the past to address a steep budget deficit, saying “it must take every step possible to focus our resources on investments that will improve schools for all students.”
For the first round of school shutdowns in 2013, CPS’ Barbara Byrd-Bennett initially considered the six most “underutilized” Pilsen schools for closure or consolidation. However, public hearings held by CPS that February attracted a large crowd of community stakeholders and “the audience was angry”, meeting notes showed. The schools were subsequently removed from the list.
Only one school in the Pilsen-Little Village school network was shuttered that year and it primarily served the Lawndale community.
Recently, Chicago Voz reported that traditional schools in Pilsen are losing up to 30 percent of their respective student body and, by extension, losing out on nearly $3 million in overall funding. The CPS School Utilization Report reflects the significant decline in Pilsen’s academic enrollment.
For a building to be marked “efficient” in the report, student attendance must make up at least 80 percent of the school’s ideal capacity. Any less is categorized as “underutilized”. And if the student enrollment surpasses 120 percent of the school’s recommended use, it’s considered “overcrowded”.
As shown in the chart below, nine out of 12 schools in Pilsen use less than 80 percent of their “ideal” available space.
Teachers and neighborhood groups have criticized the “cookie-cutter formula” of the report, arguing that it hurts special education programs, encourages large class sizes, and ignores the various ways in which school buildings are used for extracurricular and community activities.
Moreover, the school’s performance hardly seems to be a factor since most of the neighborhood schools deemed underutilized are currently rated “Level 1” schools.
Parents and educators in Pilsen must pay close attention to future Utilization Reports, as they are the basis for any proposed actions by CPS. Concerned principals should work toward stabilizing their enrollment numbers and strengthening their base of supporters.
Right now, neighboring Little Village is fighting the co-location of a high school. Down the line, Pilsen could be next.
Article by Jackie Serrato, Editor
Photos by Jackie Serrato
Chicago Public Schools Utilization Report