Months of argument and anguish over Mayor Rahm Emanuel's push for sweeping school closings came to a climax Wednesday as his hand-picked Board of Education voted to shut 49 elementary schools and transfer thousands of children to new classroom settings.
Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett withdrew her recommendation to close four other schools at the last minute as it became clear some board members would fight to save them.
But the board gave a ringing endorsement to Emanuel's vision for a downsized school system, which he argues will help combat a massive budget deficit and allow the district to distribute scarce resources more efficiently.
Critics were unconvinced, and many forcefully expressed objections during and after Wednesday's board meeting. Ald. Ameya Pawar, 47th, one of several City Council members who spoke on behalf of schools in their wards, argued that schools serve as the glue of many neighborhoods.
"Closing a school is akin to closing a community," Pawar said.
But Byrd-Bennett, in urging a vote for the administration's proposal, said that doing nothing to address underused and poorly performing schools was harmful to children.
"We can no longer embrace the status quo because the status quo is not working for all Chicago schoolchildren," Byrd-Bennett said. "It is imperative that you take the difficult decision but essential steps."
The board voted 6-0 to back Emanuel on closing 48 elementary schools and one high school program. The vote to close Von Humboldt Elementary was broken out, and passed 4-2.
The board's solid support for the long, controversial slate of closings came as little surprise to his critics, chief among them the Chicago Teachers Union, which last week filed two federal lawsuits seeking to block the district from following through on its plan.