As the hunger strike by Dyett High School activists moved into its 12th day, Mayor Emanuel finally broke his silence on the issue to declare that he wasn’t sure there were enough students on the south side to justify opening another high school.
“There’s a lot of high schools in that area,” the mayor told reporters yesterday. “How do you talk about another one when even some of the high schools within the three-mile radius are not at capacity yet?”
The mayor has a point—though he picks a funny time to make it.
Why, it was just a few months ago, when he was in a heated race for reelection, that the mayor promised south-siders he’d reopen Dyett, at 555 E. 51st, which closed last school year.
But now that he’s safely reelected, it’s as though he suddenly discovered there’s no compelling demographic reason to reopen Dyett—what with the school system being broke and everything.
So, sorry ’bout that promise, folks. That was then and this is now.
Like I said, the mayor makes a good point. Demographics should play a role in where we open new schools.
Why, if this were a perfect world, we wouldn’t open any new schools anywhere until we’ve figured out how to adequately fund the ones we have.
But, as I’ve been known to mention from time to time, we don’t live in a perfect world.
We live in Chicago. And here mayors generally open and close schools as ways to reward friends and punish enemies, demographics be damned.
In the category of enemies who are getting punished, I’d have to place the coalition of activists pleading for a new school at Dyett.
Many of them are affiliated with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization—also known as KOCO—which has sort of a Hatfield-and-McCoys relationship with Mayor Emanuel and his local allies, like Alderman Will Burns and state rep Christian Mitchell.
They’ve been fighting each other for so long most people have forgotten what they’re fighting about—though Burns, Mitchell, and KOCO will remind you if you give them a few minutes.
There may be many positives to KOCO’s proposal to turn Dyett into the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology Academy, with a science-based curriculum.
But KOCO could bring back the saintly Maria Montessori herself to run that school, and the mayor still wouldn’t let it happen—at least not without a fight.
In the category of building schools to reward mayoral friends, good god, where do we start?
In 2013 the mayor authorized the construction of an extension at the Lincoln school—in Lincoln Park—even though there are several underutilized schools in the area.
That cost us roughly $18 million. And—just think—not one Lincoln Parker had to go on a hunger strike to get it.
Speaking of mayoral friends on the north side, Mayor Emanuel also built an extension to the Coonley school, even though there’s a perfectly fine vacant school right down the street.
That’s the old Courtenay school, which the mayor closed right around the time he was green-lighting Coonley’s expansion.
The Coonley expansion cost at least $16.5 million, which the mayor took from his TIF jelly bean jar.
The tax increment financing program is supposed to eradicate blight in low-income areas. I think we can all agree that the neighborhood around Coonley hasn’t been blighted or low-income since Lee surrendered at Appomattox.
Wait! I’m not done with my examples.
In 2013 the mayor OK’d the construction of a new Noble Charter School right across the street from Prosser Career Academy High School even though there were underutilized schools in that area.
And while we’re on the subject of charters, Mayor Emanuel and Mayor Daley had a hand in Dyett’s demise by surrounding it with charters and contract schools, including Ace Tech, Little Black Pearl, Perspectives-IIT Math & Science Academy, Urban Prep, the University of Chicago Charter School Woodlawn, and so on and so forth.
To justify spending money to put charters next to underutilized public schools, Mayor Emanuel invokes his inner Ronald Reagan.
Parents, he says, need choice. And if the Nobles drive the Dyetts out of existence by siphoning off their students, so be it. The free market has spoken and the free market is king!
In that spirit, I’d like to propose the following compromise in regard to Dyett.
Give KOCO its high school and let them go toe-to-toe with the mayor’s friends at UChicago Woodlawn in a winner-take-all, Hunger Games-style battle for survival.
In short, give the parents more choice and let the free market decide which school prospers.
Alas, I got a feeling the mayor’s not going to let that happen as long has KOCO has anything to do with Dyett.
Apparently, some markets in Chicago are freer than others.