Chicago Public Schools on Tuesday released a list of schools that are underenrolled according to this year's attendance figures, providing additional data for a commission that is studying school closings but may not weigh in on which buildings should be shuttered.
CPS officials have said the nine-member commission, appointed by district CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, is working independently and will issue recommendations that include a list of proposed schools to close.
But commission member and state Sen. Iris Martinez, D-Chicago, said Tuesday she's not sure the group's work will result in such a list.
"Our job is to look at the utilization issue in elementary schools," Martinez said. "We are fact-finding and looking for community input. Whether at the end we give a list or not give a list, we're going to recommend something."
A spokeswoman for CPS, which recently won an extension until March 31 to reveal the schools it plans to close, said there are no monthly goals for the commission and that it's not known when the body might release its recommendations.
"That is up to them. We don't know at this point," said spokeswoman Becky Carroll in an email.
The district says underuse will be the key factor in deciding what schools to close. According to the list released Tuesday, enrollment at 330 of the 681 total schools is below 80 percent of what the district has determined to be the ideal population. Of those, 139 schools are only half full or less. Nine of those are privately run, publicly funded charter schools.
Although CPS officials have said student performance will not be a determining factor in closing schools, 91 of the district's worst-performing schools are among those deemed half empty.
The commission is being asked to gather community input on the school closings. In naming the commission last month, Byrd-Bennett acknowledged a lack of trust among parents and residents and said more work needed to be done before the district could decide what schools needed to be closed.
On Tuesday, Byrd-Bennett said she's expecting recommendations from the commission on specific schools to close before the new March 31 deadline.
Since the commission was created, critics have questioned its independence and how it would go about engaging the community. Many of those same critics, led by the Chicago Teachers Union, have said CPS knows the schools it wants to close and sought an extension on its Dec. 1 deadline for announcing the closings simply so angry parents have less time to put up a fight.
The commission said it will gather community input this month and then begin holding meetings in neighborhoods expected to be hit by the school cuts. The first meeting with public comments was held Monday night and was attended by just about 100 people. Community meetings are also scheduled for Friday and Monday evenings.
CPS blames the city's population decline, especially on the South and West sides, for much of the drop in school enrollment. Citing 2010 U.S. census data, CPS said Chicago now has about 145,000 fewer children ages 19 and under than it did a decade ago.
While many schools don't have enough students according to CPS, 80 schools are overcrowded, most on the North and Southwest sides, the district said Tuesday.
School enrollment and utilization data can be found at: www.cps.edu/qualityschools.
Tribune reporter Alex Richards contributed.
Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun