Why I support the proposed school closings: Welsh

The Board of Education will make a final decision next month on the proposed closing of 54 Chicago Public Schools. Like so many of you, I wish it was not necessary. I know it's disruptive when children change schools. And I hate to see teachers and others lose their jobs.

But the alternative is to sock the city's taxpayers with huge new bills. That would not only be unfair, it would cost us far more jobs by driving homeowners and private employers out of Chicago.

That's why I support the proposed closings. It's a matter of math, really, simple enough for our grade schoolers to understand.

CPS says it currently has room for 511,000 students, with only 403,000 enrolled. We're wasting a lot of money to heat and light all that empty space. The proposed closings would save taxpayers about $43 million in annual operating costs and another $560 million in capital repair costs over the next decade.

We won't see those savings for several years. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS are spending $233 million to upgrade the receiving schools: each will have a library, science lab, math lab, air conditioning and iPads in class. But most importantly, the students from the closing schools will be in a learning environment with more resources and energy under one roof.

CPS claims to face a budget shortfall of almost $1 billion next year. The big public employee unions say that number is exaggerated, but even they concede there is a real shortfall. Their solution is higher taxes. I disagree.

The system can do a much better job with the vast resources it already has. CPS will spend more than $5.5 billion this year. Enrollment is shrinking and only 61 percent graduate from high school. As sad as that is, the graduation rate is actually up a little.

The status quo still fails too many of our children. We can't keep kicking the can down the road and do nothing. I support the proposed changes. But I recognize that families, students and teachers have legitimate concerns about what comes next.

Here at Fox 32, we'll continue to cover every aspect of this story. We plan to hold CPS and Mayor Emanuel accountable. They've made a lot of promises. They say each student will be safe moving to a different school and that the receiving school will be better than the school being closed. They need to deliver on those promises and teachers need to put the interests of their students first.

The focus needs to remain on delivering the opportunity of a quality education to every child.

I'm Dennis Welsh and that's how I see it. I'd like to hear your thoughts. E-mail your comments to Editorial@FoxChicago.com.