Chicago’s board of education voted Wednesday to shutter 50 schools, the largest number of schools closed at one time by any major U.S. city.
The board, appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D), opted to close 49 elementary schools and one high school after the current school year ends. It decided to keep open four additional schools that had been recommended for closure by Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.
The decision came amid vocal protests from the Chicago Teachers Union, parents and some Chicago aldermen, who said they were concerned that the closings will tear apart neighborhood fabric, disrupt families and force children to cross gang turfs to attend other schools.
The country’s third largest school system, Chicago is facing a $1 billion budget shortfall. Declining enrollments have led to inefficient, half-empty schools where too much money has to be directed to maintenance and operations instead of classroom activities, officials said.
School officials say they will take the savings from the closures and redirect the money for the 2013-2014 school year to schools that receive displaced students.
The union has filed two lawsuits in federal court seeking to stop the closures on the grounds that they disproportionately affect African American children and that they will cause great harm to special education students.
Karen Lewis, the union president who led teachers in a bitter, high-profile strike last year that disrupted school for seven days and ended with concessions from Emanuel, suggested that the union will take its battle to the February 2015 mayoral race.
“Our fight for education justice has now moved to the courts, but it must eventually move to the ballot box,” Lewis said in a statement.