Mattie Tyson says it’s the first winter of good health that she’s had in 15 years. As principal of Johnson Elementary in North Lawndale—where she says schools have long been neglected—the cold winters and Johnson’s faulty heating always triggered sniffles in her and her students.
But recently installed windows, doors and unit ventilators fixed the problem. Tyson and other principals are crediting School Board President Michael Scott, a lifelong resident of North Lawndale who owns property just blocks from Johnson, for bringing needed capital dollars to this set of traditionally starved schools.
“It had been literally years since any school had had anything done,” Tyson says. “I credit Mr. Scott for being aware of the needs of North Lawndale schools.”
Betty Green, principal of Herzl Elementary, agrees. She says Scott’s “high-profile” community leadership is paying off for her school. (Scott attended Herzl from 3rd to 6th grade.) Last March, CPS embarked on Herzl renovations expected to cost more than $3.4 million. With new windows, bricks cleaned and crumbling entranceways recently repaired, Green now heralds the school as “one that students can be proud of.”
When asked if North Lawndale’s schools have received a larger portion of capital investment spending during his time in office, Scott says “let the record speak for itself.”
A Catalyst analysis of CPS renovation projects suggests an increase in spending on North Lawndale schools relative to citywide spending after Scott took office at the end of fiscal year 2001.
Scott points out his duty to address citywide capital needs equitably, but admits that his intimate knowledge of the area factors into the attention recently paid to North Lawndale schools.
“You have to be equitable in your distribution of resources, and I’m very conscious of that and I go all over the city and I try to help wherever I see a need. But I’m far more familiar with what’s going on [in North Lawndale],” says Scott. “I see these schools as I go about my daily life, and if I see something that is wrong, I feel responsible.”
Still, not all of North Lawndale’s needs have been addressed, says Andrea Lee, schools coordinator for the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group, a non-profit watchdog organization. An NCBG analysis of CPS capital spending data from August 2003 shows about 30 percent of budgeted projects in the community are incomplete.
To ensure that Chicago’s public school needs are addressed equitably, NCBG advocates the use of a master facilities plan—complete with a detailed school analysis and input from parents and school leaders. The organization is assembling a model facilities plan that it hopes to submit to the board in June.
Scott points out that North Lawndale schools have suffered years of “benign neglect.” That means “when you put $10 to $15 million into 12 schools, it’s almost like a drop in the bucket.”