Since then, hundreds of millions of dollars in city subsidies have poured into the neighborhood, and Chicago’s mayor has become its most famous resident. Now, his school board, high-profile developers and an independent activist are trying to bring the middle-income families back. They say they’re shooting for an arrangement that serves all sides.
At Lozano Bilingual Elementary in West Town, local control has brought an opportunity for students to stay at the school through 9th grade—the year when they are at the highest risk for dropping out. Parents had pressed for the extra year, and the school won an OK from central office. Since the program started in September 1996, none of its participants has dropped out.
For years the Salazar family moved from apartment to apartment in West Town, each time paying more money and getting less for it. Finally last spring they got fed up, bought a house and moved to Cicero.
Housing is cheaper in the suburb, but Ernesto, 12, and Isabela, 9, miss their old school in West Town.
So does their mother, Lucia Salazar, who served on a local school council, organized fund-raisers through a parent club, took parenting classes and worked in classrooms as a student mentor. “Here, we don’t have any of that,” she says.
The board has hired a legal expert and a team of consultants to chart its course for future desegregation policy. The consultants will study the existing plan’s effects on integrating school faculties and student bodies, then report back to the board in April. By September, says Marilyn Johnson, the board’s chief attorney, the board will be ready to “roll out” a plan.
For seasoned veterans, most teaching jobs in the six-county region pay more than Chicago. For elementary teachers, the top of Chicago’s pay scale is below average, but for high school teachers, it’s bottom of the barrel. Only 3 percent of the region’s high school teaching jobs have a lower top salary than Chicago.
In early September, the board and the union announced they had reached an agreement to restore some of the power unions lost in 1995, when Republican state lawmakers gave the mayor control of the school system. But the legislature must adopt the agreement.
On Feb. 27, lawyers for the School Board and the U.S. Department of Justice will respond to a federal judge’s surprise announcement in early January that he was ready to pull the plug on the school system’s 22-year-old desegregation consent decree, which the judge called “passe.”
Deborah Lynch, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, says that when contract talks start with the Board of Education she will demand a pay increase that is higher than the “paltry” raises the union got the last time around. “We’ve made that promise to our members,” she says.
Chicago United, a business coalition that works on education issues, brought a leading expert and proponent, Allen Odden, to town several times that year and paved the way for a $50,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to Odden’s center at the University of Wisconsin to devise new pay alternatives for Chicago and Illinois.