Schulter exits; His legacy remains Part 2

Ald. Eugene Schulter

Ald. Eugene Schulter Credit: Jane Rickard

This weekend marks the end of an era, not just for Chicago, but for Ravenswood. Today, for the first time since 1975, the 47th Ward will not be represented by Eugene Schulter.

Schulter’s impact on the Ward will last well into the future, even as the laminated signs disappear from our alleys and his name from projects completed.

Schulter joined the council at the age of 26 in 1975. At the time he was the youngest alderman to ever serve. Schulter will be remembered in the Ward for his leadership in the movement of the Old Town School of Folk Music main campus to Lincoln Square, the establishment of the Sulzer Regional Library and the economic revitalization of Lincoln Square.

In part two, we look at some of the civic projects and legacy of his time in office.

Sulzer Library

Among the big projects that will last generations is the creation of the Conrad Sulzer Regional Library. Was it Schulter’s creation of that of Ed Kelly, his political mentor? Both politicians take credit for the library.

The library was opened in the fall of 1985 at a cost of $5.5 million to replace the Hild Regional Library. Although the design created “one of the city’s brightest and airiest” libraries, the 65,000 quare foot building “lopped about 30,000 square feet” from the original design according to Ben Joravsky of the Chicago Reader.

It also suffered from a design flaw that allowed water to leak into the structure as late as 2001.

By 2001 the library is reported to have had the second largest circulation in the Chicago Library System according to the report by Joravsky. A report in Inside Publications in 2001 says the branch had a circulation of 72 percent that of the Washington main branch.

In August 2001, according to press reports in the Reader and other local newspapers, the Sulzer branch collection was hit with a purge of the collection. Activists estimate the library lost ten percent of the total collection, up to 35,000 books.

Schulter joined Sulzer’s Friends of the Library and local media in a confrontation with central office staff as news spread of the purge. In a basement confrontation at the library Schulter got into a shouting match with “one of (Library Commissioner Mary) Dempsey’s staffers,” according to the Reader’s interview with Ron Roenigk, a member of the Sulzer Friends of the Library.

Schulter, the Friends of Sulzer and others met with Dempsey later that week. Their agreement to create an advisory council does not appear to have been followed-up as there is no such council presently active at Sulzer.

Old Town School of Folk Music

According to the Chicago Tribune, “most people credit (the arrival of the Old Town School of Folk Music) with kick-starting the neighborhood’s transformation. The opening in 1998 transformed the former Hild Library building into a neighborhood cultural center with regular music performances. The first location for the school was in the Old Town Triangle on North Ave. In 1968 the school moved to a 13,000 square foot location it still owns on Armitage.

Schulter says he approached the OTS to move into the Hild Library building, vacant after the construction of the Sulzer Library. In 1994 the OTS was chosen as the preferred recipient of the former Hild building. This assessment of Schulter’s role was shared by Bau Graves of the OTS as well as Schulter.

The new 43,000 square foot $10 million site opened in 1998. It had a 400 seat venue for concerts and allowed the school to expand enrollment to 6,400 students per week according to a report in the Chicago Tribune. In 2010, the school laid the ground for an $18 million 27,100 square foot expansion across Lincoln Ave. from the Hild location.

An economic engine, the school employs 300 teachers and staff and expects to add 250 when the expansion is complete.

Although the school plans to add up to 4,800 students a week after the completion of the addition, plans for handling the parking crunch have not yet been explained.

The school also holds an annual Folk and Roots Festival in Welles Park each summer.

The school has also acted as a magnet. The strip of Lincoln near the school does not appear to have as many issues with storefront vacancies and the school is credited with attracting the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative.

Lincoln Square Pedestrian Mall success and failure

It may not appear like it today, but at one time the small boutique stores of the Lincoln Square Mall struggled against larger retail areas, particularly a Lake View big store strip centered on Belmont, Ashland and Lincoln.

An entry in The Encyclopedia of Chicago by Amanda Seligman notes the situation:

The intersection at Lincoln, Lawrence, and Western Avenues had never been as popular as other regional shopping districts, and the growing number of empty storefronts after World War II made some merchants worry about their ability to attract customers. In 1956, they erected a statue of the late president Abraham Lincoln, for whom the area and its major street were called. In 1978 they developed the Lincoln Square mall, a pedestrian plaza that required a controversial rerouting of local traffic. The chamber tried to evoke an Old World flavor with European-style shops and a lantern imported from Hamburg, Germany.

Although he was just in his 20′s and two years in office at the time, Schulter claims credit for the redevelopment of the mall. “One of his first initiatives as Alderman was to change the traffic flow on the 4800 block of N. Lincoln Avenue to create the pedestrian mall in the Lincoln Square,” his web site says.

The pedestrian mall began filling the storefronts south of Lawrence Avenue. However, the area north of Lawrence continued to languish behind the mall.

In March 2006 a Chicago Tribune story noted a city plan to purchase 11 parcels in the “4800 block of North Lincoln” and the “4900 block of North Western.”

“Of those buildings, maybe three are occupied” by commercial tenants Schulter told the Tribune.

In September 2007 the city Community Development Commission approved acquiring 16 parcels saying the businesses “do not represent the highest and best use of the land.”

However, the owner of Chicago Soccer, Imre Hidvegi, and the owner of Decorium Furniture, Tim Le, organized against the eminent domain.

They pointed to their successful businesses and their investments. On December 5, 2007, as Schulter guided eminent domain legislation towards a vote, a group called Save Lincoln Square met at Chicago Soccer to organize against the City Council vote. When the crowd asked why Schulter wasn’t there to meet with them someone announced that he had open ward night at his office and wasn’t available.

Someone else announced they were residents and stood up saying something to the effect of ‘I’m going to go down there.’

According to Tom Mannis of the Chicago News Bench 200-300 people marched down Lincoln Ave to Schulter’s office. A report in the ChiTownDailyNews said the number was closer to 100.

“Alderman Eugene Schulter yelled at his constituents and threatened to have the police haul them away,” Mannis reports. Mannis’ version was confirmed to The Bulldog by other witnesses that night.   The video below, from the Chicago News Bench shows the protest.  

The Sun-Times Mark Konkol noted Schulter’s capitulation:

Bowing to pressure following a community protest and the Sun-Times coverage of his redevelopment plans for the Lincoln Square business district, Alderman Gene Schulter (47th Ward) pulled an ordinance that would have allowed the city to use its eminent domain powers to gobble up the 4800 block of Western.

(In a statement Schulter said) I would like to also take this opportunity to thank the many residents of the 47th Ward who have called, written, and emailed their thoughts and views on this issue to my office expressing both support and concerns.

Other achievements

Talking to Schulter during an informal meeting last spring, prior to being cut-off from further contact, Schulter told The Bulldog he had a hand in the development of most of the business in the Ward.

It was a fantastic claim from a person who had never started a small business.

Here are a few of the major claims on the Schulter’s bio on the city web site:

  • Developed Levy Senior Center
  • Established Western and Belmont police and court facilities
  • Created fire station at Damen and Grace
  • Created new field house at Chase Park
  • Advocated for substantial improvements at Welles Park and Paul Revere Park
  • Created new jobs and retained jobs in the Ravenswood Industrial Corridor
  • Created Greening of Ravenswood
  • Sponsored capital and operational improvements at schools in ward, new additions at McPherson and Chappell
  • Fought negligent and delinquent landlords in ward
  • Established Lake View High School Campus. (“city’s first school campus.” I guess the campus at Lane Tech came later?)

The Western Avenue North TIF, which is unmentioned above, reports it funded one project. It also hung out several million dollars for small business development. Millions move from this TIF to other TIFs in the city.

The Western Avenue South TIF helped the Martha Washington Hospital campus transform into a senior campus and can be considered a TIF success.

It too ships millions of dollars out of the community to help the city’s general revenue fund.

Greening of Ravenswood doesn’t seem to have been active for several years. Its website is for sale.

The Ravenswood Community Council, itself a creature of Schulter, is trying to reinvent itself after years of failure.

The Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce has collapsed. The industrial corridor is reinventing itself as an artist district.

The neighborhood schools are adequate. As noted in previous Bulldog reports, sadly, they are not excellent. Responsibility for their problems are denied by our elected officials, though the shiny new additions are credited to politicians who have supported fiscal policies that have robbed the schools of potential resources.

In the 15 months The Bulldog has existed  Schulter famously returned from vacation to vote against a recommendation that would cut his control of street sweepers and trash collection. Later Schulter told the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce he would fight cuts to their funding.

(What happens when the Chamber crosses the alderman? Read about it here.)

Later, Schulter did not appear at a special meeting of the City Council called to put a referendum on the ballot regarding increasing police presence and to reconsider the parking meter lease.

For the final word on Schulter’s legacy we refer you to a report carried by WBEZ: “We really felt like we had no word,” Tim Le of Decorium told the radio station about Schulter’s eminent domain plans.

Read Part 1 of the Schulter legacy.

*** Update 110515 5.03P Bau Graves name had an extra ‘e’ (Beau). ***

 

Ravenswood 5K Run

Ravenswood 5K Run. Credit: Jack Lydon

Early Sunday morning, area runners took to the streets of Ravenswood for the 15th Annual Ravenswood Run five kilometer race.  Beginning at 8A, from the corner of Hermitage and Wilson over 3,500 runners ran down Heritage to Irving Park Road and then back north up Paulina, west on Leland before returning to east on Wilson to the finish at Ravenswood.

 

Wearing number 4, James Akita finished first overall with a time of 15:07.  Appropriately wearing number 2, Brent Alexander came in next, thirteen seconds behind.  Brent placed second in 2010 as well.

Andrew McCann finished third overall with a time of 15:36 but first in the mens’ 20 to 24 year old division.

The fastest woman was Heather Precop (#3) with a time of 17:35 and eighteenth place overall.  Melissa Hadesty (18:10, 27th overall) and Kalina Michalska (18:50, 46th overall) rounded out the top three female finishers.

In what was surely one of his last public appearances as alderman, outgoing 47th Ward Alderman Gene Schulter held the tape as James Akita crossed the finish line.

47th Ward Alderman-elect, Ameya Pawar, ran the race appropriately wearing number 47, and finished with a very respectable time of 24:52.

Proceeds from the event benefit the Ravenswood Community Services Food Pantry at All Saints Episcopal Church the Student Health Centers at Lake View and Amundsen High Schools.  Last year, the race raised $35,000.00.

Small business owners feel at mercy of aldermen

Tim Van Le and Imre Hidvegi remember their fight with city hall several years ago.

“We really felt like we had no word,” Tim Van Le of Lincoln Square’s Decorium Furniture told WBEZ about a push by Ald. Eugene Schulter to seize his block through eminent domain.

‘”Three and a half years later, he still heaves a sigh when he describes how it felt knowing he might have to relinquish his store,” the report says.

George Fink is president of the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce. He says he senses fear on the part of small business owners.

“That’s the general feeling in the public that oh well, we can’t do anything unless we go through the alderman to do it,” Fink said. “Is that a good feeling for free people? No, I don’t think so.”

WBEZ says Elizabeth Milnikel agrees. She’s researched the regulatory environment in Chicago as part of her work as director of the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago. It’s a law clinic with a libertarian bent that works with lower-income entrepreneurs. She says Chicago’s political system vests too much control in each individual alderman.

Read more at WBEZ.

 

Glass mural project stalled

The glass mural as it appeared in late summer 2010. The installation of the mural has been stalled by funding issues and frustration by the artist with the lack of simple attention by the community. "The tree has to go," he says. Credit: Patrick Boylan

Matthew John’s artist studio has stood in the same place since 1963. It is defined by the friendly attitude of the artist and the clutter of arts and crafts movement items inside. On the outside wall, facing a city owned car park is a partially completed mural depicting the English countryside near Banbury Oxfordshire.

 

 

“It is a fantasy picture of where I grew up as a kid,” John says. The mural depicts “Castle Combe in Wiltshire.”

 

An ongoing work since 2000, the mural was conceived by John in 1998. But progress has slowed recently as the project has suffered from funding issues and John has relocated his studio to Minnesota.

 

“I have put myself into debt working on this project,” John says. He lists a series of setbacks he has suffered including losing his home, a key work contract and having a vehicle repossessed. On the positive side he has remarried, but that sped his move from Chicago.

 

“The whole project could be depressing,” John says, “one has to keep one’s eye on the goal.”

 

John’s concept for the project changed soon after starting. Initially a neighborhood beautification project, his sister-in-law, Regina Murray, lost a battle with cancer. John decided to embrace a new goal.

 

That goal: to raise $100,000 for the American Cancer Society.

 

The means: sell the individual glass tiles of the 900 square foot installation. The size of the installation marks this as among the largest glass tile installations in the United States. Tiles would be funded by purchases by the public. Part of the purchase price would be donated to the ACS. [Note: John says any charity can be named if you sponsor a tile.]

 

John began a push to sell the tiles. Although less than half are sold, John has installed nearly 500. More than 300 remain to be installed.

 

To fund the project, John traded his cherry red 1974 Porsche Carrera for a city blue cherry picker, complete with rust.

The city blue cherry picker John received in trade for his cherry red 1974 Porsche Carrera. Credit: Patrick Boylan

 

 

John parked the cherry picker in the lot under the mural, using it as needed and as time allowed, to install the tiles.

 

Time passed. The city installed a tree which has blocked much of the mural. And the lot has been leased to CPM. CPM told John the cherry picker had to go.

 

“Children had been observed playing on the equipment causing a potential safety hazard,” CPM President Avis LaVelle told The Bulldog. “This prompted a decision to ask for the equipment to be removed.”

 

LaVelle also said the cherry picker had been idle in the lot, taking up parking spots. CPM seemed most concerned with liability for allowing the cherry picker on the lot. John said he had the impression CPM was refusing to allow him access without compensation.

 

In several emails exchanged between CPM and The Bulldog LaVelle never mentioned compensation for lost parking revenues. However, she kept returning to liability.

 

John said the cherry picker required maintenance and some minor repair, another financial burden. But he would use it provided something could be worked out with CPM.

 

Ald. Eugene Schulter’s office was asked about the tree by The Bulldog. As shown in the accompanying photos, the tree currently blocks the installed tiles. Over time the entire wall will be obscured. Schulter’s office did not respond to emails or telephone inquiries about the status of the tree.

 

John however said The Bulldog calls did prompt the Alderman’s office to call him.

 

“They wanted to know what it would take to complete the mural,” John told The Bulldog.

 

First, he told the alderman, the tree has to go.

 

John’s relations with Schulter’s office have been on and off. John was angered when Schulter’s chief-of-staff, Dan Luna, demanded John turn over the tiles yet to be installed to the city. John said it is an insult to suggest city workers with no skill in glazing such an art work could complete the installation.

 

“It’s a work of art,” John said. “It’s not something for someone to just slap up on the wall.”

 

John explains there was a learning curve in the application of the tiles and compares the project to his Sistine Chapel.

 

“When I put a tile on the wall it won’t come down,” John said. “It will last forever.”

 

John said he doubted city workers could master the technique. “I didn’t appreciate Dan’s comments,” he says, “it was like ripping my guts out.”

 

That was last year.

 

This time, Schulter’s office asked how much it would cost to complete the installation.

 

John looked at the unsold tiles and computed the total for the full donation to charity: $78,400. Earlier he had told The Bulldog he needed between $30,000 and $40,000 to complete the installation. The difference is the anticipated donation to charity.

 

John told The Bulldog he could complete the installation in about six weeks.

 

John appealed to Schulter to help complete the installation. He also says he asked the Old Town School of Folk Music for help. But although his outreach efforts weren’t broad enough. John blames the community for their lack of support.

The Wing Lung Bank glass tile installation is reputed to be the largest such installation in the US. In this composite, we show the Lincoln Square glass mural installation in comparison.

 

 

“The Chamber of Commerce fully supports the mural,” Executive Director Melissa Flynn of the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce told The Bulldog. “But he hasn’t come to us.”

 

John explained he had given up on his chamber membership. He seemed surprised he could approach the Chamber for help without a membership.

 

The mural, now entering its 13th year of work, predates many people and even institutions in the neighborhood. Snubs from years ago are remembered by John, but unknown to the new people and institutions.

 

And time is running out as John will soon close his studio and move to Menahga, Minnesota for good.

 

Over the previous weekend Daniels Antiques held a grand opening in the front space John’s studio occupied. John says he maintains a presence in the back. But he also noted last year “I’m clearing everything out.”

 

The building owners, Sidney and Jean Becker provided the wall space and Schulter is quoted as saying he would arrange for the mural to be spotlighted at night. (A large lighting device is in place at the foot of the mural. But the tree threatens the lighting effort). “I believe that the mural is going to be a huge asset to the community,” Schulter told Inside-Booster in February, 2010.

 

“I thought things would go bang, bang, bang. Now things have stopped,” John told The Bulldog. “I want to finish it more than anyone. I want to get on with my life,” he declares.

 

Parents support Lane Tech academic center

Lane Tech’s bid for an Academic Center to fast track fast learners from Jr. High to Lane is an idea whose time came too fast to a large chunk of the community. Many learned about it just days before Thursday night’s open house with the application deadline looming April 1st. As one anxious parent put it, “this is so, so very last second for us, to go through the application process how do we know if there will even be another open house and how can we plan for anything?”

One teary eyed mom said; “all my children worked so hard to do so well ….now how do they get a chance?”

The painful irony is Lane’s proposal- mapped out in detail for the sprawling campus at Addison and Western Ave- has languished at the CPS  office more than two years. At one point Principal Antoniette LoBosco was told she had the green light, pending community support. More than a thousand signed petitions within a week. But as months turned to years action stalled.

Alderman Gene Schulter reportedly brought two different school officials to the CPS who feared they would lose students, staff and their own chance for an A.C.

As it now stands, the application deadline is April 1st. It appears a waiting list is taking shape even before the CPS decision, expected on or shortly after March 23. If the vote is thumbs up, another open house is slated for March 27th. If not, no one will have to worry about getting their applications in by deadline.

Statehouse press corps objects to exclusive agreement with Trib

The Capitol Fax Blog reports that Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn made an agreement with the Chicago Tribune granting it exclusive coverage of the historic signing of the Illinois Death Penalty Repeal.

“This was a huge, momentous bill, perhaps the most important legislation that Gov. Pat Quinn will ever sign,” the site said in a note to readers today.

The hand-delivered letter to Quinn from the Illinois Statehouse press corps notes “we object strenuously to your decision to single out one particular news organization to witness and photograph the signing.”

As strange as it sounds, this battle between the press corps and the governor about a major newspaper gaining preferred access is important stuff. Imagine if the governor could always pick and choose. Why not choose the friendliest or most ignorant media in the state to report the news of his doings? Of what happens in a court house, the legislature or any of the government units that extend right here into our neighborhood?

The  battle between the press and politicians cannot be underestimated by the readership of The Bulldog. We often seek the opinion of elected representatives of our Wards and legislative district and offices for answers. And we have often been frustrated by the contempt we find. We have found it difficult in some cases to get simple questions answered, such as the status of municipal construction projects from our alderman.

In the election which just passed, the 47th Ward witnessed a contest between three men who sought public access and welcomed it and one man who depended on money to purchase the office.

On election day he growled at a photographer for this site, snarling “I don’t read that site.”

Overt hostility to the public, in the guise of the press worries us. We worry about our personal safety and the safety of our investment, including our home, as we put ourselves out there to answer questions on your behalf.

But the battle between the press and the politicians happens in surprising places, too.

Here is a recent discussion between Fox News show host Bill O’Reilly and News Host Chris Wallace about an ongoing feud between former Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin and O’Reilly.

Yes, it happens everywhere someone demands an answer and someone else wants to lay it on thick or avoid the question. Even in the Fox echo chamber.

The Bulldog has expressed its anger directly to politicians it perceives as attempting to tilt the field towards a particular local publication by giving it access. That is unfair to you, our readers.

When a politician refuses to answer a question, we can deal with it by noting that fact to you. When a politician attempts to use another local publication to advance their message by acing us out of press releases and press events, that is not acceptable to us. It shouldn’t be acceptable to our competition either.

Here are five examples of being stonewalled encountered in the past year by The Bulldog:

  • In April of last year The Bulldog asked for records related to Local School Councils for each of the Ravenswood schools.  Some schools never replied.
  • In April of last year The Bulldog asked the Chicago Public Schools to provide a list of candidates for LSC, including enough information to be able to identify the candidates address and other contact information. CPS refused, holding that the state FOIA law required it to refuse to give that information. Without that information we cannot contact LSC candidates except through the control of the principal. We cannot even identify whether Joe Smith, running for the LSC, is the Joe Smith the child molester or Joe Smith the patron saint of children.
  • The Bulldog has made a series of requests for planning documents related to Clark Park. Although Fran Spielman wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times about a multi-million dollar effort to build a little Wrigley Field west of Lane Stadium, no one, not the alderman, the City Planning Department, the Chicago Park District or the Chicago Public Schools could share any information about the plans for that plot of land. According to all the sources, no plans exist for that plot of vacant land.
  • The Bulldog has made a number of attempts to gain access to documents related to the city acquisition, for $1.4 million, of a plot of land in Lincoln Square. The efforts of The Bulldog did result in a sudden interest in the city in maintaining the land— they cut the grass. And soon enough work began on the land to develop it into a community garden. However no documents relating to the long-term plan for the land has ever been produced by the Alderman or the city departments contacted.
  • The Bulldog asked Ald. Eugene Schulter to provide fax records and telephone records. As explained in our story that Schulter’s chosen replacement as Alderman, Tom O’Donnell, was under investigation, Schulter hid behind a technicality in the law to refuse to give up the records. There was enough evidence to indicate, but not outright prove, the ward office used official resources for political purpose in the aldermanic campaign.
  • There have been other examples too. Salary reports, flooding, pollution, and huge government projects.

Clearly, this has been a challenging year for the politicians who are suddenly under the glare of being visible and for us as we push for answers.

The Bulldog is grateful for the assistance provided to it in the past year by

  • First, with great humility, the public servants of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. We put them under pressure to help us with an important story and they came through. We are so proud of these public servants who helped us help you.
  • the Kent School of Law Center for Open Government,
  • the Online Media Legal Network of Harvard University’s Berkman Center,
  • Executive Director Terry Norton of Kent,
  • Jennifer Klear, an attorney who works closely with us through OMLN.

We encourage you, our readers, to read the entire text of the Capitol Fax Blog post.

We encourage you, our readers, to write to Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to tell him this is not acceptable behavior.

We encourage you, our readers, to follow-up with local politicians who attempt to evade our questions by demanding those politicians answer the questions put to them.

This is Sunshine Week in the United States, a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance to you, the readership, of open and transparent government and the freedom of information. There are broad efforts in this country to limit your ability to know information you need to make informed decisions. It happens right here in Ravenswood and continues all the way up the line to the highest levels of this democracy.

It is your government. Demand answers. Tell politicians FOIA, the Freedom of Information Act, and the Open Meetings acts should be strengthened.

 

Schulter: I’m still relevant

In an interview, outgoing Alderman and 47th Ward Democratic boss Eugene Schulter warned he wants to continue to be ward committeeman and will remaing “a force to contend with.”

Given to Dan Mihalopoulos of the Chicago News Cooperative, Schulter sounded defensive, calling the demise of the “fighting 47th” greatly exaggerated.

“I would have won, absolutely,” he told the CNC when asked if the election decision would have been different if he had run again.

Read the interview in Early and Often.

Friends of Filbert Playlot fundraiser at Little Gym

The Friends of Filbert Playlot will be holding a fundraiser benefitting efforts on behalf of the playlot Sat., Mar. 12th, 4:30-6P at Little Gym, 3216 N Lincoln Ave.

As previously reported, efforts are underway to upgrade the playlot., located at 1822 W Larchmont. The Friends plan $350K in improvements to the park land. Upgrades include new equipment, a rubber play surface, gates, fencing, benches and lighting among other things.

The group has raised $122K so far, including a commitment by Ald. Eugene Schulter to earmark $100K of ward menu money toward the park.

  • Fundraiser for Friends of Filbert Playlot
  • Sat., Mar. 12th, 4:30-6P
  • The Little Gym, 3216 N Lincoln Ave.
  • $15

Read the plans for the park at Friends of Filbert Playlot.

Read about the fundraiser at Friends of Filbert Playlot.

Stop sign on road to Lane Academic Center

Lane Limbo

Imagine you are in the driver’s seat waiting for a red light to change so you can bring home the groceries. Imagine you’re still sitting there more than a year when the light starts to change to green. But wait, now it’s flashing a yellow caution. Then the cops say that’s not a green light anymore.

It’s a bit of a stretch, but welcome to The Twilight Zone of Lane Tech Principal Antoinette LoBosco.

For two years she has been driving her case for a fast lane to and through Lane Tech for quick learning 7th and 8th graders. The on-again off-again Academic Center would make Lane a onestop learning shop for high school credits.  Plus a one-way ticket to the prestigious selective enrollment high school.

There’s room on the fourth floor of the rambling weathered building on 2501 West Addison. Rows of dim classrooms await bright students. Last December says LoBosco   “I was told the plan to open a Lane Tech Academic Center was no longer green-lighted.  The explanation was the uncertain state of the CPS budget.  Given that there would not have been any additional building, textbook, supplies or staffing costs, I was unclear on why approval had been withdrawn.”

What has come into clearer focus are a few schools opposed to it.  Taft and two other North Side schools reportedly worry about a brain drain.

LoBosco points to a CPS survey concluding there is a need for a sixyear college prep school at Lane. Now, CPS Administration is apparently backing off which puzzles LoBosco; “Lane was told the Alderman would have to approve our proposal in order for CPS to move forward.  We had three meetings.  At the last meeting, Alderman Schulter invited three elementary school principals who had contacted him with their concerns.  Each indicated an Academic Center might adversely affect their enrollments.  The results of the CPS study did not show any one elementary school would be significantly impacted but they remained unconvinced.”

Right now the only selective enrollment high schools with academic centers are Lindblom and Whitney Young. Slim pickings for North Side students.  Taft Principal Maria Asvos knows all too well of Lane’s proposal, but takes a diplomatic route, e-mailing The Bulldog;

I am aware of Lane’s interest in starting an academic center. This is a board issue and a decision they have to make, as they analyze the demographics.  The best interests for the students in our communities is an important issue and challenge that the board needs to address over time.  Our program serves 245 students. We hope that we continue to serve them in the future.  We are starting our 12th year this fall and it has been an honor to have so many wonderful students at Taft, and to have been a part of two important years in their lives.

Though the proposal may be in political limbo it hits home for school families. A local school board chair echoes their sentiments. Jill Martensen at Decatur Elementary told the Chicago Tribune her two daughters in the classical school finish at sixth grade. She’s also shopping for a middle school for her fifth grader. Whitney Young is about the only game in town. Martensen tells the Tribune if she does not get accepted the only option is to stand in line for “fill-in spots” at a gifted middle-school program or an International Baccalaureate program. Barring that or a thumbs-up for Lane Tech, her daughter will get a crash course in the arduous application process amid an often tense transition to a new high school, the Tribune article said.

LoBosco’s opposing educators and alderman may well have good reason for their positions. But it’s tough to fault LoBosco for not doing her homework. Take a look at her arguments to CPS:

 

  • Of the six existing CPS Academic Centers, only one is on the north side of the city (Taft) and is located far northwest. Many of the 8th graders from the Taft Center end up attending Lane or other selective enrollment high schools (41 freshmen in 2010).
  • A Lane Tech Academic Center would eliminate the necessity of two high school transitions for students that leave Taft.
  • Approximately 90-120 qualified students in 2009-10 were turned away from the Whtiney Young Academic Center and/or were not able to get into any other area gifted program.
  • Lane typically enrolls 175 – 200 private school students into the freshman class each year.  It is anticipated that many of the applicants to the Lane Academic Center would be drawn from the Catholic and private schools in the area, which would further lessen the impact on local public elementary schools.
  • Unlike other parts of the city, the North Side is growing and there is room for an academic center without decimating the populations of area elementary schools or the Taft Academic Center.
  • For the last few years, million dollar dwellings have been constructed directly across from Lane and within a two-mile radius of the school, presumably with the hopes of attracting young professionals to the city.  Having a nearby Academic Center for their children can only help attract and keep residents in the city.
  • Lane already has an extensive AP program which would continue the gifted education of 7th and 8th graders.
  • Lane has the space in which to locate a center, as well as other needed resources (books, furniture, etc.)
  • Lane’s LSC and PTSO, as well as Alumni groups and “friends” are in favor of opening an Academic Center
  • The CPS Office of Academic Enhancement was in support of this program for 2009-10 until they encountered a freeze in opening new programs.  Their own research showed an Academic Center would be well supported.
  • Parents of K-6 elementary schools are in support of another option besides Taft, Lindblom or Whitney Young.
  • Lane has a 102 year history of academic excellence, athletic and extracurricular tradition and numerous other opportunities that offers students an unparalleled high school experience.
  • Despite the case for Lane and some 1,300 signatures of support within a week, it’s hard to imagine any action before or soon after last week’s election. This leaves families like Martensen, Lane educators, and neighborhood school kids all stalled back in the same driver’s seats waiting for Superman to change a traffic light.