Discretionary Purchase

Parents in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood have grabbed national headlines for their sit-in protest of the Chicago Public School’s decision to demolish a field house that parents want converted into a school library. City officials had planned to demolish the field house/youth community center to make space for a soccer field for a private school next door.

The parent’s have set up a lending library with thousands of donated books in the past few weeks although they still have no professional librarian on hand. Donations came from individuals and organizations including the Chicago Underground Library.

CPS CEO Ron Huberman proposed a compromise in an attempt to diffuse the situation: CPS would build a library in the school’s main building. In addition, to keep the fieldhouse from being torn down, it would be leased to a nonprofit organized by the parents for $1/year; that organization would be responsible for bringing the building up to code. City officials claimed that the community center was not structurally sounnd. An independent inspector hired by the paren’ts organization found that the building could be salvaged for a fraction of the price it would take to demolish it.

The parents are upset for several reasons: 1. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) had set aside $356,000 to demolish the field house while a structural engineer retained by the parents said that the field house only needed a new roof which would cost approximately $20,000 – $25,000. 2. There is no Chicago Public Library branch near the school. 3. CPS told People’s Gas to shut off heat to the building in an attempt to freeze them out.

After scanning earnings from the Better Government Association database for Chicago it’s easy to see why there isn’t any money available for libraries. Chicago has a lot of overpaid city employees.

“There are many schools that have (only) classroom libraries because librarians have become a discretionary purchase,” says Barbara Radner, director of the Center for Urban Education at DePaul University. “They’ve gone from being a school essential to now becoming perceived as an option.”

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