By Ken Reed

Talk about warped priorities.

Chicago, in the midst of perhaps the biggest budget crisis in its history, has decided to close 50 of the city’s public schools while spending $100 million of taxpayer money on a new basketball arena for DePaul University, a private institution.

The public school closings will impact about 30,000 students, approximately 90% of them African-American. An upset coalition of parents, teachers and students is fighting back, warning that the closures will lead to overcrowded classrooms and endanger students forced to walk longer distances to new schools. It might be too late.

“They are making a very massive, radical, and frankly, irreversible experiment here on other people’s children,” says Jesse Starkey, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Meanwhile, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is busy pushing the new 12,000 seat arena for DePaul, at a location 50 blocks from the DePaul campus. The new sports palace is for a team that’s gone 47-111 the last five years and that had less than 3,000 fans actually in seats at home games last season. And get this: The United Center, home of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls, offered DePaul use of its arena for 10 years, rent free … and DePaul turned it down in order to seek its own arena.

“DePaul likes this Emanuel idea more,” writes Chicago Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander. “And why shouldn’t it? If you’re at the trough, you’re going to waddle over to the feeding spot with the most slop rolling down the flume. In Chicago, this is known as business as usual.”

Long-time stadium and arena consultant Marc Ganis wasn’t any more positive about the Chicago situation.

“It’s lunacy,” said Ganis. “Sheer folly. It makes no economic sense whatsoever.”

Lunacy indeed. Nearly 30,000 disadvantaged students get their schools shut down and now face long walks through less-than-safe neighborhoods to go to school, while fans of a private university’s basketball team stroll to a taxpayer-subsidized arena in a neighborhood where the local residents are protesting the new arena’s arrival.

The entire crazy scenario is based on political decisions that are hard to fathom — even for Chicago, a city well-known for corrupting taxpayer money.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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