Archive for the ‘Chicago Board of Education’ category

Is This Really Fair CPS?

August 29, 2011

The Chicago Public Schools want to give teachers a 2% raise for 29% more hours.  For a beginning teacher this is $3.08 an hour.  That’s considerably less than many of her students would make babysitting.

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Censored Student Finally Allowed to Speak

March 1, 2010

CORE passed out Yes/No signs at the Board meeting where Shantell was silenced

[Operation Push allowed Shantell Steve to deliver a speech after the student who was honored by President Obama earlier this year was censored at the Chicago Board of Education meeting this past week and it was reprinted by Substance News. If you’re not reading Substance, you’re not getting the real story of what’s going on in the Chicago education scene.]

Good morning everyone, I would like to take the time to thank Jonathan Jackson and Rainbow PUSH for inviting me and actually allowing me to speak.

As some of you might know, on Wednesday [February 24, 2010], the Chicago Board of Education invited us to be honored and then decided that Kellina Mojica and I were too dangerous to be allowed to speak to the people of Chicago. Because on that the day they had already planned to vote to close 8 schools and they knew we would tell the truth about this terrible process. In a way, they are right — truth is dangerous to people doing wrong. Kellina and I were at the board to be recognized for our work to promote a democratic society so it was especially ironic to be silenced. So I would like to share some excerpts from that speech.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once stated that “True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice”. I have lived this meaning over my four years at Julian High school. I have worked with different social justice groups like Jaguars for Justice and Chicago Youth Initiating Change to promote strong student voices in our community and education in general. I have advocated for peer-to-peer mentoring and teacher-student mentoring as an alternative to punitive interventions for so-called “at-risk” students. Most of all I have fought for student and community voice in the reforming of our schools — opposing Renaissance 2010 and its closing and turning around of schools against the wishes of our communities and the betterment of our educations. In our experience Ren2010 disrupts schools and takes away the heart of what school is all about—our relationships with teachers.

Our work has been successful in some areas but in others we are still fighting for change. We have made great strides in promoting student voice and improving our individual school. While we have been calm and truthful with the board, they have ignored our voices and continued on their path of injustice. It made me rethink the Dr. King quote: I thought, maybe sometimes to bring true justice, you not only have to endure tension, you have to bring tension to the situation. If they are too comfortable, people with power will not allow justice to flourish. Many people see a good student as playing by the rules, but my activism has shown me that we can’t bring justice unless we decide what’s right and move forward—even as resistance. What good is doing what you are told when the people telling you are sabotaging neighborhood schools all around you?

The Board often refers to first section of the Board Meeting as the “Good News Section”. As if the community section is the “bad news” section. But the only people who truly know how to improve community education are us, the students and the communities who have been long neglected. So we must join together to bring some serious positive tension and demand the implementation of justice in Chicago education. After all, that’s what this recognition is about—helping remind those in power that our schools belong to all of us.

In the end, I hope the board is right. I hope that us raising our voices is critically dangerous to them. These 8 schools must be saved and if the Board is too cowardly to act against the mayor’s wishes, then we must join together to make it tense enough to stop these turnarounds and closings. That would be the best news of all for our Chicago democracy.

Solving Chicago’s Billion Dollar School Debt

February 28, 2010

The French Market benefited greatly from TIF money

About a decade ago, my financial outlook was really bleak.  I had gone back to school and financed a middle class lifestyle on a part-time retail job selling comic books and credit cards.   The result was between student loans and credit, I owed about $36,000.   I dug my way out of the big hole in a couple of ways.  I traded in a life insurance policy that was no longer needed and picked up a quick $4,000 that was immediately spent paying down the debt.  I stopped using my credit card and I paid cash for everything.  I set a budget for everything I spent and I started saving for things a year ahead of time.   Christmas savings began December 26th and I was able to cover vacations and big expenses without using the credit card.  I brought down my debt despite paying for a master’s degree because I really took a look at my books and saw where I was wasting money.   That was the key to spending cash.

There’s now a big battle brewing in Chicago because Ron Huberman has announced that the schools are nearly a billion dollars in debt.   Teachers are outraged because this story is right on the tail of a Tribune report showing that Huberman had not one, but two company cars.   Taxpayers are outraged because they feel that the district went into debt paying for the teachers.  They’re both wrong.

Thanks to Renaissance 2010 and the inept inaction of the Chicago Teacher’s Union’s Marilyn Stewart administration, there are now less than 30,000 members in the Chicago Teacher’s union.   That means if every teacher in the city took a $30,000 pay cut you still couldn’t pay off the debt.  There’s also the issue of pension.  As the Tribune put it, “The pension’s status is the result of many factors. A steep market decline, a large chunk of new retirees and years of the district making no contribution at all have left it about 74 percent funded. State law requires the pension to be funded at 90 percent, and the district is now facing steep payment increases to catch up.”

It’s hard to blame pension costs for the budget when you haven’t been paying your contribution.  Likewise, Ron Huberman doesn’t have a one billion dollar car.   What he does have is an awful lot of people that he brought over from the CTA that he is now paying over $120,000 a year too.   Bureaucratic waste has skyrocketed during the Huberman administration.

Ben Jovarsky from Chicago’s best investigative newspaper The Reader comes up with much better places for the budget axe to fall, “Huberman and his aides also might want to look at cutting back on contracts to outside vendors (about $696.6 million has been set aside for that) and trimming a few of the extraneous central office divisions, like the Office of Autonomy. I’m not sure who it’s autonomous from—certainly not Huberman or Mayor Daley—but it has seven employees and an annual budget of $1.4 million.   …. And then of course there are the …TIF slush funds controlled by the mayor, which aren’t itemized on property tax bills. Last year alone, the TIFs siphoned about $250 million in property tax dollars out of CPS’s supposed share.”

So assuming Huberman could cut 30% of the budget on outside contractors and the central office tightens its staffing and Daley gives back the TIF money I think we can safely project about $500,000 in savings.   The rest can come from one simple item in the budget.   As CORE member Xian Barrett pointed out when speaking to Operation PUSH this year, “Look at CPS’ own budget which this year boasts a $422 million increase in ‘Other Charges’.”

Of course this is Chicago we’re talking about.   The latest rumor I heard was that they would ask teachers to work 15 days without pay and give them one week of paid vacation instead of two.   This is basically a 10% salary cut.  A 10% salary cut should cover about half of the money that Daley has deprived the schools of through his TIF scheme.  How has that money been used?  According to Jovarsky, “n recent years, the CDC has approved $35 million in TIF money to help United Airlines move into new offices downtown, $6 million to help MillerCoors do the same, $8 million to lure the French Market to the Ogilvie Transportation Center.”  I guess a city needs to have priorities.

Honored by Obama–Silenced by the Chicago Board of Education

February 25, 2010

Yesterday, I completed my transformation from observer to activist when I spoke at the Chicago Board of Education meeting where they cast a cowardly vote to close or overhaul six Chicago Public Schools.  The day began at 4AM.  I won’t pretend to be a modern day Joe Hill–part of the reason I was up early was to tidy up for my cleaning lady.    However, I was on the 5:38 downtown where I stood for 2 hours in line so that I could get a chance to speak to the board.   It was a long and exhausting day and the local NBC affiliate interviewed me so I got a quick shot of fame with my friends and coworkers.  It was a sad event though seeing people who fought so hard for their schools being closed down.  There was, however, one amazing moment.

Shantell Steve was recognized by Barack Obama in a speech earlier this year, “And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.”

I read an the comments in the Sun-Times story about Shantell and one idiot said, “We all know that being an “honor” student at a Chicago Public School is akin to being a special ed student at a suburban school.”  Not only would very few suburban students be able to make it in this girl’s circumstances.  Very few city kids could either.

Shantell and Kellina Mojica were recognized by the Board at the beginning of the meeting for winning second and third place in the Democracy in Action Awards, which are citizenship awards given to high school students.  The Board had told them that they would be speaking at the meeting, but suddenly pulled  a switcharoo and instead called on the honorary student member of the board who was given an award by the Dusable History Museum to speak for all 3 students.

The problem is that both Kellina and Shantell are powerful speakers as well as students at Julian High School.  They have seen first hand how destructive the board’s turnarounds have been as the students unwanted by the turnaround schools have been shipped off to Julian.  Shantell and Kellina were going to speak about closing schools and the board knew it, so they muzzled them.   The Board has always been irony challenged, but this goes above and beyond the call of hypocritical behavior.     As Linda Lutton of WBEZ put it, “The board has a pretty good idea of what they’re going to say, and they’re gonna talk about school closings, because they have before, and I was sitting at the meeting thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re gonna get off to a fiery start.’”

Fortunately there was help.  Carol Caref like me is a CORE member.  She’s a very petite white haired woman who has a calm and gentleness to her that belies the kind of strong willed patience that can stop a tank.   She was called on to be one of the last people to speak on a day where many people expressed their anger at the board. Carol was firm in a showdown with Board Vice-President Clare Munana.

Finally, Carol prevailed and a tearful Shantell took the microphone.   Even at her young age, her activism has taught her exactly what was going on.   The Board knew how she felt, saw the CORE button she was wearing, and tried to censor her.  She told the Board that she had lived through the turnarounds and knew the kind of destruction that they caused first hand.   She told the Board how she felt  “disrespected” by being invited to speak — but not allowed to speak. “They all talk about ‘children first,’ but when a student got up to speak, they wouldn’t give the student a minute.”

It’s pretty amazing when a mutli-billion dollar organization like the Chicago Board of Education shows such fear of  a couple of high school girls.   I was once terrified of high school girls, but I was a high school boy at the time.   These girls are amazing speakers, but I guess in Chicago the only thing we have to fear is free speech.