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Darwin’s Mr. P would like some ukes for his kids.

September 21, 2014


About a year ago my friend, attorney and musician Matt Farmer wrote a piece for Huffington Post about Darwin Elementary School’s music teacher, Joe Panganiban.

He is known as Mr. P.

Darwin is my neighborhood school, three blocks away.

One of my daughters, now grown up with kids of her own, went to Darwin.

Although Logan Square is a quickly gentrifying neighborhood, Darwin’s student population is 95% low-income.

Mr. P could use twenty more ukuleles for his students. He has posted on Donor’s Choose. You can go there and donate any amount you wish.

This is the part where I should talk about the value of the arts and the lack of access in many Chicago’s schools.

I’m skipping that part.

You may know that I volunteer each year, teaching the uke to kids at a school in Little Village.

I love the uke!

I don’t know Mr. P personally. But I know the uke and I know kids love learning and playing music with it.

I am making a contribution to Donor’s Choose to help Mr. P buy a set a ukes for his students at Darwin.

These are real instruments. Not toys. They cost from $100 to about a $190. A classroom set runs about four grand.

As of this morning Mr. P has about $2,000 to go.

Maybe you can help.

Oh. Here is another article about Darwin’s music program that was in DNAinfo.

Solidarity with the thousands of people in NY September 21st.

September 20, 2014


Mark Anderson. To those who don’t understand the political importance of Karen Lewis’ race against Rahm.

September 20, 2014


- Mark Anderson writes for the Ward Room.

Every once in a while, a race comes along where two or more different candidates couldn’t be any less alike. In fact, one is shaping up here right in Chicago in the 2015 mayoral race between potential candidates Karen Lewis, Bob Fioretti and Rahm Emanuel.

That doesn’t stop stories being written in the media that suggests these candidates are really almost one and the same. Or that one or the other says they’re different, but really isn’t telling the truth.

To be clear, let’s stake out who we’re talking about. On the one hand we have our current mayor, who, while positioning himself as a liberal Democrat, has in fact enacted policies that benefit corporations and campaign donors, slashed social services and public education, starve neighborhoods of resources, diminish public service pensions, spy on political enemies and more.

There’s a reason why, in this town, Rahm Emanuel is known by some as “Mayor 1%”.

On another, we have Chicago Teachers Union president and potential mayoral challenger Karen Lewis. Despite the fact that she hasn’t even announced yet that she’s going to run, the Chicago media has created a bit of a feeding frenzy around her, all in search of copy for political reporters.

Lewis, for her part, has made it clear she is almost diametrically opposed to Mayor Emanuel on a number of key issues facing Chicago. As head of the CTU, she advocates for public education funding and resources, and opposed the shuttering of 50 schools under Rahm. She speaks out against inequality affecting dozens of Chicago neighborhoods, calling for mere equitable allocation of resources. She’s against balancing budgets by slashing pension benefits, much like what is being proposed in City Hall, Springfield and elsewhere. And she favors taxing financial transactions to help rebalance budgets, a move that puts her squarely against the richest taxpayers in Illinois.

Yet to some political reporters, such positions are nothing more than somethign to ignore when filling up column space on a newspaper page. Take a look, for example, at a recent piece in the Chicago Tribune entitled “9 Things Rahm Emanuel and Karen Lewis Have in Common.”

“[T]he bitter rivals have striking similarities,” the Trib tells us, before going on to point out that both of them are Jewish, were once set up on a blind date and have run for some kind of office in the past.

While such an example can perhaps be written off a the kind of fluff reporting usually offered in the middle of a political season, other examples aren’t so benign. The city’s other daily, the Chicago Sun-Times, recently dropped a one-two punch against Lewis and another potential mayoral challenger, 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fiortetti, that appear designed to undercut both candidates’ reputations as reformers.

The one on Lewis, entitled “3 homes, $200,000-plus pay for possible mayoral candidate Lewis”, takes great pains to point out that the trappings of a solidly middle class lifestyle Lewis has earned after a lifetime of teaching and union service is somehow the equivalent of the multi-millions of dollars Emanuel made during previous careers as an investment banker and power broker in national Democratic politics. And that perhaps Lewis isn’t the champion of the disadvanteged as she claims to be.

The other story on our third candidate offers a dispute over pay that was resolved by the Illinois Department of Labor for two campaign staffers who say they didn’t get paid on time seven years ago. The story suggests that Fioretti is dishonest and shouldn’t hire anymore staff without “accepting responsibility” for the whole matter.

The underlying message in both of these stories? See, the current crop of potential mayoral challengers can be crooked and corrupt just like the current mayor. Or the former, who left office under the weight of a series of scandals we haven’t yet finished unearthing.

There’s only one problem with this: by tarring everyone with the same brush, it blurs the lines between candidates and paints over very real differences in their positions and how they would differ in policies and programs if they were elected.

Read the entire article here.

Keeping retirement weird. I’m running again.

September 20, 2014


The way the Illinois Education Association works suggests that there are some Luddites hiding in their offices on Edwards Street in Springfield.

Luddites, you may recall, are those people who hate technology. It comes from the name of a young English textile worker in the 19th century whose name was Ned Lud. Fearing the of the impact of the industrial revolution on textile making, he took a hammer to the looms that mass produced what he had done by hand. This led to a working-class movement bearing his name.

Today it has come to mean anyone who resists the advance of technology.

Like the ability to join the IEA Retired organization on-line.

The state convention of the IEA will be held in suburban Rosemont next April.

Because everything is done by paper and snail mail, notice to run as a Retired delegate – which we do as candidates running at-large state-wide – must be received by the Springfield office of IEA by October 3.

The actual election takes place – by snail mail – in the Fall.

Although Bob Kaplan just let me know that he filed his nomination on-line. But I challenge you to go try and find it:

I received notice this week that Springfield has received my nomination forms and I will be on the ballot.

You are allowed to write a little description of yourself, but it can’t be what they considered campaigning. Last year I wrote that I was a pension activist and they told me that I couldn’t say that. I could say I was a pension advocate, not an activist.

I didn’t get it. But I don’t make the rules.

I can campaign by way of other non-official channels.

Like here. And word of mouth. And emails.

And I won’t be alone. Other IEA Retirees are running with whom I share views. We’re not running against anyone else. Good folks are running who won’t be joining our slate. Or may not agree with everything we say. That’s okay.

I believe that retirees are well represented by our retired leadership, but under-represented in the decision-making process of the IEA.

I believe that our Association suffers from a lack of democratic decision-making, transparency and a culture that makes service-to-members less than a priority.

I believe in an unapologetic legal and legislative defense of our pensions. I believe that promises made must be promises kept, without concessions or compromise. They are contractual and constitutional obligations.

As retirees, I believe we owe it to our active colleagues to resist corporate school reforms such as charters and vouchers. And oppose alleged accountability measures and tests, attacks on tenure and seniority rights, that undermine educator professionalism and due process.

Whether this makes me an advocate or an activist doesn’t matter much to me.

But if you are a member of IEA Retired and wish to have these views actively and vocally represented at the IEA RA next April, remember to mark your ballot when it comes in the mail later in the Fall. And tell your friends who are IEA Retired members as well.

Swiffers. My days as a custodian.

September 19, 2014


I just finished reading Ben’s Reader article about the janitorial scandal at CPS.

It seems that to cut costs and make more profit, Aramark took away mops from custodians and gave them Swiffers.

Mopping is a two-step process. You soap mop to clean. And then you rinse.

Swiffers are those things you buy at Target. They have disposable pads. It’s a one-step deal. It saves time. Let’s get real, though. They don’t really get floors clean.

Reading Ben’s article took me back to my days as a custodian.

Yes. When I say that I was in the private sector before teaching for thirty years I never meant to suggest I worked on Wall Street.

I made Uni-Royal tires. I worked at a Chicago auto parts factory making oil gauges. I built Schwinn bikes over on Tripp near North Avenue. I constructed truck trailers. Soda vending machines. Steel worker. Taxi driver. You know.

The private sector.

And way before that I was a school custodian. A janitor. I worked the four to eleven shift at East Los Angeles Junior College.

That was back in the 70s.

Unlike the day shift, the second shift was heavy-duty stuff.

There was a lot of moving furniture around. “Never lift when you can slide. Never walk when you can ride,” the old guys taught me.

We used those big stripping machines to take old yellow wax off hallway and classroom floors. And then there was the trick to swinging the big mop to put the wax back down. And it seemed as if we were stripping and waxing every night.

Not a Swiffer in sight.

Those hand-held strippers with the spinning wax remover on the bottom took some practice to get good at it. It was a balancing act. The first couple of nights I screwed up and the machine went sailing across the room. Several times.

I was entertainment for the old guys.

It was the early 70s during the time of protest and campus rebellions.

One night I was driving the truck around the parking lots emptying the garbage cans when I was suddenly bathed in a sea of light.

Like something out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

“Step away from the garbage can with your hands in the air,” said a voice from above.

I did just as the aliens commanded.

“Lay face down on the ground.”

I was being kidnapped by Martians for experimentation.


It was the Los Angeles County Sheriffs in a helicopter. They thought I was planting a bomb in the garbage can.

I lasted for about 9 months.

It was hard work. Although I got pretty good at working the stripper.

They can take away the mops.

You can give the custodians Swiffers.

You can try to cut costs.

But this I know from first hand experience.

Things won’t be clean.

You don’t have to believe me.

Just ask a teacher at CPS.

I get comments.

September 19, 2014


That “Illinois public employee pension is less than $25,000 a year” statement is a bit misleading and low by most independent analyses. It includes folks who retired decades ago at salaries far lower than folks retiring recently. It also includes folks who didn’t spend their entire careers in the public sector, perhaps less than 5 years, thus have other retirement income coming in outside of the pension system. So it doesn’t paint a very accurate picture of where we are today and where we are heading.

A teacher retiring today or in the past few years with 30+ years of service is more likely to receive a pension over $60K. Even state workers get around $40K (but most are eligible for SS). Not a windfall, mind you, but not as dire as the folks who came up with the $25K amount would have you believe.

- Nixit71


Dear Nixit71,

Just because the numbers don’t tell the story you want to tell doesn’t make them misleading.

They are certainly  less misleading than yours.

Most teachers and public employees didn’t retire recently. 

As for whether teachers worked in the private sector or not, this is precisely the problem. If a teacher is vested in Social Security and is in the state retirement system, the odds are they won’t work long enough to collect the maximum pension in TRS and their Social Security is dramatically reduced and they are barred from collecting spousal benefits.

Half the retired teachers in Illinois make less than $50,000.

Just because a downstate retired teacher is older and retired longer doesn’t make her life less valuable or her situation less dire.

Not a windfall indeed.

- Fred



What’s a shame is that middle America continues to see a deterioration in income levels but hey, why not tax them some more to pay a 4% increase for teaches (sic), which is really a 5% increase for 9 mo. work and when the cost of living is only 2%. Plus an increase just for showing up.

- Thomas R. O’Brien


Dear Thomas R. O’Brien,

I’m not sure where you got these numbers from.

Maybe from Nixit71?

The teachers in Highland didn’t get a 5% increase no matter how many months you choose to include.

Most teacher contracts include a yearly step increase and some include a cost of living increase.

If contracts didn’t include these things than a teacher hired 30 years ago would still be making the salary they got when they were first hired. In my case, that would have been $18,000 after 30 years teaching.

Ouch! That wouldn’t work for me and my family, Tom.

If you are genuinely feeling shame that most working people have seen a deterioration in income levels, than why are you critical of teachers who are trying to buck the trend?

Or should teacher salaries be tied to the salaries of those who make the least?

By the way, paid for just showing up?

I know you think you are being cleverly snarky. But the way the whole job thing works is that when you show up you get paid.

Unless you are really, really rich.


- Fred

Kiss of death.

September 19, 2014

Kiss of death


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