Sunday week in review.

This week’s drawings.

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BERRIOSmedia elitesBROOKSBelieve women

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This week’s Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers podcast.

With Fritz Kaegi, candidate for Cook County Tax Assessor.

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This week’s tweets.

 

 

 

 

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The week’s blog posts.

I’m voting against Joe Berrios, but I don’t know why I should have to.

Maria and the Hawk.

Union talk. The contract is the starting point. We do collective bargaining every day.

Union talk. Protecting and defending the good teachers.

Keeping up with Park Ridge schools. Parents leery of cops in charge of school discipline.

Keeping retirement weird. Our Miss Brooks.

Keeping retirement weird. Our Miss Brooks.

BROOKS

They are honoring a Chicago Treasure this weekend at the Harold Washington Library.

This is the centennial year of the birth of the great Chicago poet, Gwendolyn Brooks.

In the sweet cherrywood auditorium of the Chicago downtown library that seats about 300 a packed house watched a performance of “No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks.” The show was produced by Manual Cinema, a Chicago-based company known for theater works combining live action and projections involving shadow puppets,

“No Blue Memories” was written by Eve Ewing and Nate Marshall from a commission by the Poetry Foundation.

Eve is an old/young family friend and has been a guest on our Hitting Left show. You will remember Nate from the documentary film, Louder than a Bomb, a story of Chicago’s young poets and famed poetry slam.

I loved this show. The combination of music, words, shadow puppets and live actors was an artistic revelation.

Gwendolyn Brooks was America’s first African American poet to win the Pulitzer prize.

She died in 2000.

I have three very personal memories of Ms Brooks.

One was when she was asked to read a poem for the inauguration of Chicago’s social justice mayor, Harold Washington.

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Gwendolyn Brooks at Harold’s inauguration. Harold on the left. Studs Terkel on the right.

Gwendolyn Brook’s poem for Harold.

Mayor. Worldman. Historyman. 
Beyond steps that occur and close, 
your steps are echo-makers.

You can never be forgotten.

We begin our health. 
We enter the Age of Alliance. 
This is our senior adventure.

My second personal memory of Gwendolyn Brooks involves my daughter, Jessica.

Acting as Chicago’s Poet Laureate along with her dedication to teaching poetry to young people, Brooks gave an annual award to several young Chicago Public School poets. In 1985 my 13-year old daughter Jessica wrote a poem that was selected by Ms Brooks and published in the Chicago Tribune.

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Gwendolyn Brooks and Jessica (right) in 1985.

I can’t remember the exact year. My next encounter with Gwendolyn Brooks was sometime in the early 90s. I was on a District Committee planning for our opening day’s professional development program.

I suggested Gwendolyn Brooks as a guest speaker and if she agreed I also offered to drive to her Hyde Park apartment and bring her to Park Ridge.

I was the city guy on the committee who actually knew how to get to Hyde Park.

It all worked out and I found myself spending two hours, an hour each way, in personal conversation with the the great poet.

The only part of the conversation I can now recall is how happy she was that she no longer had her work published by a white-owned mainstream publisher. She had given over all publication rights to Haki Madhabutti’s Third World Press with the hopes of encouraging Black-owned publishing and as an outlet for African American writers.

We never again had a PD day as good as that one.

Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers episode #41. Oil spills, memories of Harold and Fritz Kaegi running for tax man.

We could have done the show at Bridgeport Coffee this morning because no sooner had my brother and I arrived then in walked our guest, Fritz Kaegi.

So we spent the next hour talking about his experiences as a student and researcher in Russia back in the 90s and baseball and other assorted topics we never have time to talk about on the show.

The current Cook County Tax Assessor is Democratic Party Machine boss Joe Berrios. He will spend a million bucks on this campaign.

Imagine. A million bucks running for Tax Assessor.

That’s a lot of favors for contributors. It is one of the things that is wrong with a system like we have in Cook County where we have so many executive positions that are elected and controlled by The Machine.

Fritz thinks this is a good thing because it allows a reform challenge. He asks, “What if the Mayor appointed everybody?”

Good question.

I’m not sure. Elections for what are essentially bureaucratic offices like tax collector, recorder of deeds and the water district are a decades-old creation of a Machine that uses those positions for raising campaign cash, offering patronage jobs and puts Black and Brown faces in a few City and County executive offices without having to deliver anything to Black and Brown neighborhoods.

Still, Berrios holds that office and Kaegi wants to take him on with the hope that voters are sick and tired of the corruption and nepotism that characterize the Assessor’s office now.

It was a lively conversation and you can here it here and on iTunes.

 

 

Keeping up with Park Ridge schools. Parents leery of cops in charge of school discipline.

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The Park Ridge guys in charge: From Left: (seated) Secretary Tom Sotos; President Anthony Borrelli; Vice President Rick Biagi; member Eastman Tiu; (standing) members Fred Sanchez, Larry Ryles and Mark Eggemann

Back in my old school district, Park Ridge District 64, parents are concerned about having cops stationed at the two middle schools.

I would be worried too if one of my children has special needs or one with a disability.

Park Ridge is a predominantly white Chicago suburb.

The local district is made up of five K-5 elementary buildings and two middle schools.

Earlier this year the local board brought up the idea of placing local cops at the two middle schools.

There is no solution if there is no problem.

Some parents had bigger concerns.

Parent Ginger Pennington, speaking at Monday’s school board meeting, said there was no data to indicate that officers were needed to address a crime or violence problem in the district’s schools, since only 3 percent of in-school suspensions were related to a violent incident or drugs.

“My concern is that these officers won’t have the proper training,” Pennington said.

Pennington said she was also concerned about whether the officers would be allowed to interview students without a parent present.

“We need more transparency,” Pennington said.

Board President Anthony Borrelli told Pennington that it was “unfair” to have this discussion until the policy has been completed and ready for consideration.

“Your comments have to be placed in context,” Borrelli said. “We are far, far away from passing this.”

The board voted unanimously in August to approve what board members called a pilot program to assign officers to Lincoln and Emerson middle schools. The officers would work to improve relationships between the police departments and middle school students and gather information about issues facing each schools, District 64 Superintendent Laurie Heinz said in August.

The policy could be approved by the District 64 board as soon as Jan. 22, Heinz said.

Pennington told the board that although 14.5 percent of District 64’s student population is made up of disabled students, those students account for about 67 percent of in-school suspensions and 85 percent of out-of-school suspensions, citing 2013-2014 school year data provided by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.

“We don’t want to see a special-needs student dragged out of school in handcuffs,” Pennington said, adding that officers should be trained in de-escalation and conflict resolution.

Union talk. Protecting and defending the good teachers.

As the weather turns colder my social life picks up a bit.

Dinner with friends. Thanksgiving. Holiday open houses.

When I first started teaching and I would find myself sitting at a dinner next to somebody I didn’t know, we would exchange the usual small talk questions.

One being the inevitable, “So, what do you do?”

When I responded with, “I’m a K-5 Art teacher,” their eyes would open wide and and with a smile they would say, “That must be so much fun.”

I would laugh and say, “Most days.”

And I wasn’t lying.

As the years passed my answer would draw a different response. Complete strangers would narrow their eyes and pepper me with questions about seniority, tenure, pensions and unions.

“Why can’t they fire the bad ones?”

“I just told you I teach little kids art and you want to talk about tenure? Seniority is what you find interesting about what I do?” I would think to myself.

Okay. Maybe sometimes I would say it out loud.

But I understood. Over the course of my career teachers have been turned into scapegoats by political opportunists of all stripes and by both political parties. Urban schools in particular were declared failing and the teachers were the reason. Teaching was among the few careers open to professionals of color and women, easy targets for racism and gender bias. And teaching became viewed as a technocratic exercise. No longer was it understood as a complex combination of science, artistry, subject matter knowledge along with a concern for the well-being of children.

As private sector unions represented a smaller and smaller percentage of the population, public sector unions – like teacher unions – became the last ones standing.

It was all a perfect storm.

“Let me ask you this,” I would say to my dining companion. “New Trier teachers have a union, tenure, seniority and a pension. Just like teachers on the west side.”

New Trier is a public high school on the wealthy north shore of Chicago.

“So, acknowledging those common factors in predicting student performance, the primary difference is poverty.”

There are plenty of studies that show that states with teacher unions have students who perform better on the concrete things that can be easily counted, such as test scores.

Then there are studies that show no consistent correlation between teachers that have collective bargaining and states with right to work laws.

But with a mixed bag of research data, my experience is that teachers having a voice in classroom practice means better outcomes.

You can argue the other side if you want.

“But unions protect bad teachers,” my dinner companion will say. “You have to admit that schools can’t fire a teacher.”

As a union grievance chair and union president for a very long time I am forced to disagree.

“Our collective bargaining agreement is a user manual for getting rid of bad teachers,” I would explain.

Although I have never thought firing somebody is the a one-size-fits-all solution for employees in any field who may be struggling.

More importantly, our collective bargaining agreement gave me a weapon to protect the very good teachers. The idiosyncratic ones. The older, experienced ones who have earned a higher paycheck. The teachers of color. Trans and Gay. Those with disabilities.

And I can testify that more often than not, those were the teachers I found myself sitting across the table and defending.

Sure. There are laws that protect many of those teachers who fit into these and other categories. But the law is never enough. 

What concerns me most these days is how well our teacher unions are willing to stand up and fight to preserve this important role.

And how quickly they seem to be willing to concede ground on what it took years to win.

Because it seems we are all on the defensive these days.

More about all this in coming blog posts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Union talk. The contract is the starting point. We do collective bargaining every day.

DPS teachers

Teachers in Illinois won the state-wide right to collective bargaining back in the 80s. It was an important victory.

Which is why they are trying so hard to take it away or make meaningless the rights and protections that a bargained contractual agreement contains.

I remember the days when I was my local’s grievance committee chairman and then later our local’s president and I would call my IEA staffer (called a Uniserv Director in NEA speak) and say, “I want to file a grievance.”

“Tell me what part of the contract they violated,” the UD would say.

And I would tell him the page and section and inevitably he would say, “Klonsky, that’s kind of a stretch.”

And I would say, “I know. But the teacher isn’t being treated right and I want to push back. We may not win this thing, but they will know they can’t do us this way. And we will win something.”

Having a collectively bargained agreement that specifies salary, benefits and working conditions was an essential protection for us.

But it rarely was my starting point as a local union leader when I was dealing with the board or administration.

Because collective bargaining was something I did every day. 

There was the time I was sitting at a local bar talking with one of my state union’s top staff person. This was more maybe fifteen years ago.

“The days when the fight for collective bargaining is over,” he told me. “Now our teacher unions must be seen as being in the forefront of educational quality.”

“I think we need to be engaged in both,” I said. “But I do collective bargaining every day. We fight to have our voice represented in every decision that the board makes. That’s part of collective bargaining too.”

He disagreed. And we have paid a price for that these past fifteen years.

 

Maria and the Hawk.

It will get to the mid-40s in Chicago today, the warmest it has been the last couple of days.

But The Hawk will return.

Although a target of gentrification, our Logan Square and Humboldt Park neighborhood is the  home to thousands of Puerto Rican families. In the aftermath of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, and the terrible response by the federal government, many on the island are now staying with their families up north.

A warm winter coat, gloves and scarves are not normally needed in Puerto Rico in December and January.

They are a requirement in our city with the wind off the lake.

A mile south of our house is the Humboldt Park Field House, It has been turned into a welcoming center for those forced to leave Puerto Rico permanently or temporarily.

In one room of the grand terra cotta decorated building arrivals take a number. In another room are representatives from dozens of social service agencies including FEMA, Congressman Gutierrez’s office, the city plus civic and community organizations.

We gathered warm weather clothing from closets in our house and our neighbor brought stuff over for us to take with us. We loaded up the back of the car and drove down Humboldt Boulevard to the park.

The Puerto Rican community has opened its arms to their folks who have come to Chicago.

We all can.

FEMA http://www.DisasterAssistance.gov

Congressman Gutierrez http://gutierrez.gov/

Chicago Department of Family and Support Services http://www.cityofchicago.org/fss

Alderman Maldonado http://www.robertomaldonado.com/

Aderman Reboyras http://www,39thwardchicago.com/

Chicago Department of Public Health http://www.cityofchicago/health

Chicago Public Schools http://www.cps.edu

ASPIRA http://www.aspirail.org

Catholic Charities http://catholiccharities.net

Hispanic Housing http://www.hispanichousingdevelopment.com

Puerto Rican Agenda http://puertoricanagenda.org

Puerto Rican Cultural Center http:prcc-chgo.org

Puerto Rican Arts Alliance http://praachicago.org

Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center http://www.segundoruizbelvis.org

Spanish Coalition for Housing http://www.sc4housing.org

 

 

I’m voting against Joe Berrios, but I don’t know why I should have to.

BERRIOS

We are scheduled to have Fritz Kaegi on Friday’s Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers (11am. 105.5fm in Chicago. Internet streaming on http://www.lumpenradio.com. Podcast on iTunes).

Fritz is running against Joe Berrios, the current Cook County tax assessor, who also happens to be Chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party.

I’m sure you can see the problem with Joe Berrios just knowing those two facts.

I make it a point to vote against a Berrios at every opportunity.

For 12 years Toni Berrios was my state representative. Toni is Joe’s daughter. It took three tries, once with a Green Party candidate and then two runs by Will Guzzardi. But no Berrios now represents my state representative district and it seems to be working well.

Joe is a scandal magnet. He has been busted hiring family members for Cook County jobs whose only qualification for the job is that they are related to Joe.

This would be like having a president put his son-in-law in charge of middle east peace negotiations. Crazy, right?

Joe has also been busted for giving tax breaks to wealthy friends and socking it to poor neighborhoods.

Anyway, Fritz Kaegi is a reformer who is taking Joe on and I will vote for him.

But a question I have is why do I have to vote for the tax assessor? I will ask Fritz about this on Hitting Left.

It seems like a pretty technical job. Or it should be.

In Chicago and Cook County we seem to have this thing where we vote for the oddest job positions.

We vote for members of the Metropolitan Water District but not for members to a representative school board.

Shouldn’t that be the other way around?

So a question I have for Fritz Kaegi is why we even have elections for tax assessor.

Don’t get me wrong. Since we do, it shouldn’t be Joe Berrios.

And I’m not naive to think that an appointed tax man or woman wouldn’t be tempted by corruption. I have lived in Cook County for over 40 years. I get it.

But having to ask for political donations and votes just seems to make it worse and the fact that we are unique makes me think it has a history with having our Democratic Machine. Mike Madigan and Eddie Burke have made a lucrative career representing friends and clients in successful property tax appeals to Joe Berrios.

If you know the history of this, send me a note.