CPS winners and losers. Same old same old.

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The great Sarah Karp, who now does education reporting at Chicago’s public radio station, WBEZ, describes how the spirit of the felonious CPS CEO Barbara Byrd Bennet and SUPES consultant Gary Solomon still walk the halls of CPS’s Clark Street headquarters.

This is a story about how a savvy company came to Chicago and raked in more than $50 million in contracts from the school system in just four years, becoming one of the district’s biggest vendors.

Camelot Education runs six small schools that re-enroll high school dropouts or students who have been expelled. It’s a service the city needs, the school district insists, and by most accounts Camelot runs solid programs that are making a difference for some troubled teens.

But Camelot is also a for-profit company willing to play ball to get contracts, school buildings and students. The Austin, Texas-based company’s growth in Chicago is a textbook example of how private companies are working the system in Chicago — using and being used by city and community leaders for political and financial gain. Call it the new Chicago Way.

Chicago Public Schools is increasingly privatizing services, hiring companies and organizations who often promise cheaper and better services. But it can have troubling consequences. Private companies like Camelot are not subject to stringent reporting requirements, and most of the work is done outside public view. This makes it harder for the public to see how its schools are run and to ferret out conflicts of interest and shady deals.

A WBEZ investigation into Camelot’s rise in Chicago reveals the depths of those potential conflicts.

Meanwhile today’s Sun-Times explains how things have never been worse for CPS teachers paying for their own supplies.

Catherine Chacon — a computer teacher at James Ward Elementary School, where eight out of 10 students live in low-income households — has received money through DonorsChoose for technology like headphones and cameras.

Now Chacon has moved to more basic supplies. One of her most recent fundraising project — “Traveling Books” — is requesting $1,183 for school bags.

Chacon, who teaches pre-K through eight grade and has collected about $2,000 in donations, said the backpacks would help some of her students who can’t afford them or are homeless.

She, too, has invested her own money in her classroom, spending about $1,200 on school supplies last year.

But she and Foust both say they have no choice.

“Every day [my students] do something that makes me think it’s worth it,” Foust said. “When they come back on Monday they write me letters saying, ‘Thank you. This weekend I used the crayons you let me borrow,’ [or] ‘I read a new book you gave me.’”

Foust knows in other school districts, teachers don’t have to resort to buying their own supplies or asking strangers for donations.

“It’s awful,” Foust said. “They [CPS] are giving us no choice but to dig into our own pockets [or] to beg others. The state should be able to fund all these schools equally and fairly, so that we have what we need.”

Hear and download the podcast: Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers. Episode #4

Gentrifying Chicago. CPS now targets Hispanic schools.

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Logan Square’s Darwin Elementary School hit hard by CPS budget cuts that are targeting Hispanic schools.

The numbers tell the story.

A quarter of a million African Americans have left the city over the past two decades.

Several years ago the Mayor’s hand-picked school board closed 50 neighborhood public schools, nearly all in African American communities.

Now the target is neighborhood public schools in the Hispanic communities of Chicago.

CPS CEO Forrest Claypool blames the governor.

But that is like Al Capone blaming Bugsy Moran for the increase in crime.

“Governor Rauner’s cut forced agonizing choices, including whether to lay off teachers or allow an uneven distribution of cuts from unspent funds,” district spokeswoman Emily Bittner said. “We chose to protect teachers. As a result of Governor Rauner’s abrupt and admittedly ‘emotional’ veto, his cut hurts the students who need funding the most but they are less painful than the other options we have available.”

Claypool told principals earlier this week that those options are to lay off teachers or cut days from the end of the school year — or both, Prussing Elementary School’s principal told his local school council members.

Bittner referred to Rauner’s veto of a bill in December that would have allocated $215 million for teacher pensions that CPS was counting on. The governor said lawmakers didn’t meet the agreed-upon conditions for the money. His office has said that CPS’ longstanding financial woes have led to its budget crisis.

The Sun-Times education reporter Lauren FitzPatrick writes:

Darwin Elementary School in the Logan Square community, where 81 percent of students are poor and 86 percent Hispanic, is losing aides who provide extra reading and math help, and some who supervise recess, Local School Council member Jeff Young said.

“It’s a cut — despite the fact that CPS calls it a freeze — because we can’t spend that money,” he said, characterizing the racial dynamic of the freezes as “disgusting.”

Darwin is my neighborhood school. Jeff is a neighbor.

But this isn’t just about Darwin or just about Logan Square.

Logan Square is a target for gentrification. But so is the entire city of Chicago.

And school funding and budget cuts reflect the Mayor’s gentrification and privatization plans.

Schools with at least 51 percent Hispanic students saw 1.8 percent of their total budgets frozen, on average — that’s about twice the average rate of 0.9 percent frozen at schools with at least 51 percent of white students, according to a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of the freezes.

The schools that lost the highest percentage of their remaining spending power — 1.8 percent on average — also serve the very poorest children, where nine out of 10 students qualify for the free or reduced-price lunch that is shorthand for school poverty. And schools where three out of four kids are poor lost 1.7 percent of their money; that’s roughly double the percentage 0.8 percent — that was lost by schools where just one of four kids is poor.

That Chicago property tax levy? It’s going to the banks, not CPS students.

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When Governor Rauner vetoed the agreement that would have sent $215 million to CPS it was money that was earmarked for pensions. The Democrats and Republicans in the legislature would not override the veto.

But the pension is just one bill that must be paid. If CPS doesn’t get the money from Springfield, it has to cut somewhere else.

Like your heating bill in January. It must be paid or no heat. Even if It means beans, not meat, for dinner. Or parents skipping  meals so the kids can eat.

But CPS just told the banks not to worry. CPS students may get beans. But the banks who lend CPS money for capital improvements? They have a promise to be paid no matter what.

A preliminary prospectus released this week contends that those investors have nothing to fear. That’s because the bevy of up to $938 million new school construction projects — including several brand new schools — will be financed by a $45 million property tax increase approved by the City Council last year for the sole purpose of school construction.

Remember the 50 public schools that Rahm closed because they were underutilized?

“The credit is secured by a new, unencumbered, limited purpose, dedicated property tax levy within the school district that will be statutorily limited to capital improvement. [It] cannot be used for operating expenses,” (Ronald DeNard, senior vice president of finance for CPS,)” said.

While normal CPS bonds have been rated as junk by bond rating agencies, these bonds are rated much higher to satisfy the fears of banks and investors who were skittish as a result of Governor Rauner’s threats of CPS bankruptcy.

Investment expert, Yvette Shields writes:

While current state law does not allow the school district to enter Chapter 9, Gov. Bruce Rauner has said such an option should be on state books and that CPS is an ideal candidate for such a filing.

Rauner’s comments on the subject earlier this year rattled investors ahead of a deal that drove up the district’s borrowing cost to a high of 8.5%, 500 basis points over the Municipal Market Data’s top-rated benchmark at the time and near the state’s 9% cap.

In the event the state added a municipal bankruptcy provision to state law and CPS landed in Chapter 9, the law firms say the special revenues designation would shield the pledged revenues from the code’s automatic stay on payments on pre-petition debt and should protect the bonds from a haircut in any confirmation plan.

The banks are protected.

The students? Not so much.

 

Ald. Moore backing off plan to close Field school.

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49th Ward Alderman and Rahm loyalist, Joe Moore 

Last August 49th Ward Alderman and Rahm loyalist Joe Moore announced his intention to have CPS close Rogers Park’s Eugene Field School, blaming an enrollment drop.

Field would merge with Kilmer school, Field staff would have to look for jobs elsewhere and the Field building would be turned over to selective enrollment Decatur.

DNAinfo:

Ald. Joe Moore (49th) said he’s proposing two Rogers Park elementary schools with declining enrollments — Kilmer and Field — to potentially merge by September 2017, and move Decatur Classical School from West Ridge into the building left vacant by Field.

The biggest reason: a 37 percent drop (or about 4,444 residents) in school-aged children living in the Rogers Park neighborhood between 2000 and 2014, Moore said.

Projections of enrollments over the next five years at Kilmer, a traditional K-8 school, and Field, a 5-8 school that lost fourth grade to New Field Elementary for the upcoming school year, reflect the decrease in elementary-aged residents in the neighborhood.

According to data from Chicago Public Schools, Field Elementary School, 7019 N. Ashland Ave., is expected to have 95 fewer students than last year, in part due to the grade loss. By 2021, the school is expected to have only 176 students — well below its “ideal” capacity of 690, by CPS standards.

Moore said the decision to move fourth grade from Field to New Field wasn’t related to his idea to eventually merge Field into Kilmer.

Similarly, Kilmer Elementary, at 6700 N. Greenview Ave., is expected to drop from 702 students this fall to 583 by fall 2021, Moore said.

The plan would involve the closure of Field School and its student body being absorbed into Kilmer’s.

Rather than leaving the building vacant, Field School could then be occupied by Decatur Classical Elementary School currently at 7030 N. Sacramento Ave. in West Ridge.

Decatur is a selective-enrollment public CPS school that draws high-performing students from across the city.

A vanishing species, another Chicago neighborhood open enrollment public school would be closed.

Those August plans seem to have changed.

In a letter to constituents, Moore announced, “In light of Field School’s new Level 1 rating, I have decided to place on a temporary hold my proposal to merge Field and Kilmer schools. I still believe we need to plan for the future and address the issues posed by declining enrollment and under-utilization in our local schools. I look forward to continuing those planning discussions.”

Meanwhile, the Rogers Park UNO charter is not faring as well. Scores are down.

Said Moore, “Unfortunately, UNO Rogers Park continues to struggle. Rated a Level 1+ school just two years ago, UNO received a Level 2 rating this year. I will be working with CPS administrators to address some of the concerns with the school.”

When it comes to allowing for citizen input, CPS leads the way. Now the Chicago City Council follows.

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Former teacher George Blakemore. Photo: Chicago Reader

Speaking at a Chicago Public School board of education meeting is not easy.

While the Chicago Tribune tried to compare democracy in the Chicago Teachers Union to North Korea, a better use of the North Korea-comparison would be the way in which the unelected CPS board allows for public comment.

Members of the public, employees of the district, Local School Council members and members of other groups wishing to speak must register in advance of the day of the meeting or by such other time noted in the meeting agenda published by the Board.

Advance registration will open the Monday preceding the Board meeting at 10:30 a.m. and close Tuesday at 5:00 p.m., or until all slots are filled, and is available by visiting www.cpsboe.org, by calling 773-553-1600, or in person at 1 North Dearborn, Suite 950.

Speaker registration must be made during the advance registration period, by the individual who will make the presentation.  A picture ID must be shown to enter Board Room and must match the name given at the time of advance registration.

We have to sign up a day in advance of the meeting?

Two minutes?

The board thinks hearing from teachers and parents is a waste of their time. They don’t answer to us, after all. They answer to the Mayor. Trust me. He doesn’t have to sign up a day ahead to speak to them.

Board members got tired of hearing from characters like George Blakemore. A former teacher and now in his seventies, Blakemore attends every public government meeting that he can.

Blakemore was featured in a Chicago Reader profile last year.

When I attend these meetings, I’m not welcome. The public officials resent public participation. They do not realize that it’s one of their job’s responsibilities, to educate and inform their constituents about the policies that are being made. Some of them do not send out e-mails, do not have community meetings. They make their decisions without the input of their constituents, and they make them in the interests of the politicians. It’s about who’s going to control the money, the goods, the services, the contracts.

I don’t have near the energy that George Blakemore does. Nor do I have the stomach to listen to most of what goes on at CPS board meetings and City Council meetings. I once tried to attend my alderman’s community hearing in which all those making public comment were pre-selected.

“I can’t comment at a community hearing?,” I asked the alderman.

He looked at me with one of those what-don’t-you-understand stares.

Yesterday the City Council made new rules

The new rule states that public participants must be physically present and “refrain from using profane language or obscene conduct” and refrain from making “irrelevant, repetitious or disruptive comments.”

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) wanted to make the new rule even tougher, by limiting speakers to 3 minutes for an entire committee meeting instead of 3 minutes per item.

But he ultimately agreed to withdraw that motion after Ald. John Arena (45th) warned of the “chilling effect” that would have on public input.

At the risk of stating the obvious, perhaps the Council could pass those rules for themselves. I think the part about refraining from being irrelevant and repetitious sounds good.

But leave it to First Ward Alderman Proco Joe Moreno to make things clear.

“Talk about taxpayer money and the waste of time that’s going on and the waste of time of aldermen that’s going on. Aggregate that over a year,” Moreno said.

“We’re not shutting the community out. In fact, our rules are very liberal. Try to go speak at a CPS board meeting. There are sign-up regulations. [At City Hall], people can just walk in this building and sign a pink slip . . . . These are very commonsense rules to stop wasting money and time on things that are not pertinent to the issue at hand,” he said.

Joe’s right.

Try to speak at a CPS board meeting.

Although from a democracy point of view that is a pretty low bar.

CTU schedules their third strike vote since SB7 was passed which was intended to reduce strike votes.

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Following yesterday’s meeting of the Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates, a strike vote has been set for September 21 through the 23rd in members’ home buildings.

This past week Chicago teachers began their second teaching year without a contract.

One major issue is the proposal by the board to cut teacher take-home pay. A pay cut would result from an increase in the teacher contribution and a reduction in the board contribution to the pension fund.

According to CTU President Karen Lewis, a pay cut at a time when the challenges facing teachers requires more from all of them is unacceptable.

Lewis said teachers are being undermined because of the cuts in education funding. Therefore it is not acceptable to ask teachers to take a pay cut when they are having to teach larger classrooms without the help of aids or fine arts teachers, which were let go in droves, the union said.

This will be the third strike authorization vote by Chicago teachers since Senate Bill 7 was passed in 2011 by the legislature and signed by Democratic Governor Pat Quinn.

SB7 was the brain-child of school reformer Jonah Edelman and his astro-turf group, Stand for Children. SFC still operates in Illinois and around the country, funneling tens of thousands of campaign dollars to legislators who support their corporate reform, anti-union agenda.

One of the provisions of the law was that Chicago teacher union members were required to vote for a strike by numbers exceeding 75% of their membership.

In a video taped at the Aspen Institute, and which was first posted on this blog, Edelman explained how he bamboozled the state’s union leadership, the IFT and the IEA, into supporting the bill.

After I posted the video, Edelman was forced to write me an apology.

In the apology, he addressed the issue of the super-majority strike vote requirement for Chicago teachers.

There will be more transparency in the contract negotiation process statewide, which will hopefully lead to fewer divisive conflicts and better, more student-centered decisions, and Chicago Public Schools’ will be able to lengthen its school day and school year in order to give teachers more time to help students learn and to plan and collaborate.

Well, that never happened. Chicago teachers went on strike in 2012 following a strike vote of over 90%.

This coming strike authorization vote will be the third since Senate Bill 7 demanded a 75% vote by CTU members. It will be the third time the vote will exceed 75%.

What the corporate reformers (and apparently some state union leaders) don’t get is that divisive conflicts between teachers, the Mayor and the board won’t stop by restricting or removing the right to collective bargaining, including the right to strike.

In fact, those kind of legal restrictions only serve to encourage divisive conflicts.

It will only come through good-faith bargaining and a fair contract.

 

Jersey Jazzman. Inequality in Chicago.

While on the road I will posting from other bloggers.

-By Jersey Jazzman

How much more abuse can Chicago’s schools take?

Chicago Public Schools students protested Monday the “racist and discriminatory” firing of district teachers and staff, which they said disproportionately affect low-income schools.
At a rally held outside the Thompson Center, about a dozen young protesters called for quality education and funding to be provided in all schools. The district fired 508 teachers and 521 support staff earlier this month. [emphasis mine]

Before we take a data dive, let’s acknowledge something important: every number in a staff cut represents an actual person. As Xian Barrett writes in The Progressive, the students who have developed personal connections to their teachers suffer the most when a teacher is laid off. So while I think there’s value in the analysis I present below, let’s not forget that we are talking about children and educators — real people who are going through real hell.

The layoffs took place in an atmosphere of continuing friction between the Chicago Teachers Union and district leadership, who can count on the editorial board of theChicago Tribune, among others, to lay the blame for the district’s continuing fiscal problems at the feet of the union:

The district is a candidate for bankruptcy. Chicago taxes already are rising, but CTU wants more. A CPS contract offer on the table since January is a sweet deal for educators; district CEO Forrest Claypool tells us it won’t — can’t — get sweeter.

CPS’ proposal offers teachers a generous raise and keeps paying them for added seniority and education. It does make a significant ask: Teachers would have to pay a 7 percent pension tab that CPS now pays but no longer can afford. CPS still would pick up the employer’s share of pension costs but asks employees to pay their share. Most Chicagoans, most Americans, understand that, since they too have to save for their own retirement.

Note the framing here: the funding of Chicago’s schools is an issue of teacher compensation, which is negotiated by the CTU. And the union just doesn’t understand how “sweet” of a deal they’ve been offered (of course, that “sweet” deal only apples to the teachers who haven’t been laid off). Sure, the teachers have to take a pay cut to fund their own pensions… but The Trib knows there really isn’t any other choice:

“Reality can’t be altered,” [Chicago schools CEO Forrest] Claypool tells us. “The reality is we do not have more to give than was offered in January. … There is not a dollar surplus to this budget.” Unless, he adds, the union wants to “cut classrooms and jeopardize not only teacher jobs but more important, the academic progress of our kids.”
Teachers who strike wouldn’t only jeopardize the education of their students, they would set a lousy example for the children: When what you want is impossible, toss a tantrum. [emphasis mine]

See, more money for Chicago’s schools is “impossible” — I mean, everyone knows that, right? Clearly, Chicago’s schools have all they could ever need to provide an adequate and equitable education for the city’s children! Everybody just needs to sacrifice a bit more — and by “everyone,” The Trib means Chicago’s teachers — and only the teachers — who have to understand the gravy train just can’t keep chugging along…

When you look at the issue of school funding through the lens of teacher pay, it’s easy to ignore some inconvenient facts. Here’s one: when Bruce Baker* and the good folks at the Education Law Center put together a list of America’s most fiscally disadvantaged school districts, they found: “Chicago and Philadelphia are, year after year, the two most fiscally disadvantaged large urban districts in the nation.

This is the story that The Trib, and everyone else who tut-tuts at the CTU, will not tell you:Chicago’s schools, which serve proportionally many more at-risk students than their neighboring districts, are chronically underfunded. This reality, more than any perceived greed on behalf of Chicago’s teachers, is what drives the fiscal “crisis” the district faces today.

Let’s go to the data.

CPS students rally for fired teachers and staff.

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CHICAGO 8/15 — In response to the recent firing of one thousand teachers and staff employed by Chicago Public Schools (CPS), Chicago students are holding a rally and demonstration outside the Thompson Center at 100 W. Randolph St., on Monday, August 15th, at 3:00 PM.

The event will show solidarity with the Chicago Teachers Union in their contract negotiations and will bring students from across the city together to stand in solidarity with their schools, communities, and teachers. This CTU Solidarity Rally is a means by which student voices can be amplified to send a message to legislators and CPS.

Starting at 3:00 PM, there will be speakers, speaking about the ongoing education crisis in Chicago, what it means to them and how it impacts their day-to-day life. The speeches will be followed by a march around the Thompson center. The rally will conclude at 5:00 PM.

Link to facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/174985926253507/

 

The radical Red-baiting of the Trib’s Kristen “Hurricane” McQueary.

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My cartoon from 2015.

“But with Aug. 29 fast approaching and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu making media rounds, including at the Tribune Editorial Board, I find myself wishing for a storm in Chicago — an unpredictable, haughty, devastating swirl of fury. A dramatic levee break. Geysers bursting through manhole covers. A sleeping city, forced onto the rooftops.”

That’s what Kristen McQueary wrote in a Trib column in 2015 causing a journalistic storm of hurricane strength.

Yesterday Kristen “Hurricane” McQueary was back at it.

First there was the Red-baiting finger waving at Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, lecturing the respected union leader to get control over her “radical faction.”

This kind of stuff is not new to the Tribune which has a reputation for Communist witch huntery that goes back decades to their “enthusiastic support for Joe McCarthy.”

I’d like to believe reasonable rank-and-file teachers …would understand it more clearly if Lewis stepped off her soapbox, stood up to the radical wing within her union and quit the red meat-slinging.

The Chicago Teachers Union is a democratic organization. Thanks to Jonah Edelman of Stand for Children and the Illinois legislature, Chicago Teachers Union members, unlike every other teacher bargaining unit in the state of Illinois must vote to strike by a 75% majority – not a simple 50%.

No radical faction decides anything.

What bout the 7% pension pick-up by CPS.

It was the result of collective bargaining and both sides agreed. It was compensation in lieu of a salary increase. Other school district do the same thing. McQueary admits this when she writes, “And many teachers in the suburbs and downstate pay 9 percent toward their pensions without their school districts picking up a portion of that.”

“Many teachers” means that other teachers down state don’t pay the full 9% as a result of collective bargaining. McQueary knows this.

To say exactly how many I would have to go and read every collective bargaining agreement in the state, but I have been told by those that know that upwards of 40% of contracts include a full or partial pension pick-up by the boards of education.

Pension pick-ups are a part of a bargained compensation agreement. Some years an agreement will result in a 2% raise. Other years it may be 4%. Forrest Claypool and Rahm’s demand that the CTU give back the 7% pension pick-up would be like Claypool and Rahm saying, “You know that 4% we gave you several years ago. We now think that was too much. Give it back.”

Wait! They already did that.

The cost to teachers of giving the 7%  is huge.

Since this year’s salary is the base for any percentage raise next year – and the year after that and so on – the 7% compounds and will cost a teacher thousands and thousands of dollars over the course of their career.

You don’t need a radical faction to see how wrong that is without getting something in return.

$1300 per student of the budget going to CPS pensions? Nope. It’s going to the banks.

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CPS released the details of its 2017 budget today.

You can find a copy of the budget here.

Raise Your Hand, More than a Score and WBEZ have been tweeting and posting some details.

 

In case you missed it, WBEZ is reporting that $1300 dollars per student is going to pay the debt on borrowed money.

All together, Chicago school officials proposed a $6.3 billion spending plan for the 2016-2017 school year. That includes $5.4 billion for operations, $522 million to pay down a growing debt load, and $338 million for new school construction.

The total budget is slightly smaller than last year’s $6.4 billion, but District Chief Forrest Claypool says there will be more new construction announced at a later time this fall.

Claypool insisted that this budget does not rely on gimmicks, as did past budgets. He also noted that the district is not doing any long-term borrowing for operating expenses.

However, the district has $6.7 billion of outstanding long-term debt and plans to spend $522 million this year on debt payments–that’s about $1,300 per student.

When CPS CEO Forrest Claypool complained yesterday that everybody has sacrificed except the teachers, it was a lie.

Teachers have sacrificed plenty.

But the banks and the bond holders?