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CPS scandal. Solomon, Byrd-Bennett, Swanson, Brizard, Vitale, Emanuel, Zopp, Vallas. Mums the word.

May 21, 2015


“I don’t know nothin’ about that.”

There is more on the CPS SUPES scandal in today’s Trib.

There is more connecting the dots.

And the dots take the scandal closer to the fifth floor.

But nobody is talking.

Asked whether Solomon had connections to Swanson, the mayor said, “I’m not going to talk about it, given that there are questions.”


The mayor’s office and CPS have to date not fulfilled the Tribune’s requests for emails to or from the Emanuel administration that are related to the controversy.


Brizard said he doesn’t recall being involved in a no-bid contract at CPS.


Since those initial statements, however, Vitale has declined to comment further.


Byrd-Bennett also has declined to answer Tribune questions.


“I’d really rather not talk about it,” said Andrea Zopp, a school board member and former prosecutor who last week announced her bid for the 2016 Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. “There’s a lot in the public record on this already.”


Solomon confirmed through a spokesman that he played a role in Emanuel’s selection of Brizard but has declined to answer further questions.


Vallas, who later returned to the Chicago area and unsuccessfully ran for Illinois lieutenant governor last year, said he and Solomon stopped working together in 2010. Vallas declined to explain why.

So, that should clear things up.

No cuts. Revenue. Tax the rich.

May 21, 2015


Thousands of people are converging on Springfield today to urge Springfield legislators to reject Governor Private Equity’s plan of austerity for working people and favors to the state’s most wealthy.

For years many of us have focused on the pension battle.

It was a fight to protect pension rights. The fight for our pension rights was both a reality and metaphor.

It was never just about pensions. It was never just about us.

There was the reality that cutting public pension benefits would throw thousands of retired public workers into poverty.

However, the plan to gut pensions was a metaphor for a policy belief: That the state of Illinois could cut its way out of its financial mess when the solution was raising revenue.

Our critics accused us of promoting higher taxes that would drive business out of Illinois and hurt the state’s economy.

An odd accusation, given the current sorry state of the Illinois economy under the present low-tax-on-the rich, low-spending-on–social services policy.

I write low-tax-on-the-rich policy because Illinois is a very high tax state when it comes to taxes on working people: User fees, red light cameras, sales taxes, property taxes. These are all regressive taxes that place the heaviest burden on those who can least afford it.

Add to this the corruption tax, the cost of doing business in the pay-to-play world of Chicago and Illinois. It is the tax that goes into the pockets of the friends of Rauner, Rahm and Madigan and not into the state and city treasury.

A third ingredient was the use of our pensions as a way to camouflage tax increases.

Writes Ralph Martire of the Center of Budget and Tax Accountability: “Raising taxes always scares politicos, no matter how rational or needed the increase would be. So decision makers consistently chose a third, irresponsible path: using the pension systems like a credit card, diverting revenue that should have funded the normal cost of retirement benefits to instead fund current services.”

“Now that we know “the Illinois Constitution means what it says, the only viable and constitutional solution going forward is replacing the current back-loaded repayment schedule with a longer, level dollar amortization that permits payment of all retirement benefits when due, increases the funded ratio to a point that’s considered healthy, and is affordable so that bond rating agencies have confidence payments will be made.

“And Illinois still must raise taxes so it finally has the means to sustain core services without irresponsibly borrowing to pay for them.” 

J.C. Brizard is front runner for Buffalo top education spot.

May 20, 2015

J.C. Brizard

Illinois opt out bill is now headed for the Senate.

May 20, 2015


Tim Furman notes a rare vote from House Speaker Madigan. 

My state Representative Will Guzzardi’s testing opt out bill seemed to have more setbacks than last years Bears defense.

A week or so ago it seemed to be headed for a committee graveyard.

But parent and teacher activists didn’t give up.

Raise Your Hand and More Than a Score mobilized their activist base to call, email and travel to Springfield.

Did RYH’s Wendy Katten and MTS’s Cassie Creswell rent an apartment down there? It seemed like it.

Yesterday the House came through and voted overwhelmingly to pass HB 306 with both Democratic Party and Republican votes, sending the bill to the Senate side of the Capitol.

I watched the debate on live streaming. While some observers praised it as a genuine policy debate, I was once again shaking my head, listening to so many of these politicians display such total ignorance on a issue they were about to vote on.

It brought back memories of my discussions with them about pensions.

It is rare for so many to have the power to make decisions that impact people’s lives and know so little.

Outside of the U.S. Congress.

As someone who has spent a lot of time having face-to-face sessions in Springfield lobbying on a range of issues, this comes as no surprise.

To his credit, Will Guzzardi calmly repeated the same truth to the same repeated questions.

“No, this does not encourage parents to opt out. It simply codifies their rights.” 

“No state has been penalized by the feds, and the feds have been less than forthcoming in saying whether they have the right to penalize a state.”

In the end the vote was 64 to 47 in favor of the Guzzardi bill. It was the first bill Guzzardi introduced after he was took office in January following his defeat of the incumbent Toni Berrios, daughter of the Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Joe Berrios.

He ran for the Assembly seat promising to work for a progressive agenda.

Chicago’s Democratic Party African American legislators could be found on both sides of the issue.

Several took to the microphone to express concerns over how the confluence of over-testing and lack of funding, services and technology put their constituents’ children at a disadvantage.

The House Democratic majority’s leadership was also divided.

Hyde Park liberal Barbara Flynn-Currie, who is House Majority Leader, voted no.

Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan, who rarely votes on a bill at all, voted yes.

Teacher unions were also divided.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers supported the bill.

The Illinois Education Association, which voted to support the concept of opting out at our state Representative Assembly, took no position on the Guzzardi bill, but voiced concerns over threats to funding and threats to teachers who might face disciplinary measures for advocating for opting out.

Illinois SB100. Students advocate to end the school to prison pipeline. So should you. UPDATED. 

May 19, 2015


UPDATED:  SB100 5/20 passed both chambers of the GA and has been sent to the Governor for his signature. 

Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) is a youth organizing collaborative for education and racial justice led by students of color from community organizations across the city of Chicago.

One focus of their organizing is SB100, a bill sponsored by Senator Kim Lightford passed the Illinois Senate by a wide margin.

The intent of SB 100 is to stop the no tolerance discipline policies in Illinois schools.

SB 100 will curb the overuse of suspensions and expulsions throughout Illinois. The bill reforms the school disciple code by:
  • Placing standards on the use of long-term out of school suspensions, expulsions and other harsh disciplinary practices
  • Prohibiting the use of all disciplinary fines and fees
  • Prohibiting the “zero-tolerance” policies that lead to high numbers of suspensions and expulsions of students of color
  • Allowing schools to have local decision making authority over student discipline issues.

Next stop is the Illinois House.

SB 100 is a groundbreaking effort led by youth leaders from VOYCE, who have been in Springfield advocating every week for almost 2 years now. SB 100 would represent the most significant “school-to-prison pipeline” state legislation ever passed in the U.S. 

Illinois has one of the highest racial disparities in the country when it comes to school discipline. SB 100 would help to change that. 

Call or email your Illinois State Representative.

Illinois House passes HB 306 parent opt out bill 64 – 47.

May 19, 2015


Making teaching a special need.

May 19, 2015


I’m a few weeks away from marking the third year of retirement.

I joke that I have finally found the job I have the perfect skill set for.

A bunch of recent stories have taken me back to memories of my art room and my students, many of whom were on the Autism spectrum. For many years our school was the attendance school where kids in our district with Autism were assigned if parents agreed.

It made for a very special place to teach.

Flash back to 1963 when I went to high school in Los Angeles.

Fairfax then was a comprehensive high school with two tracks: College and a few of the rest of us.

It was almost all-white. Mostly Jewish. There were no openly Gay kids. Or teachers. If a girl got pregnant, she disappeared. No girls sports. And no kids with Special Needs.

When I started teaching in 1983 I was prepared with with one class that addressed Special Education. And that mainly focused on legal requirements of the recently passed IDEA.

Remember that the first time the federal government addressed kids with special needs was in 1961 when JFK established a panel on mental retardation.

Yep. Mental retardation.

It was not until the final decade of my teaching that we began to practice anything that approached full inclusion, a practice which I remain strongly committed to.

I thought about that last week when I heard the story of the United Airlines flight from Orlando to Oregon that landed in Salt Lake City in order to throw off a family who had a child with Autism. The child was having a melt down because they would not serve her a hot meal even though the mother had offered to pay for it.

Another parent writes of a similar experience in Salon.

In my art room there were very few classes that did not have children with Autism, Down Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy.

And although being staffed with adequate Special Needs Paraprofessionals was a yearly battle with the board and the Special Education administrator, our school did pretty well.

In my view, inclusion was a benefit to nearly every typical kid who had the opportunity to learn along side Special Needs students and appreciate a world of difference.

And a benefit to nearly every Special Needs student who was able to escape a segregated learning environment.

For me it was a world I had no training for, but quickly learned from study, learning from colleagues, trial and error, massive failure and great kids.

The kid with Asberger’s who fired me on almost a weekly basis.

The one who was told to start each class by telling a joke so as to improve interpersonal relations. And did.

They were often quite funny.

And sometimes not.

The mystery of the student who never spoke, but could read a book cold and aloud with perfect expression and intonation in his voice.

The student whose anger would erupt without warning, suffer a total meltdown and recover just as quickly.

And the rest of the class that had become used to these events and treated them as common and as expected as a recess.


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