Alderman protests snub, 'deseg' plan.. Pat Dowell to the Board of Education

The letter above was presented to the members of the Chicago Board of Education at its December 16 meeting.While much of the time at the December 16, 2009, meeting of the Chicago Board of Education was taken up with discussion of the successor to the public schools' desegregation plan, one key voice in opposition to the plan was almost ignored. Prior to the meeting, an aide to Alderman Pat Dowell was relegated to the “holding room” on the 15th floor, rather than the meeting room on the fifth floor. When he finally got to speak, Robert Elchert read a letter from the alderman outlining her objections to the proposed plan.

One hour later, Rob Huberman outlined the plan for the Board members present, and a short time after that they voted to approve it, ignoring the aldermanic reservations.

The letter read as follows:

December 16, 2009

Clare Muñana

Vice President,

Chicago Board of Education

125 South Clark Street

Chicago, IL. 60603

Dear Vice President Muñana:

I am writing to express my disapproval of the proposed magnet and selective-enrollment policy changes. The Board of Education claims it will create more diversity by replacing the race consideration with a socio-economic determination that is composed of five different factors of the parent’s income, marital status, educational obtainment, homeownership status, and English-speaking ability. Indeed, these factors should be considered in order to provide an equal opportunity for a quality education for families who may live in low-income areas, but under your proposed plan, socio-economic status will actually play an insignificant role in determining a child’s eligibility to enroll in a magnet school and may in fact, create more obstacles.

Under the proposed plan, socio-economics would only be considered after all siblings of a current student who want to attend a magnet school are admitted and 50% of the remaining seats are given to students within a 1.5 to 2.5 mile radius of the school. Given the demographic pockets that exist in Chicago, your siblings and neighbors are likely to be of the same race. Consequently, relegating socio-economic factors to the bottom of the consideration list for enrollment will create fewer opportunities for diversity.

This not only defeats the purpose of desegregation efforts, but does a tremendous disservice to our lowest-income children. There are many families who will not meet the proximity and sibling requirements and will therefore have to rely on becoming enrolled in a magnet school based on selections made from the four different socio-economic tiers. Essentially, this means that children from the lowest socio-economic tier will have only a 25% chance of obtaining one of the leftover seats after the majority of the slots are filled with local residents and siblings.

A preliminary study of your proposed policy changes validates these concerns as it has determined that fewer students from outside the actual neighborhood where a magnet school is located will be able to attend. By not directly considering race and by giving an inadequate amount of weight to socio-economic factors, these policy changes will result in schools that are culturally synonymous with their surrounding neighborhoods.

The Aldermanic briefings were on November 30th and the fact that less than three weeks later, the Board of Education is making its final decision demonstrates a lack of community involvement. After reviewing your proposal and considering input from my constituents, I am strongly urging the Board of Education to forgo the implementation of this plan until a more publicly driven and comprehensive strategy that will increase both diversity and access to a better education can be developed.


Pat Dowell,

Alderman, Third Ward

Cc: Mayor Richard M. Daley

Ron Huberman

Phillip Jackson


December 21, 2009 at 11:20 PM

By: Jim Vail

Alderman Letter

First - Could you please print out this letter since it's difficult to read in the pdf file or whatever it is.

Second - The representative from Alderman Dowell's office, Robert Elrich, was one of the last speakers to sign up, and therefore like the others had to go to the 15th Floor.

However, as I reported in the Board of Ed story, he along with a state rep. and CTU President Marilyn Stewart were put to the front of the line to express their sentiments.

This also happened with a Civic of Federation stooge who didn't even sign up to speak at an earlier board meeting, but miraculously was allowed to speak in the beginning of the meeting to say the budget deficit was fine - and gutting the teachers' pension and more charters/less public schools is obviously necessary.

The question here is do these people really represent their constituents to be given priority over us individuals. When politicians speak at Board meetings, they for the most part represent a small topic of interest in their ward - an overcrowded school, the desegregation decree that hurts black people enrolling in selective schools or a closing school (though that is very rare).

So the idea that Ms. Stewart represents Chicago public school teachers, Ald. Pat Dowell represents her constituents, etc. makes sense to take precedence over individuals as speakers.

But these people have to be held accountable - Marilyn speaks more forcefully at Board meetings - supporting the Altgeld Gardens people for example, speaking out against closing schools last year - and this is a result of a group of teachers represented by CORE that have pushed her to fight for teachers - something she has not done in the past.

Alderman Dowell has her heart in the right place as well - presenting her letter to the Board to argue against the new desegregation policy that no longer considers race (what other alderman spoke up for black people who will get screwed again in the country's most segregated city in the nation?) and she has questioned the proliferation of charter schools in the City Council - something most aldermen have strangely stayed silent on as privatization destroys their union public schools many grew up fighting for.

Cheers also to Rep. Soto who has taken on the machine by representing her community to have more say in school closings, phase outs, new schools, etc.

When Ms. so and so from the Civic Federation spoke, she reprsented the business interests.

Democracy is participatory - if we the people don't take a direct interest and hold those elected accountable - things will continue to get worse.

December 22, 2009 at 2:53 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

We're stuck with the PDF... Civic Federation's teacher bashing goes back to the days of the Titanic!

I just tried to get the text off the PDF, but it's not in a readable PDF format. The only thing people can do is try and enlarge it on their computers. The reason it's on this side (right side) in the Substance queue is that it's the largest we can render our graphics.

Robert Elrich was in the 15th floor holding room (along with more than 100 other people) when the Board meeting began on the 5th floor on December 16. He was then brought down by CPS security people (who run a kind of shuttle during the meetings) when the Board found out he was an "alderman" (they've been treating the staff of politicians the same as the politicians themselves the past couple of years).

Recently, some aldermen have told the Board they wanted to stand in line to sign in to speak and then didn't want to be put to the front of the line. As the Board becomes more and more restrictive against public participation, more and more aldermen are hearing from their own constituents (sometimes, their relatives, I'm told) and are going to the Board meetings to see for themselves how rudely the "public" is treated.

You're right about the Civic Federation. The reason the Civic Federation was brought to the front of the line was that they were one of two groups the Board could get to speak in favor of that crazy "budget" (and those crazier "deficit" claims) Huberman presented last summer. Then the Civic Federation's version of the Huberman budget lie was provided by CPS Communications to the Sun-Times and Tribune, where it became the official verification of the "deficit" lie and the attack on the teacher pensions.

The Civic Federation didn't even bother to make a presentation during the budget hearings (August 17 - 19), but was then given a privileged place because, as you note, they are a business group. For more than 100 years (although they missed a few during the 1990s), they've taken the public floor every year to say (a) the CPS budget is OK, except (b) CPS is spending too much on teachers.

I think they probably patented that teacher bashing paragraph back when they were representing Chicago's Robber Baron's during the earlier Gilded Ages of Plutocracy. At least when they speak, you know for whom they are speaking. If they had been booked on the Titanic in 1912, they would have sailed First Class and let the rest of us drown or freeze that night. And the Chicago Board of Education would have save them a warmed seat in the last lifeboat. So what else is new?

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