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Editor's Commentary on Contents for June 2008

As the print edition of Substance went to press for the last issue of the 2007-2008 school year, it was clear that things had gotten better for public education, democracy and working people in many parts of the country — and much worse in Chicago.

As Substance continued to report from Chicago, the internal squabbles within the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) had escalated into battles. Just prior to the end of May 2008, Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart encouraged two of her supporters — Gail Koffman and Patti Walsh — to bring charges against CTU Vice President Ted Dallas. The charges, which were filed with the CTU Executive Board on May 28, asked that Dallas be stripped of his union membership and removed from the office of vice president. Since the CTU Constitution provides no way for members to impeach an elected officers, Koffman and Walsh brought their charges under a provision of the CTU Constitution and By-Laws that had previously been used only to kick strikebreakers from the union. Stewart and the union's lawyers permitted the attack on Dallas to continue as Substance went to press. The lead story in the June 2008 Substance ("CTU Civil War!" by George N. Schmidt) was based on the 112-page "complaint" that Koffman and Walsh brought against Dallas.

Meanwhile, other Chicago news included the refusal of Marilyn Stewart to disclose — with full "transparency" — how the CTU had spent its money. Demands for full disclosure had been mounting after the union's 30,000 members learned that the Stewart administration had burned through $5 million in cash reserves and then had to take out a $3 million loan in less than four years in office. Stewart offered no serious explanation for that $8 million. One of our Page One stories ("Stewart dodges 'transparency' with doubletalk" by Theresa D. Daniels) covered that situation and others in her report on the May 7 meeting of the union's House of Delegates.

While internal squabbles were allowing Chicago's anti-union administration to privatize much of public education and break or cripple the unions, resistance was growing in other parts of the USA. Rich Gibson's report and analysis leading off Page One ("Resistance grows across USA" by Rich Gibson) continued the Substance reporting on those stories.

During months when there is too much "Front Page" news to put on the front page, Substance will use its back page (in June, Page Thirty Two) to report another major story that deserves greater coverage. For June 2008, a shortened version of a major story on the machinations of the Chicago Board of Education's Capital Improvement Budget ("Capital hearings draw hundreds, outline poor conditions at many Chicago schools") was the subject. Focusing on the perils of Gallistel Elementary School on the city's far "East Side" (near the Indiana border), the article tried to summarize the stories that came out during the Board's May 2008 capital hearings. Those stories — heartbreaking in many cases — could have filled the entire issue of Substance. Gallistel, which brought more than 600 people to a hearing on May 22 which was ignored by the other media in Chicago, is spread over three blocks in three separate buildings. The result is that Gallistel's slogan is "One Gallistel — Not Three".

In one of the longest editorials in Substance history, Substance explained to the newspaper's Chicago readers (and interested readers beyond) why the battles within the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union were very important. In a lengthy editorial analysis ("Why not 'a plague on both your houses'? Union people must defeat Marilyn Stewart's budget and her attack on Ted Dallas") that began on Page Two and pre-emptied our usually stunning editorial cartoon, Substance took on the task of explaining the internal battles in CTU in context.

Coverage of the national resistance to high-stakes testing and the attacks on public education received a boost not only from Rich Gibson's analysis, but from a poem by Susan Ohanian that placed the abusive results of high-stakes testing in one whimsical context ("Farewell 'Goodnight Moon' — Pre-school reading for the global economy is now: The Wall Street Journal", Page Three). Taking the local Chicago scene to an individual level, Substance staff reporter and Chicago high school teacher and union delegate John Kugler (Hyde Park Career Academy High School) showed readers that fighting back is possible in his article "How union solidarity saved one teacher's job" (Page Five). In order to help our readers see that the splits in Chicago's unions were not unique in the USA today, Substance continued a look at some of the problems facing other unions during this time of massive attack on working people and the democratic rights of the average person. In "The fight within SEIU: A friendly but critical look... SEIU? Unions facing crisis as disputes between and within unions escalate" (Page Six), Earl Silbar, a longtime Chicago union activist, does a reportorial analysis that includes several links to Web reports on the complex story about the recent attack by SEIU on an awards ceremony at the Detroit Labor Notes conference in early May.

Substance's tradition of incisive and often brief investigative reports continued in June 2008 with Allegra Podrovsky's expose of one of the perks of working for the Chicago Teachers Union. In "CTU staff even get pensionable car allowance: Almost $1,000 per month" (Page Fourteen), Podrovsky, a music teacher at Chicago's Kelvyn Park High School, revealed for the first time one of the smaller of the obscene perks the current administration of the CTU has provided for its officers and staff.

John Kugler continued his interpretations of what CTU delegates and members could do in "Practical solidarity in action: What does 'Union' mean?" (Page Fourteen), a discussion of various ways in which union delegates had been able to use the contract to defend members even when the union staff was in the tank with the boss.

The struggle to sustain Chicago's Senn High School as a general public high school was reported again in Substance in Jesse Sharkey's "Will alderman Smith's 'facilities' money go to break Senn into 'small schools'? $6 million on tap for Senn High School?" (Page Fifteen). Sharkey, a history teacher and CTU delegate from Senn High School) has written extensively about Senn since the Board of Education began trying to convert Senn into charter schools plus a military academy (2004-2005) or into small schools (since 2007, after the Rickover Naval Adademy was firmly established within the walls of Senn). Sharkey's article on the current situation at Senn was joined by a summary of Substance's Senn coverage ("Four years of Senn struggle in Substance", Page Fifteen) which will send curious readers to the "old" Substance Web site (www.substance news.com) while the current site readers are reading is developed.

In a sidebar to her lead story on the Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates, retired Chicago high school teacher and union delegate (retirees) Theresa D. Daniels adds to the analysis of the attack on Ted Dallas ("'Nuking' Vice President Ted Dallas", Page Sixteen). Daniels also provides readers with another sidebar questioning the Marilyn Stewart claim that the CTU's budget problems could be blamed on three former presidents (Jacqueline Vaughn and Tom Reece, who were part of Stewart's United Progressive Caucus, plus Deborah Lynch, who is with the PACT caucus) rather than on Stewart's own mismanagement (alos on Page Sixteen). Four Pages of Letters (beginning on Page Twenty-One) help fill out the range of fact and opinion that are reported in the pages of Substance.

Bringing Substance back to some of the more important local issues in Chicago, George Schmidt reminds readers in two articles on Page Twenty-Four ("Board delays budget hearings for second straight year" and "Petition for elected school board gains widespread support") that the battles within the city's largest union cannot be understood outside the context of the city's public schools and their finances and governance. In another small article ("Vallas Philadlphia contract now a model for urban 'CEOs', Page Twenty-Five), Schmidt reports on how former Chicago CEO Paul Vallas has established the standard for 'CEO' pay and benefits now that the insidious export of the 'CEO model' from corporate American to the schools has taken hold in many of America's largest cities.

In a major announcement, a new caucus within the Chicago Teachers Union (CORE, for Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators) made its debut with two announcements in Substance. The first, a lengthy tentative program (Page Twenty-Six) outlined some of the key proposals CORE makes to improve the Chicago Teachers Union. The second, in the form of an announcement about a series of forums with the former President of the British Columbia Federation of Teachers, Jinny Sims (Page Twenty-Five) outlines one of the models CORE said it intends to follow — the militant unionism that was behind the British Columbia teachers' strike three years ago.

CORE was not the only CTU caucus reporting in Substance in June 2008, however. In an advertisement, the "Coalition for a Strong Democratic Union" (CDSDU) showed how Marilyn Stewart spent the CTU into a $3 million deficit in four years (Page Twenty-Five, print edition). The CDSDU, affiliated with CTU Vice President Ted Dallas and many former members of the union's United Progressive Caucus (UPC) as well as others, is also growing as the union's long tradition of robust democracy begins to show itself again. Like CORE, CDSDU promised to meet and organize during the summer of 2008.

Substance revived a long tradition of analytical reviews of books, movies and other media with Jim Vail's critique of Charter Schools ("Rethinking Schools Charter schools book is George Soros privatization propaganda", Page Twenty-Seven). In his review, Vail asks whether the book's "balance" on charter schools is accurate, or simply trying to balance a case where privatization should be exposed.

For more than 25 years, Substance's satirist has written the "Grim Fairy Tale" about the meanderings of the "membersheep" of the CTEwe and the predations of the Ewenion's "Leadersheep." The June Grim Fairy Tale ("June is Bustin' Out All Over", Page Thirty) continued that tradition of incisive satire as new readers learned how to navigate the ongoing sage of Millicent Militant and her colleagues in the fact of attacks by the Big BAAD Bored Of Ed and the self-serving Leadersheep of their Ewenion.

Substance includes its usual Subscripts, as well as four pages of letters in June 2008. Once again, the Letters pages were in place to encourage the broadest possible discussion of the issues facing public education from across the USA, while Subscripts tried to tease to life some of the stories we will be getting at in years ahead.



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