BOARDWATCH: Police State at CPS as Board of Education President Mary Richardson Lowry tightens security screws to undermine democracy at every Board meeting

A police state is not just dangerous to democracy, but it becomes increasingly dangerous to the people who are trying to create, enforce, and perpetuate it as well. The Chicago Board of Education continued creating dangerous situations on May 26, 2010, when the paranoid policies of Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman and Chicago Board of Education President Mary Richardson-Lowry took security paranoia to “a new level” (to use one of their favorite corporate phrases) prior to and during the Board’s May 26 meeting. The results included one five-minute period when the crunch of people created the real danger that Richardson-Lowry had been announcing for three months she was trying to avoid by tightening security at the scarce monthly meetings of the Chicago Board of Education.

Between 10:00 and 10:15 a.m. on May 26, 2010, the hall outside the Board of Education chambers filled with people who had been told they would be let into the Board meeting at 10:00, only to discover that they were being blocked by six security people and a rope line until 10:15 a.m. As the hallway outside the elevators became more and more crowded each time the elevators discharged another dozen people, Board of Education President Mary Richardson Lowry was preparing to announce, as she does every month, that too many people standing up with speakers constitutes a "fire hazard" inside the meeting itself. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.After telling hundreds of people who came out for what was supposed to be a public meeting that they would be admitted to the Board chambers on the fifth floor of Board headquarters at 125 S. Clark St. at 10:00 a.m., Huberman’s staff then double crossed and confused people by ordering CPS security staff to block everyone from getting into the meeting until after 10:15 a.m.

The result was a dangerous and uncomfortable traffic jam in the cramped hallway, while less than 50 feet away the meeting room where the public was supposed to be was slowly being filled by bureaucrats who earn, on average, more than $90,000 per year and who are placed carefully in "reserved" seating in the public chamber each month to make certain that only the faces of smiling people — all of whom carefully trained and highly paid bureaucrats — are seen, month after month, on the televised version of the Board of Education meetings.

One day earlier, on May 25, 2010, the Chicago Board of Education's media spin team under "Chief Officer for Communications" Monique Bond had successfully deflected one of the biggest protest stories in recent Chicago history out of the pages of the daily newspapers as part of the full-court-press that included the mayor's office and corporate Chicago's control of the city's corporate newsrooms.

May 25, 2010, evening rush hour. The day before the Board of Education meeting, hundreds of teachers, parents, and students held a sit in on Clark St. between the Board of Education headquarters and the Bank of America (formerly, LaSalle Bank) building. The sit-in, which was part of a series of marches and rallies that swirled across five blocks of Chicago's political and financial center, was blacked out in Chicago's corporate media, but increased the energy flowing in the schools, even as top officials of the city's school system diverted more and more security dollars into suppressing democracy. Substance photo by Susan Zupan.After more than 5,000 teachers (part of a protest march and rallies that included an estimated 10,000 teachers, parents, and students) filled Clark St. in front of the Board of Education building and held a sit-in in the street while chanting "Huberman must go!", the objective of both the mayor's media people, the CPS media people, and the current leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union coincided: tell the story without reporting what was really happening.

A sit in during evening rush hour in front of the Board of Education of the third largest school system in the USA? Well, if it didn't get on television, then maybe Chicago could claim it didn't happen. After all, the Chicago plan for corporate "school reform" was being exported across the USA by a President who had been part of Mayor Daley's Chicago Machine and a U.S. Secretary of Education who had been appointed by Daley and experimented with each of the programs in Chicago. But the protesters were real, even if the official version of history (newspapers used to like to call themselves the "first rough draft of history...") would black out what had happened on May 25, 2010, and what was happening on May 26, 2010 in the school system that was supposedly the model for the expansion of "school reform" across the USA.

Chicago Board of Education President Mary Richardson-Lowry was appointed by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley to succeed Michael Scott, who had at least tried to show respect for the people who went to the schools, worked in them and send their children to them. Richardson Lowry wasted no time with the finer points of democracy, installing within two months of her appointment a virtual police state at the only meeting each month when members of the public are supposedly allowed to voice their democratic views on the largest and most expensive public institution in the third largest city in the USA. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.There was no reason why people had to be kept out of a public meeting room on the day of a public meeting of one of the most important public bodies in the third largest city in the United States except to underline the fact that the public is unwelcome when the leaders of Chicago's public schools are making public decisions about how to spend the public's money. The police state tactics that have taken over CPS, where democracy was never respected in the first place, were most in evident on May 26, 2010, at the most recent appointee of Mayor Daley, Daley's school board, and Daley's CEO prepared for the meeting they had carefully rehearsed two days earlier.

The seven members of the Chicago Board of Education and the school system's Chief Executive Officer, Ron Huberman, make it clear once a month that they despise the public, denigrate the public's input, and ignore the public's complaint. Why? Because they only have to be accountable to one man — Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley — and to one set of people, the tiny minority of very wealthy people, many of them millionaires like themselves, who try to operate the city to increase their wealth, power and privilege at the expense of everyone else.

Not only does CPS have the largest number of security personnel deployed during the meetings of the Board of Education, but it also has the most expensive. Above (standing rear) Michael Shields and Stephen Golombicki talk before the Board meeting began on May 26, 2010. Shields was made "Chief Officer Security and Safety two months after Ron Huberman became CEO, at an annual salary of $150,000 per year ($35,000 per year more than his predecessor Andres Durbak had been paid). Golombicki, also hired recently by Ron Huberman, is being paid $115,000 per year as the "Deputy" to Shields. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. The result was a packed hallway outside the elevators on the fifth floor and increasingly unpleasant confrontations between the two groups caught in the middle of what many are now calling the Huberman - Richardson Lowry fascist team. By 10:10 a.m., when everyone could have been comfortably seated in the Board chambers, instead a handful of security people were telling citizens that they could not go beyond a rope line set up in the corridor at a bottleneck deliberately created by CPS since March (a recent innovation of Richardson Lowry’s administration; one that never existed before Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed her).

If the odds were taken into consideration and someone had a historical sense of humor, the security staff were the Spartans at Thermopolae, with the citizens who were trying to exercise their right to attend a public meeting cast as the Persians, who outnumbered their adversaries 10 or 20 to one.

As the democratic criticisms of the fact that the Chicago Board of Education has been the vehicle for a massive attack on the city's public schools and a massive transfer of wealth into private hands instead of for public use, the members of the Chicago Board of Education have responded with more and more draconian measures to control and manipulate the public. In addition to the ever growing level of "security" at each meeting of the Board of Education, the Board also is working to ensure that the official version of reality broadcast through the city's corporate media reflects the major story lines, most of them lies, that those who rule Chicago wants the public to hear and see.

Every month at the time of the meetings of the Chicago Board of Education, the majority of members of the public who take the time and spend the money (parking near the Board in the Loop now costs between $25 and $30 per day) to attend the school board meetings are shunted to the "holding room" on the 15th floor, while the Board's fifth floor meeting room is filled with expensive bureaucrats and CPS security. Above, at 11:00 a.m. on May 26, 2010, there were still 62 people in the holding room, while more than 50 seats on the fifth floor were being used by CPS executives. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.In this, they have the active cooperation of Chicago's two main daily newspapers (the Sun-Times and Tribune) and the reporters who are supposedly covering the education beat. Those reporters, more than at any other time in Chicago history, wait for the leaders of the public schools to direct them to the version of reality that corporate Chicago wants, the slanted "narrative" framing that is their expensive obsession.

Hence, on May 26, 2010, the reporters for Chicago's corporate media duly reported that the main "news" about the Board meeting (and the school system) was the claim, presented to them in his usual Power Point by CEO Ron Huberman, that the $60 million "Culture of Calm" program had successfully reduced gun violence in Chicago's schools. Since the reporters who were also treated to an exclusive briefing by Huberman are not going to check at any of the schools where this reduction in violence supposedly takes place (in most of them, "Culture of Calm" is a joke), the story line about what's happening across the vast city can be safely packaged and marketed from corporate offices downtown, rather than in the gritty school hallways of the West Side and South Side, let alone on the streets where some of the world's most dangerous drug gangs still rule.

The schools must all be safe on the days of the meetings of the Chicago Board of Education, because Ron Huberman and Mary Richardson Lowry make sure they are conducting the public’s business behind a phalanx of more than 30 security people of various ranks. In addition to the security in the lobby, there are at least eight security people deployed outside the Board chambers, another dozen inside the Board chambers, and a couple on the 15th floor at the “holding room.” Meeting in the Loop during “bankers’ hours”

Reginald Williams (above) currently holds the title of "Senior Professional" (at an annual salary of $105,000) in the Board of Education's expanding Office of Security and Safety. Like Michael Shields and Stephen Golombicki, Williams is always part of the security team deployed by Ron Huberman during the Board's monthly meetings. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. The three highest paid "safety and security" officials of Chicago's public schools were present during the May 26, 2010, meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. They were supervising the more than 30 security staff who had been deployed around the building, especially at the Board meeting itself, to promptly control any outbursts of democracy that offended Mary Richardson Lowry. On cure, they tried to move in when Richardson Lowry, who had previously served her patron by helping TIFs expand, refused to answer questions from Gema Gaete, who represents the Pilsen Alliance. Gaete was demanding to know whether the Board members who also serve the mayor on TIFs would begin to redirect the billions of TIF dollars that are going away from the schools. The TIF scandal in Chicago has been around for years, but for the past two years community groups, students, and teachers (including members of CORE and the staff of Substance) have been studying the massive CPS budget. Students have analyzed the TIFs in detail and have been demanding answers.

It was too much for the woman whose fortune was partly built in the crony capitalist system that serves Chicago's mayor and his corporate allies. "Escort her out!" Richardson-Lowry ordered when Gaete refused to leave the podium without an answer to her very reasonable questions about TIFs.

But nothing happened. Even though Ron Huberman's media spin controllers had reduced the number of reporters in the Board chambers to a minimum, security staff were reluctant to move on a relatively small but determined women surrounded by a number of her friends. So the "Escort her out!" didn't result in the desired removal of the speaker, and the President of the Chicago Board of Education had to sit, obviously steaming, as the questions she would continue to refuse to answer (and which pertained to much of the legal work she had been doing before becoming head of the school system) continued for another few seconds.

One of the things that must be true every day the Board of Education meets behind its phalanx of security is that the schools are safe. Otherwise, the Board members might have to explain how they can afford to have their "Chief Officer, Security and Safety," (Michael Shields, at $150,000 per year), the "Deputy Chief Officer, Security and Safety," (Stephen Golombicki, at $115,500 per year), and their "Senior Professional Officer, Security and Safety (Reginald Williams, at $105,000 per year) all hovering around the Board meetings while their main duties are supposed to be supervising the protection of the school system's property, staff, and 400,000 students. The only top security brass who wasn't at the May 26 Board of Education meeting was Michael Shields's additional "deputy" (at $115,000 per year).

In addition to the Security and Safety brass, the Board members are protected by more than 30 security people scattered, both wearing "security" jackets and in plain clothes, throughout the Board meeting, in adjacent rooms, and in the "holding room" on the 15th floor. 


May 28, 2010 at 10:52 AM

By: Sharon Schmidt

The temperature and the tone added to the insult

One of the things I noticed while waiting, was it was so warm in that hallway. Remember the temperature was high on Wednesday (and Tuesday, Monday). It was really stiffling by the elevators where we were standing.

I had come to 125 S. Clark St. on Wednesday morning. I waited in line to sign up to speak prior to 8:00 a.m. After that, and eating breakfast, I went up to the 5th floor to use the washroom and sit quietly before the meeting.

It was about 9:30 when I went to the 5th floor again. I was surprised when a security person told me I couldn't be there until 10:00. I remembered sitting in the board chambers much earlier when I had a press pass in February...

So I went down again to the lobby of 125 S. Clark St. and waited 30 minutes. I went back up to the 5th floor at 10:00 (as they had told me and others) just to stand for another long period of time in that crowded, hot area.

Huberman and Richardson-Lowry's dealt out disrespect to the students, parents, teachers, and principals who had follow these procedures in order to get an audience all morning.

1) We were told by the people checking us in at the sign up that the board could not make copies of our documents to pass out because their copy machine was broke. They suggested we look around the neighborhood and we might find a machine.

2) THeir not providing a place to sit for 2 hours and 15 minutes was terrible.

3) As was the hour-long tribute to Barbara Eason Watkins while the hot, tired crowd continued to wait for our turn to speak for a rushed 2-minutes.

4) THe harsh, partronizing, condescending, and arrogant tone of Board President Mary Richardson-Lowry toward parents, students, teachers, principals, and aldermen hroughout the meeting.

Of course there was more, which we will narrate in our board meeting reports.

It was ugly and all so unneccessary.

May 28, 2010 at 12:10 PM

By: kugler

Sounds Like a Human Rights Issue

if they make seniors and disabled people wait two hours without chairs and put everyone in a crowed hallway over the amout allowed by muiciple code it sounds like their needs to be a a formal investigation into possible ADA and Human Rights violations especially if it can be proven that there were people inside the chambers: that would establish discriminatory practices by the Board of Ed that resulted in a dangerous condition.

Remember E2 Night Club?

John Kugler

May 28, 2010 at 1:13 PM

By: Margaret Wilson

It is definitely a Civil Rights Issue

John, I agree with you completely. The past practice of CPS was to allow those of us with disabilities to speak first because many of us were on Special Services and had to leave when our ride got there. My understanding is that they have made it very difficult for us to speak because that is no longer the practice.

If I had been waiting for 2 hours, I would definitely be filing an ADA complaint.

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