Special Chicago Board of Education meeting on June 15, 2010 approves raising class size, borrowing $800 million

The Chicago Board of Education (BOE) called an emergency meeting on Tuesday, June 15, 2010, at 10 A.M. at Board Chambers at 125 S. Clark, to address the financial problems it is facing. The meeting agenda included three resolutions presented by Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ron Huberman: 1) the termination/dismissal of tenured and probationary appointed teachers because of the fiscal crisis; 2) the expectation that wage and salary increases for Fiscal Year 2011 will be funded; and 3) the issuance of a bank note borrowing not more than $800 million.

Chicago media began covering the June 15 events before dawn when teachers picketed outside the Board of Education before going to work. Following the statements of Marilyn Stewart (above center) and Karen Lewis (behind Stewart) to the Board meeting, dozens of reporters interviewed Stewart about her opposition to the proposed class size increases. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.TV vans from FOX and Channels Two, Five and Seven were outside the Board to record the meeting and to videotape the protesters who marched with picket signs from 6 A.M. to 7 A.M. The protesters were teachers, other staff, students, and others. The teachers came to the Board and marched in front before leaving to teach their classes for the day. Some of the students stayed and spoke later at the Board meeting.

Inside, when the meeting finally began, the section for reporters was full. Usually, Chicago's media ignores the meetings of the Board of Education. Even the Sun-Times and Tribune, the city's remaining daily newspapers, have been covering the Board meetings sporadically during the past couple of years. The meeting began at 10 A.M. with a report by CEO Ron Huberman. Then what followed was public presentation, planned for a total of 30 minutes, to address only the subject at hand. Fourteen speakers signed up in advance of the meeting to speak, each given a total of two minutes each. A 15th speaker was heard when Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart showed up and spoke as well.

Once again, the event began with a presentation by Chicago schools Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman, who said the financial situation was dire, and that the actions he was proposing were necessary.

Outgoing Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart (above touching microphone) stood side-by-side with her successor, King High School teacher Karen Lewis, as she spoke at the May 15 Board meeting. Stewart said that Mayor Daley's control of the schools had failed. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.After Huberman finished, the first speaker was Karen Lewis, a teacher at King College Prep and also President-Elect of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). Lewis spoke strongly and spontaneously to the presentation by CEO Ron Huberman, after not using the two speeches she had prepared.

Next was Jonathan Goldman, of the "Raise Your Hand" Coalition. Goldman's group had been supporting CPS calls for more funding from the State of Illinois, but has also begun examining local funding for Chicago's public schools. Goldman stated that "We're very disappointed that this meeting is taking place." Goldman said he wanted to know why cutting at Central Office was not taking place. He remarked: "This is government by fiat, calling a public meeting and only allowing thirty minutes for public participation." Like many of the speakers, Goldman that the use of TIF funds (half a million dollars) to fund the facade restoration of the Lyric Office Building) should not have had priority over the funding needed by the schools.

Matthew Johnson, of Chicago Parent Union, disagreed with Mr. Huberman's statement. He argued that there are other ways of cutting funds. He mentioned that 800 million is being borrowed to cover a 600 million deficit, but he sees the deficit as less, 300 million not 600 million. He asked, "Are we going to reinstate those teachers that we cut due to the deficit?" Mary Richardson-Lowry, BOE President, redirected his question to be answered later.

Julian High School student Shantell Steve, of Chicago Youth Initiating Change (CYIC), said she came from a personal background of abuse. "My teachers were why I was able to overcome abuse," she told the Board. She added that students look to teachers for support. "Teachers are the heart of the school," she said, "the drum and band which carries the harmony." She added that students feel like second-class citizens. She pleaded with the BOE to not cut teachers "because you're killing our future."

CORE's Michael Brunson (above), who is to take office at CTU recording secretary on July 1, presented the Board members with a chart that had been used by CORE during the CTU election campaign, telling them he suggested it form the basis for discussions of the budget. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Michael Brunson, a member of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) steering committee and Recording-Secretary Elect of the CTU, said Mr. Huberman has called for shared stewardship and concessions. Mr. Brunson added that this budget is a matter of priorities — I don't want to say misplaced priorities, but "We have a number of social ills out there right now and I'd like to go over this document with you." Brunson then handed the Board members a document prepared by CORE and used in the recent election campaign showing, he said, some areas that could be cut in order to avoid classroom cuts.

Gema Gaete of the Pilsen Alliance continue to press the Board for a position against the TIFs, and was once again ignored by Board members. At the May 26 Board of Education meeting, Board President Mary Richardson Lowry had tried to order Board security to remove Gaete from the room, but Gaete's supporters prevented the action. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.TIF reallocation came up again when Gema Gaete, of the Pilsen Alliance, said, "We've been asking for transparency." She advocated for the use of TIF funds for the schools. She added that each year they deviate $200 million from what could be tax money to the schools into TIF funds. She charged this was a "fake meeting." She wanted to know, "Where is this money coming from? Obviously, it's not going just for the deficit you have. We need to have a sign saying how much Daley owes us."

Rosita Chatondra, of CORE, was concerned about the number of teachers being displaced. She said minority teachers have been hit hard. She asked, "Are you asking us to bear the brunt? Are our communities having to undergo additional cuts? For over forty years, we have suffered from underfunding. It's not just the economy. We have been hit hard for the last fifty years."

Marilyn Stewart, President of the CTU, who will be succeeded by Karen Lewis on July 1, 2010, mentioned that "Karen Lewis and I have always been united." Directing her next remarks to Mayor Daley, she said, "No, Mr. Mayor, we can't stuff thirty-five children in a classroom." and "You can't attract teachers to CPS if they know they're going to be fired on a whim."

Unlike some of the other speakers, Marilyn Stewart provided Substance with a copy of the remarks she had prepared for the meeting. She delivered them almost as written. Stewart said:

“As you know, come July 1st the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union is going to change. But I can assure you that what won’t change is the commitment of CTU to do everything in its power to fight against the educational malpractice you are about to commit this morning.

“For Karen Lewis and I may have been opponents in CTU’s recent election, but we were always united in believing that the kind of cuts you are calling for this morning will destroy public education in Chicago.

“Frankly, I’m ashamed of this Board of Education.

“It seems to me that a Board of Education should be fighting for better education; not against it. It seems to me that a Board of Education should have the courage and conviction to stand up to the mayor and say:

“'No, Mr. Mayor — we can’t stuff 35 children into a classroom. That just doesn’t work educationally, Mr. Mayor. Study after study has shown through the years that children learn better in smaller class sizes. And so, Mr. Mayor, you are going to have to find other ways to balance your budget rather than to fire 2,700 teachers in order to raise class sizes.”

“'Furthermore, Mr. Mayor, we’ll never be able to attract the best and brightest teachers into Chicago’s schools if they know they can be fired in a whim through no fault of their own.'

“That’s what a Board of Education that really cared about education would say to the mayor. Unfortunately, that isn’t this Board of Education.

“And so I pledge to you this morning, that in my final two weeks in office, I will ensure that CTU’s 32,000 members — those who voted for me in this election and those who didn’t — are united with Karen Lewis and her team in their battle against your attempt to balance a budget on the backs of our teachers and their students.

“This union has had many elections and many presidents in its 73-year history. But it has had only one purpose — and that hasn’t changed.”

Access Living's Rodney Estvan (above) told the Board that the increase in class size would devastate the services to special education students. Among other things, he suggested that the Board end the Summer Bridge program for two years to save money. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Rodney Estvan, Education Policy Coordinator of Access Living of Chicago, told the Board that he spends a lot of time lobbying in Springfield on issues pertaining to special education, and that he could not convince legislators to vote a one dollar increase in cigarette taxes. He said that thirty-five per classroom at the elementary level will produce unbelievable stress, but observed that this resolution does not apply to Special Education classes. Solutions Estvan suggested are a Chicago property tax increase and shutting down the Summer Bridge program completely for two years.

Addressing Norman Bobins, CPS Board Member, Estvan said he wanted to know: "How much do we owe our vendors?" He added: "You can't pay payroll and you have to borrow this money. The public has no idea what this debt situation is." Estvan later told Substance that CPS has been failing to pay many of the special education providers who are working on contract with the Board. He also said that the Board has failed to provide transparency in its finances, and that there needs to be a regular Board finance committee that meets publicly and regularly allows the public to comment on Board financial practices and decisions.

Martha Idewa, of Phillips Academy High School, urged the Board to vote against this increase in class size and against termination of tenured teachers. She said she grew up in St. Louis, where "Our parents and teachers were defining aspects of our lives." She concluded that with thirty-seven students, you will have thirty-seven personalities, etc. She also noted that the community supports that had existed when she was growing up are no longer there for the poorest children, and that class size increases that further take teacher time from children are an enormous risk.

Lois Jones, a CTU Delegate (Schurz High School) and newly-elected High School Functional Vice-President of the CTU, said: "Thirty-five kids is totally wrong...Twenty-five is what you should be budgeting. You cannot go backwards. We walked many picket lines, not just for our raises, but also for class sizes."

She told the Board, "You have to put education first." Make every classroom less than twenty-five. Take this off your agenda. We're going back to the nineteenth century with this."

Clemente High School teacher Sara Echevarria (above) told the Board of Education members and Ron Huberman that they should be working to lower class sizes, not raise them. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Sara Echevarria, Teacher LSC Representative at Clemente High School (and newly elected Trustee of the CTU), remarked that termination of tenured teachers denies them the constitutional protection of due process. "If we have to terminate someone, maybe we should terminate Huberman, Daley."

Julian High School student Khashayah James (above at microphone) was joined by other CPS students in her denunciation of the Board's plan to raise class sizes to 35. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Khashayah James, also of CYIC and Julian High School, said that termination hurts students and teachers alike. She directed the Board, "Don't cut our teachers. Don't cut our future."

Asia Snyder, also a student at Julian High School, told the Board: "Please don't fire the teachers. At Julian, we already have thirty-five in a class. Does that mean we're getting more?"

The last public participation speaker was Valencia Rias-Winstead, of Designs for Change, who wanted to know, "What is the plan?...You have failed to create a plan, to be transparent." She demanded, "Open the books." and repeated, "What is the plan?" She added, "I hear the blood of our children who have been slain in the streets ...They have brand-new teachers who do not know the students." and "I wear red today because it is the blood of our children that is on our hands every day. Please consider (alternative actions)."

Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman (above, while Sara Echevarria was speaking) has been more and more quiet during the public participation portions of the Board meeting. Despite his claim that he has "cut" central office, Huberman retains dozens of his cronies from the Chicago Transit Authority and City Hall in highly paid (salary of $100,000 or more) executive positions, while the remaining veteran educators have been ruthlessly dumped. Between January 2009 and December 2009, Huberman hired more than 40 individuals who had no experience in education and whose only qualifications were their relationships to him. At the time of the June 15, 2010, meeting of the Board, they were all still working in the system's central offices. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Except for redirecting the question from Matthew Johnson to be answered later, there was no response from President Richardson-Lowry to any individual speaker. She said she was going to ask Ron Huberman to answer each of the questions that had been raised by the speakers, but when Huberman took the podium to answer questions, she didn't.

At the end, President Richardson-Lowry told all speakers, "Thank you. It is an extraordinary time."

Next, she asked CEO Huberman to go back to the podium to address questions posed by members of the audience. CEO Huberman asked, "Why today?" We're asking for authority to be able to take actions. This is what we're required to do by state law. According to Huberman, the three answers to the question "Why today?" were: 1) The labor agreement. He said "tomorrow represents the day the Board must decide to fund the 4% raise." 2) Huberman said that the Board is required to present a balanced budget by August. Therefore, we are adopting this funding resolution. 3) We have schools beginning in early July, also in early August as well as September. CEO Huberman added that the State of Illinois solution to Chicago's $427 million deficit is currently being held up in the House and Senate. He said that we don't know if the bill will make it to the Governor's desk, and that he didn't know if Governor Quinn will sign it. In regard to layoffs, CEO Huberman said layoffs have occurred because of school actions that were before this Board earlier this year.

In regard to the $800 million "Line of Credit" that is being sought, he said that state law says Chicago's schools must have a balanced budget. He described it as short-term borrowing.

Huberman said that the $800 million will allow the Board to make payroll and will bridge the gap for lack of state payments.

At this point, Board Member Norman R. Bobins, from his banking background, expressed his concerns about utilizing a Line of Credit and asked "Will you repay that Line of Credit when the state provides funds?" Huberman replied that the loan will be repaid as soon as Illinois pays CPS.

Following Bobins's statement, each of the Board members asked a question or made a statement that seemed to have been prepared previously.

Board Member Alberto A. Carrerro, Jr., asked, "Does classroom size jeopardize the safety of the students?" CEO Huberman replied, "We will do nothing that will jeopardize the safety of the students,"and added, "We don't have an official budget because the governor has yet to sign it."

CEO Huberman also saw the restoration of K-3 class size as more consequential.

Board Member Peggy Davis said, "We are unique in this challenge. We have an opportunity to be unique in our response," adding "These are options." CEO Huberman replied, "We are preserving our options."

Board Member Bobins asked. "Could you clarity, if we had to go to thirty-five students in the classroom and layoffs, these steps will not balance the budget, but will only address 30% of the shortfall." CEO Huberman responded, "Our reserves will be gone."

We are "closing our lots of capital projects." We have "all but decimated Central Office." "There will be very little left in this building." He added that non-union Central Office employees had had no pay increase and had taken twenty-one furlough days.

Bobins then asked for clarification of how much Board members are paid. President Richardson-Lowry replied, "Nothing. Zero. Board members are volunteers." (Members of the Board of Education are President Mary B. Richardson-Lowry, Norman R. Bobins, Dr. Tariq H. Butt, Alberto A. Carrero, Jr., Peggy A. Davis, Clare M. Munana, and Roxanne Ward.) Despite questions from the audience, the Board members failed to note that each of them is receiving an expense account of $2,400 per month, annualized to an amount that is in some cases higher than the pay of many CPS workers.

CEO Huberman then remarked to Board Member Dr. Tariq Butt that the Board is not voting on a budget today. He added that we will complete the budget, publish the budget, and have public hearings, school by school, line item by line item, with public dissemination and input. Final review is planned is for August. He added that these actions are because of the failure of the state to provide the money. He said our Board is asking other school districts, "What are you going to budget?"

He said, Today we are presenting options to mitigate the risk. We are being very fluid. It takes all of us working on it."

Board Member Bobins said he was going to vote in favor of all the items on the agenda, even though he was historically opposed to a line of credit, ("I'm in the banking business.") but "we have not been paid in five months by the state, reserves are down, and I hope we can come to some conclusion with the union to meet halfway."

Board Member Clare Munana said that she reluctantly and sadly supported the resolution. She expressed disheartenment that the state of Illinois has not funded as it should. She remarked that state reductions will force CPS to make cuts in areas of tremendous need, cuts will lead to larger class sizes and the displacement of teachers.

President Richardson-Lowry then said she would like to add her voice as a lawyer because she believes in the preservation of rights in her business. She added that she wants to make sure that the children in the district have options. She remarked. "My mother was a teacher. There are a lot of good teachers out there. This is not about teachers. It is imperative to have discussions with the Union. No Board member is a proponent of thirty-five children in the classroom. No Board member wants to see lay-offs of teachers."

(At this point, Gema Gaete called out, "Don't make your actions speak louder than your words.")

Not once during the discussion did any member of the Board of Education mention the fact that the Board had refused, for three years, to raise local property taxes, placing all of the blame for the financial situation on the State of Illinois.

The Board then publicly voted seven ayes and no nays on all resolutions. The meeting was adjourned because there were no further items on the public agenda. 


June 22, 2010 at 12:11 AM

By: Sarah Loftus


Great article.

One point need clarification - Huberman plans on cutting hundreds of tenured and non-tenured teachers because there is a deficit of maybe $300,000,000 or $600,000,000 or maybe more or maybe less. And the BOE all said, "OK, fine." Apparently it didn't matter that he wasn't sure what the so called deficit is or will be, but he's sure that he has to fire all of those teachers. And the BOE said, "OK, fine."

Then he wants to borrow $800,000,000. For what? If he borrows the money he wouldn't have to fire anyone, right?

But none of the BOE mentioned this, they just said "OK, fine."

So it seems as though Huberman and the BOE just want to fired a bunch of teachers for no good reason, or do they other plans for the $800,000,000 for something else?

June 22, 2010 at 12:38 PM

By: Margaret Wilson

retired teacher

I agree. Why is he looking to borrow all that money and still fire teachers? I wonder if he plans to fore go any raises for administrators to save money. LOL!!!! Everyone seems to want someone else to make sacrifices and then call them selfish when they don't. I recently read that Obama wanted the veterans to pay for their own insurance and didn't understand why people got upset. I didn't see him asking Congress and members of the Executive and Judicial branches to pay for their own insurance. These kinds of sacrifices should start at the top.

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