Eloquence at August 17 Lane Tech budget hearings... Budget Hearings Hear Moving Testimony

There was outrage, there was disbelief and most of all, there was a sense that the people can speak, but those making the decisions to drastically cut educational services in Chicago via massive teacher firings don't have to respond.

Xian Barrett, who had just received word he would not be teaching this year at Julian High School, brought the audience to its feet following his moving testimony. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Teacher, after parent, after student fired questions critical of the Chicago Board of Education's 2010 budget that has been creating massive turmoil in the schools with an alleged $370 million deficit, at the first of three public hearings on the Board of Ed's budget at Lane Technical High School Tuesday, August 18.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis told the Board representatives that the Board needs to raise local property taxes to help pay for public schools. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.When simple questions were asked that CPS knew the answer to, such as have they started to tap into the $800 million line of credit and what banks issued the loans, CPS Budget Director Christina Herzog and Chief Financal Officer Diane Ferguson clearly knew the answer, but only mumbled that it would eventually be provided online.

At least Herzog attemped to answer the questions from only a few dozen people at the northside budget hearing last year, whereas this year she and Ferguson were on lock down, claiming that the sheer number of speakers — estimated to be roughly 50 out of an audience of about 200 people — did not allow them to answer, but to take these concerns back to the Board of Education.

Defying Board officials to call "Time!" on her, CTU's Lynn Cherkasky Davis read through a list of the names of the 30 National Board Certified teachers the Board had fired during the summer of 2010 while claiming it wanted only the "best" teachers in front of Chicago students. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Ferguson began the meeting by first explaining that the Chicago Public School's budget is based on current revenues from the federal, state and local government bodies, as well as private grants.

"People agree, and people don't agree," Ferguson said.

Not one agreed at Lane's budget hearing.

The first speaker who could be described in baseball terms as a great lead-off hitter was Rodney Estvan from Access Living who has been studying the CPS budget for the past five years. He said the deficit numbers should not be used for bargaining purposes because these numbers change a lot. He said the Board should utilize its reserve fund to avoid the massive teacher layoffs that are currently causing chaos in the schools.

Adam Heenan, a CORE member and Curie High School teacher, then questioned if the Board will ask the city to decline the TIF surplus (tax increment financing districts that the Mayor has set up to divert funds for schools and other municipal entities to spur economic development) to fund the schools. Ferguson told Heenan that this is not a Q&A, so they'll get back to him, not saying exactly when.

Another TIF question was, has CPS signed off on any new TIF districts, and again, the answer will be online "as soon as possible."

Suzanne Dunn, another CORE member and recently layed off teacher from Prescott Elementary, said that because Schools Chief Ron Huberman said there will be no classroom cuts in the elementary schools, she could assume her layoff notice was sent in error.

The largest group ever for a CPS budget hearing gathered outside the Lane Tech auditorium (above) prior to the beginning of the August 17 hearings. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. The fact is Dunn is a veteran teacher who stood up against the attacks current Prescott principal Erin Roche used against his inherited staff and was thus labeled an "unsatisfactory" teacher, even though prior to Roche's arrival Dunn had been rated an excellent special education teacher. She also noted that after she and another Prescott teacher lost their job, two additional first year teachers were hired at her school.

It is important to note here that the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times — both did not show up to this important community budget hearing - have applauded Huberman for violating the Chicago teachers contract by firing "unsatisfactory" teachers without due process, when the fact is only 26 of the 426 layed off teachers in early start schools were rated "unsatisfactoy."

Jonathan Goldman, the head of Raise Your Hand, a coalition of parents against education cuts, said CPS is entitled to $350 million of the $700 million sitting unused in TIF accounts. He also noted that a long-term fix to the educational budget crisis would be to restore the $250 million owed to the schools annually from the TIFs the Mayor collects. TIFs are not listed on property owners' tax bills.

Karen Lewis, Chicago Teachers Union president elected on the CORE slate, said she is concerned that funding for the area offices increased by $59 million during this crisis.

Rodney Estvan of Access Living (gesturing at microphone above center) presented the Board representatives with a budget analysis of more than 30 pages and criticized the Board for politicizing the budget process since January 2010. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Jay Rehak, a CORE member and Chicago Teachers' Pension Fund trustee, noted that the budget does not break down the salaries of principals like they do teachers and that the 7% pension pickup that the Board of Ed pays into the teachers' paychecks is listed twice at $40 million, "so I just found $40 million for you."

Lynn Cherkassky-Davis, the head of the CTU's Quest Center, said there have been 30 National Board Certified teachers terminated due to the budget cuts, and she then wisely went beyond her alloted two-minute time limit to list the tragic stories of those teachers having been layed off. One layed-off teacher had been undergoing cancer treatment; another was pregnant and her unemployment check is less than her COBRA payment (COBRA is the temporary health insurance offered after being terminated); and another carries a sign that reads, 'Will work for Food and Rent.'

John Kugler, a current CTU employee who has been handling the displaced teacher grievances being filed, punctuated the anger and outrage of the people by bellowing out, "You are causing chaos and disrupting the lives of the children. Every time you make a cut, you hurt a child!"

George Schmidt, the former editor of Substance newspaper and currently providing budget consulting analysis for the CTU, said he has watched the budget for the past 30 years go from "silly to ridiculous to atrociously mendacious." He said the finance department is lying to the people by creating a deficit to attack the teachers' pension fund, that has also resulted in over 1,000 teacher layoffs this year.

There were several complaints about the special treatment of charter schools, which Daley has promoted at the union's expense, such as why are several CPS buildings being rented for only $1 per year.

But a couple of charter school parents voiced their concerns that the budget cuts have hit their schools as well.

Jeanne Freed, another CORE member and Lincoln Park High School teacher, noted that her school has to share 30 textbooks with four other classes, and one class has only 15 textbooks.

"If it's this bad on the northside," she said, "I could only imagine how bad it is on the southside."

Danielle Ciesielski, a Robeson High School teacher and CORE member, said a key funding solution would be to raise the property tax cap which CPS is entitled to, as a long-term solution rather relying on one-time expenditures which would point to another budget crisis next year. CPS stands to receive $100 million this year from the federal government after a $26 billion education jobs bill was recently passed.

"How many of ye all are decision makers?" Brian Galaviz, a Senn teacher and CORE member, asked directly to the two CPS finance officials sitting in the hot seat. "None."

Hope High School teacher Kurt Hilgendorf (who has chaired the budget committee founded by CORE and Substance for more than a year) asked why the Board wasn't explaining how it began investing in derivatives and how much the Board has lost on those risky investments. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Kurt Hilgendorf, a CORE member and the head of a budget study committee, demanded answers to CPS's murkey derivative investments — which helped ignite the economic crisis in 2008 — that has cost the city millions and which is against Board policy. Michael Brunson, the recently elected CTU recording secretary, said the Board should provide a lot more books of the budget since many people in the audience indicated they would like to read it but couldn't find a copy. The current CPS budget on CD that CPS provided Brunson almost broke his notebook, he said. Another speaker said he could not find the budget in his library. Brunson said that since the budget stated printing costs doubled from last year, printing more for the public shouldn't be a problem.

Several students from CYIC - Chicago Youth Initiating Change - spoke, including Raymond Flowers who asked the same question he asked last year, why won't they return the TIF monies to the schools. Again, no answer. He wondered also why so much CPS money was continuing to be spent on costly consulting services.

Gina Baruch said she was just "honorably dismissed" after serving 17 years as an exemplerary art teacher, 14 of which she received superior ratings and received over $90,000 in grants she applied for. She was three years shy of receiving a decent pension and now cannot find a job. She said that there was only one art position available in Chicago schools, noting, "art programs are dropping like flies."

Jack Moran, a Beaubein teacher who ran as vice president on the CSDU ticket in the recent CTU elections, said the Board has over 100 lawyers working for it and still hires outside lawfirms. Sources say current labor negotiation lawyer James Franczek is being paid upwards of "three quarters of a million dollars" during the past year to represent CPS in negotiating the CTU contract and is demanding significant concessions from the teachers.

The Board representatives had a Power Point presentation but did not use it. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Every Chicago school delegate at a recent meeting voted against any concessions. "Huberman destroyed the CTA, and now he's here to destroy the public schools," Moran said. 


August 19, 2010 at 8:51 AM

By: Bill

17 year vet also

My experience is the same as the 17 year art teacher. 17 years Superior ratings for 14 years, Excellent for the last 3, and then terminated!

August 19, 2010 at 9:10 AM

By: Lela

15 year vet

I too have a similar experience to Gina and Bill. For 15 years I have been a teacher at the same school with a superior rating until it was changed to excellent this year in June. The principal then closed off my position, re-defined it and hired a newbie, who just happens to be the best friend of a lead teacher he brought on board last year.

Add your own comment (all fields are necessary)

Substance readers:

You must give your first name and last name under "Name" when you post a comment at We are not operating a blog and do not allow anonymous or pseudonymous comments. Our readers deserve to know who is commenting, just as they deserve to know the source of our news reports and analysis.

Please respect this, and also provide us with an accurate e-mail address.

Thank you,

The Editors of Substance

Your Name

Your Email

What's your comment about?

Your Comment

Please answer this to prove you're not a robot:

2 + 1 =