Second budget hearing draws major crowd to Westinghouse High School August 18... Some charter supporters give lukewarm support to charters

The second CPS budget hearing on the 2010 – 2011 proposed budget was held at Westinghouse High School, 3301 W. Franklin, on Wednesday, August 18. The sign-in for speakers began at 6:00 p.m. Approximately 60 people attended in the air-conditioned, cushion-seated auditorium. As at the first budget hearing at Lane Tech, no reporters from the Chicago Tribune, Sun-Times, or mainstream media TV stations in Chicago attended. The Board did not provide a list of those who had signed up to speak, as they do at Board meetings, and some of the speakers didn't state their names or were difficult to understand, so not all of the named speakers below have full names.

For the second night in a row, Chicago Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Diana Ferguson (above) refused to answer any questions about the 2,100 page proposed budget that members of the public were trying to discuss. Instead, Ferguson and her aides took a large amount of notes which they claimed would be answered on the CPS website. As of Saturday, August 21, no answers had been forthcoming. Substance photo by Sharon SchmidtDiana Ferguson, Chief Financial Officer of CPS. along with Christina Herzog (Chief Budget Officer), Jenna Beletic, Jory Simmons (who they referred to as the moderator, but with nothing to moderate was actually a time-keeper), Amanda Jonas, Josh Kaufmann, and Catherine Gillespie.

A good number of CPS/CPD (Chicago Police Department) Safety and Security personnel were also present. After the close of the meeting, I jokingly asked one guard if CPS was expecting people from CORE to start beating up someone or something. He laughed and said, “No. We’re here just in case.”

Ms. Ferguson thanked the hosts from Westinghouse. Then the audience was told basically the same thing as the night before by both Ms. Ferguson and Ms. Herzog — that our input was valued, we counted, and our comments were appreciated. They reiterated as well that the format this year had changed. Last year there was a brief Power Point presentation of the budget before the public participation, as well as attempts to answer questions as they were asked. This year they were only there to listen and record, in order to go back to the larger committee/team with our questions, concerns, and feedback pertaining to the budget. They understood that people would agree and disagree with the budget. CPS’s responses to the audience’s questions, concerns, and comments would be put online soon.

Chicago Teachers Union Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle (above) spoke about the problems the union is having facing the claims made by CPS officials about the current Proposed Budget. Substance photo by Kiara Davidson. However, she said, specific issues raised about specific schools would be handled on an individual basis and would not be available for all to see in the newly-invented CPS online give-and-wait-one-week-or-so-take. Sign Language and Spanish interpreters were available as needed; tonight there was one request for Spanish.

There were 26 speakers signed up when the event began (one person spoke at the end in addition to the 26). Below is an attempt to effectively summarize each speaker’s remarks, with apologies for not being able to report each and every name in full. I have attempted to almost transcribe what was said, so that we may effectively compare this to whatever CPS eventually puts online.

The first speaker was Alfred Rogers, a member of the Area 11 LSC Advisory Board, and a long time activist on the Southwest Side. He compared the Westinghouse auditorium’s great acoustics and cushioned chairs to the gymnatorium at the new school located at 77th and Kedzie. He also spoke about the new school at 55th and St. Louis, questioning a CPS process that turned a new school promised by Mr. Duncan to be open to the community, with the assistant principal from Gage Park originally placed there, into a turnaround run by AUSL. He said that this "pulled my drawers down and left me exposed."

At the AUSL school, there was already no respect being given to parents. This was all dirty pool. Trying to avoid the word "lie" he said did not like when people from CPS did not speak the truth, and he wanted to know the cost of the new school.

The second speaker, Chris D., questioned the budget crisis in its procession from $1 billion last year to $370 million to who-knows-what-amount now with all the numbers being thrown about. Yet, he pointed out, CPS did not even try to claim a crisis to obtain TIF money that rightfully should be going to the schools. With the federal money coming in, CPS should hire back the teachers with tenure who already have the rapport with and know the schools’ students.

The third speaker was Scott Saffro, a CPS teacher for over 29 years (currently at Foreman HIgh School), spoke specifically about budget items on page 392-3 of the hard copy of the budget. (Note: These page numbers will be different for those who look at the online budget, depending on your computer - see #5, George Schmidt’s comments ahead). Under Capital Planning Process For Identifying Projects there is an outline for Phases I-IV. In this section of the budget, Mr. Saffro did not see money allocated for ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) improvements, and he was concerned with acoustics in classrooms with high ceilings and no carpeting. He noted the great acoustics in the Westinghouse auditorium. He recommended that money be allocated for this improvement, needed by special education students but beneficial for all students as well. He referred to an article in today’s Chicago Tribune on the loss of hearing in teens and the importance of classroom acoustics.

West Side NAACP leader Dwayne Truss (above) was critical of the way CPS officials handled the budget and school construction work. Substance photo by Kiara Davidson. The fourth speaker was Dwayne Truss, from the Westside NAACP. He stated that money was being drained from CPS by TIFs. He said that in Wisconsin they show the citizens exactly how much money was being lost from tax breaks. He said that Chicago was corrupt and mismanaged when $120 million was spent for Westinghouse, another $100 million and you get a gymnatorium, and $1 million for consultants plus a Blue Ribbon Committee to redevelop a broken selective enrollment process. Yet, with $75 million another school was built with union labor. CPS should invest in teachers and kids for true economic development. He also wanted to know how many people in CPS came over from the busted CTA.

The fifth speaker was Substance reporter George Schmidt. He introduced himself as the former editor of Substance, a parent of CPS students, a former CPS teacher, and a consultant at CTU under its new leadership. He pointed out that the printed version of the budget is 428 pages. Additionally, there are more than 1,500 pages contained on the CD, which is in back of the print book. The 428 page print edition has page numbers printed on the pages, but when you down load from the board’s website the page numbers dissapear. There are no page numbers on the other 1,500 pages. He also noted that of the 2010- 2011 print budget, however, if it was downloaded the page numbers disappeared, leaving people with a range of 2,010 to 2,100 pages with no page numbers and 妬mpossible for anyone to discuss with a straight face.

But since he promised family members to "start with a smile," he said he appreciated that this year’s budget included information on charter schools. He noted that the data on Chicago's charter schools provided in the budget shows that they are doing worse than the city's regular public schools, even using the low standard articulated in the budget. Schmidt explained that with the publication of the minimal data provided in the Proposed Budget, it was possible to begin to do some analysis of Chicago's charter schools, and based on the test score data, the results were not surprising to critics of the charter schools. Of the 44 elementary charter schools listed in the Proposed Budget, 20 were at/above the district level on the ISAT tests, 16 were below, and 6 were without data on the ISAT.

Former Substance editor (and now reporter) George Schmidt warned Board officials that the proliferation of charter schools in Chicago needed to be ended, since the data published by the Board in the Proposed Budget showed that Chicago charter schools were no better, and in many cases worse, than real public schools despite the fact that CPS and private donors have provided charter schools in Chicago with additional millions of dollars over their nearby public schools. Substance photo by Kiara Davidson. Of 34 charter high schools listed in the Proposed Budget, only 4 were at or above the "district average" on the PSAE, 4 were below, and 17 were without data on the PSAE. These data were enough to put CPS on a course of action to suspend the charter school experiment until further notice.

Then Mr. Schmidt specifically referred to the expenditures listed on p. 97 of the budget hard copy. He noted that it was best to trace patterns going back more than one year [the budget narrative talks only about changes from 2010 to 2011], and so he took the numbers back to 2006.

He pointed out increases in spending for “Contractual Services” (from $155 million to $201 million), “Tuition” (from $181 to $376 million), and “Debt Service (from $214 to $477 million). Schmidt noted that the increased borrowing that had been going on may be a danger to CPS. He said that all three bond agencies were looking at the City of Chicago debt. He said that if CPS continued to waste money by borrowing and then by spending so freely, and its rating was lowered, derivatives and swaps [a risky investment strategy that CPS began engaging in during the early years of the 21st century] would become due before 2032 [the date that most of the derivative and swap losses will begin if the CPS sustains a decent investment grade bond rating].

He said CPS cannot afford to continue mindless expenditures that have failed (such as charter schools) or expenditures on new buildings (which CPS continues to do, sometimes in parts of town where there are buildings already owned by CPS). He said that like most Chicago taxpayers, he lives in a modest house, even though he’d “love to have 6 bedrooms with 6 baths,” he didn’t try to buy a larger home during the real estate binge. He said that unlike CPS, he and his neighbors weren’t that foolish.

The sixth speaker was Kristine Mayle, now Financial Secretary of the Chicago Teachers Union. At previous budget hearings and at numerous hearings on school closings, Mayle, an activist with CORE, had been speaking as a teacher. Now she was speaking as an officer of the 30,000-member Chicago Teachers Union. Mayle stated that the CORE team ran on a platform of transparency and accountability. She asked why CPS couldn’t do the same.

She questioned how at the beginning of the hearing someone said that people would "agree and disagree" with what was in this budget book. She asked the audience for a show of hands on those who agreed with the budget. When there were no hands shown, one man joked that he’d raise his (I believe he said something about not having them feel so bad, but I couldn’t hear what he said that made the audience around him laugh). Ms. Mayle said what she found most troubling was what had happened with someone she knew, referring to a friend (Xian Barrett) who spoke at the previous night’s hearing and was reduced to tears (along with many audience members, including this reporter, who listened to his testimonial about losing his teaching job).

On a conference call last week, she said, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had told them at CTU that $100 million would be back next week for CPS. Yet on the very day of the call, 1,200 or so (there was no official count yet) dedicated teachers got notices from CPS that they were being terminated! She did not understand the timing. Since they knew that their magical number of $100 million was coming, she asked if they were intentionally firing experienced teachers right now in order to hire first year teachers. She also commented on how disrespectful it was for the CPS people present at the hearings to not answer any questions. As a teacher, she asked, how would that be for her to not answer a student in class — "but post an answer next week?" Also, many students and community members did not have online access, so their questions would not be answered. CPS needed to stop this gambling. Just STOP.

The seventh speaker was Ganae McAlpin, a parent of two young children with her tonight as she spoke, said she would become a former teacher in five days. Both her parents were teachers, and it’s all she ever wanted to do with her life — work in the neighborhood schools. This budget deficit destroyed that for her. Her husband also lost his job. She said that she had just finished her National Board candidacy and would have to pay back what CTU had invested in her. She said CPS was destroying the future of CPS and asked, "Who wants to work here?"

The eighth speaker, Georgetta Davis, shared that she gave testimony at CTU tonight. In a letter dated July 20, 2010 she was informed that as of August 1 she would have no job. Since she was in a Track E school, she was supposed to begin teaching on August 9. Nine days prior to starting work, she was let go. She said that CPS also told her she couldn’t be a cadre substitute, she wasn’t "reassigned," and she would have no benefits in less than 30 days. She said that all this was against our contract which guarantees a salary for 10 months. CPS asks for professional teachers, but doesn’t treat people professionally as adults or citizens who have a life to live. CPS was deliberately sabotaging their lives. Ms. Davis had made a career change from corporate. She said corporate was not as cutthroat as CPS; they gave severance and some notice, not nine days. She was let go from CPS due to a "reallocation change," and she wanted information on how that decision was made (in 9 days), when, and by whom. She asked what benefit there was to the words "honorably discharged"?

The next speaker was Nathaniel Goldbaum, a teacher at Whittier Elementary and a member of CORE, said he wanted to correct a question he had asked at the previous night’s hearing. Since CPS gave advice as opposed to approval on new TIFs, he wanted to know how many they advised against. He also wanted to know if CPS will insist on the city giving the TIF surplus to schools. Regarding the position numbers closed due to budgetary reasons, he wanted to see all of the positions reopened with the same numbers and qualifications. It appeared that CPS was trying to wash out a tide of veterans, and we would like to see proof to the contrary. This was not just happening in Chicago but all over the country, and CPS was often a prototype for principals elsewhere to drive out teachers and oppose and deny due process rights. He wanted to see the projected costs to fix this chaos in the schools, with some teachers hired back while others would chose to leave the system.

Maria Baltsas, a National Board Certified English teacher from Julian High School, had burning questions about the $800 million line of credit [approved by the Chicago Board of Education at its June 15 special meeting). Where would this money be allocated, where did it come from, and was it for the schools or the city? She spoke of a veteran special education teacher who spent his whole career at Julian and ran the Special Olympics there. She said he was two years from retirement, but would now be replaced by a teacher from Teach For America with 8-weeks of experience — who would probably be out the door in two years not wanting to stay and teach in the inner city. She said that she saw their TFA program over this summer and said it did not prepare them for the real world. Her description of the perfect classroom used to train Teacher for America prospects had some of the audience laughing in their seats.

David Robbins, a CPS teacher for 6 years, wanted to know how much revenue was lost to TIFs and will CPS ask for the surplus for the schools?

Hope High School Economics teacher and debate coach Kurt Hilgendorf (above) reminded the officials of CPS that the Board had been taking risks investing in derivatives and swaps for several years, despite the fact that the CPS policy on the risky investments was only approved by the Board of Education two years ago, in August 2008. Substance photo by Kiara Davidson. The 12th speaker was Kurt Hilgendorf, who has long chaired the CORE Substance budget study committee. He said he had questions on derivatives, swaps, and other investments that Hilgendorf and others characterize as “casino” investing (like going to the casinos expecting to come back with extra money). He specifically referred to pages 31-32 in the budget hard copy. He asked if 3 separate reserve funds and the uses for one-time revenues were prudent. He questioned why FY2011 was $98 million higher than FY2010. He referred to an article in USA Today about credit ratings. Chicago had budgeted $1.25 billion for capital building with $6.8 million in debt. He questioned two amounts from the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), another budget document, whether the two debt numbers ($4.56 million and $6.8 billion) were separate. Hilgendorft quoted an article from Bloomberg financial news dated August 18, 2010, discussing the problems with Chicago debt. He asked if the bond rating had been cut at CPS — or the just for the City of Chicago. He said that CPS and the city needed to slow down debt issues, that maxing their credit card was not prudent.

This reporter spoke next — at slot 13. I'm reporting it in the same manner as we report other speakers: Susan Zupan, CPS teacher, member of CORE, and a staff member of Substance. I commented that CPS and Mayor Daley could have saved at least some money right here by having cardboard cutouts or mannequins at the table. I used a baggie containing four quarters to compare parking fora a tax-paying mope, for approximately one hour to charter schools renting public school buildings from CPS for $1.00 for one year. In February the Board approved five more of these one-dollar deals. I told them I wanted to have the deals put into the budget under the "CPS/Mayor Daley Anti-Revenue-Generating Renting." I told everyone to make a note of $5.00 in the hard copy of the budget to offset the budget crisis. I said I’d like to see Arne Duncan ask Barack Obama and the politicians in Washington, D.C. to give this deal, but including $1-a-year for mortgages as well as rent, to all the laid-off employees of CPS. I'd like to see this deal for all the nation’s unemployed as well.

I held up the budget hard copy and asked if this year’s numbers came from throwing a dart, rolling dice, pulling numbers out of a hat, or all of the above. I held up The Agreement (the CTU contract) and said it was the rules by which we live and work in CPS, but it could also be called, "Rules to Try to Make a More Civilized World," as are other rules, laws, and contracts. I then turned The Agreement upside-down as she said that CPS, with Mayor Daley’s and the state’s blessing, was now demonstrating that they did not respect rules. I asked, in the context of living in the city where children were shooting children more than anywhere else in the country, what kind of an example CPS was setting when they did not respect the rules? I said that in Chicago we have a "Culture of Calm" brought to us by "Crisis Management". Holding up a copy of the novel "1984" by George Orwell, I told the audience they didn’t have to read it — because we were living it.

Speaker Number 14, Cezar Simeon, said he was troubled that Board members were not present at these public hearings. He asked that at least four members be present in the future. He said he remembered hearing a short while back on the radio and TV about Mr. Huberman’s chauffeur driven cars, but he didn’t see any line item for this in the budget. He referred to the inappropriate trend of using a "value-added" metrix for the cognitive development of children. Since it was a business metrix, he wanted to see it used on CPS contracts, purchases, and hirings. However, if it was used for CPS management hirings, it would have to be called a "Value-subtracted" metrix.

Brighton Park Elementary School teacher Rolando Vazquez (above) was also critical of the budget presented to the public by CPS officials. Substance photo by Kiara Davidson. The 15th person to testify was Rolando Vazquez, a 6th grade teacher at Brighton Park Elementary. He said that he was happy to see many young people in the audience. He was as troubled tonight as he was last night about the lack of response from CPS to the audience as they spoke. He asked when they would get back to them, and someone actually softly answered, "within tne week." (This was the first time anyone from CPS uttered a word.) He asked the audience how many were from CPS, and approximately 1/3 raised their hands. One woman yelled out, "Until last week!" (she had just been terminated). He was concerned that schools would already be back in session in the one week time frame for CPS’s responses.

The sixteenth person to speak, high school teacher Zulma Ortiz, requested a Spanish translator. She was a teacher and an active member of CORE. She asked why copies of the budget were not available in Spanish when Chicago had such a high percentage of Spanish-speaking people. Did that never occur in their minds? She didn’t like how they sat there like mummies, not answering questions. It was a shame not to have a real dialog with something so important as an education budget in our society. She was disgusted to see public education in the United States "on the floor like a third world country." Why were there not enough copies of the budget — in schools and libraries — for people to study and discuss. What would the link be online for the responses and when? Someone from CPS shocked everyone again by answering, "Not now." Ms. Ortiz then sang, "Cuando? Cuando? Cuando?"

The next person to testify was Rosemary Finnegan, a CPS school psychologist, who asked about rumors that psychologists and social workers would be laid-off. This was important for students’ mental health. She wanted to know if the rumors were true. If so, how many and who decided this? No answer.

Speaker #18 was Norine Gutekanst, a veteran teacher (Whittier Elementary) working with CTU now. Gutekanst stated that firing 1,300 teachers, putting them out on the street, affected students, too. So why not look at other areas to cut? She suggested that an excellent place to cut was all the money going for testing. As a third grade teacher, her students took three CPS tests, the ISAT, and now Scantron, which would lead to more money being spent for computers. "Tests and computers did not teach, teachers teach," she said but some "Bright bulb" at the Board of Education decided to roll out Scantron. Another area Gutekanst suggested to cut was the huge amount of money being given in debt to banks. The Board of Education should tell them they need to renegotiate. The banks were not hurting, and the Board of Education as a good customer could tell them that the students of Chicago are more important than your bank money. Referring to the surplus TIF money in not blighted areas, such as the central city, the Board of Education was getting "fleeced out of money" they had taxing authority over.

Speaker #19 was "Angela W." (I didn't get her last name), who started by telling everyone that many would not like what she had to say. She was a parent of two children and had 18 nieces and nephews. She didn’t like all the tenured teachers’ "finger-pointing." She spoke of her daughter’s horrible teachers until "one young Chinese teacher" made a difference and motivated her and her classmates in a hard-to-teach classroom. She did not like the criticism directed at poor young teachers and at the charter schools, saying that they were not performing. She cited one example of a boy she knew who improved his GPA after coming from a terrible grammar school. She defended charter schools by telling the audience about the number of people who wanted to go to them and how those new schools looked. People tonight were criticizing the underdog,, she said, which made her cheer for the underdog. #20: Carmela M. had been a CPS teacher assistant since 2004. She was diagnosed with leukemia in 2009 and treated for several months. When her doctors cleared her to return to work, she was told she had no position. She said she saw a sign at 125 (Clark Street) that said, "Children First." She questioned who was first.

Danielle Lawson, a single parent of six children and a teacher with 3 degrees was number 21. She said that she hadn’t planned on speaking, but after hearing the others, she wanted to share her story. She started with Teach For Chicago in the early 90s. She taught in York Alternative High School and had developed special education programs for the Juvenile Detention Center for CPS. She said her career was awesome. Then, as a CTU delegate, on the recent Wednesday that the House voted concessions down, she had a feeling when voting that her job would be gone, but she voted to do the right thing. On the very next day, she had "the script" read to her which basically said, "I’m gone." She said that she was amazed. Yesterday, with one child at Morehouse College, here at Westinghouse, she had to ask for a waiver for one of her other child’s $155 fees. However, she is choosing to view this as a great opportunity; she has a 10-month salary coming, and she doesn’t have to write IEPs. She is currently running for Alderman of the 24th Ward. She has been on the news. She sees great things coming. She said to "tell Ron Huberman she’s coming for him." She will be a City Hall advocate for education.

Speaker #22 was Melissa Turner, a 12-year veteran teacher of what she told the audience were "hard-to-staff schools." She said that she left her school to work in the magnet cluster program. When her former school was closed, it barely had functioning drinking fountains. When it reopened in the fall, everything was new. Her former students had to walk across dangerous roads to get to their new school. She was put into the reassigned pool. She received her "Letter." Emotionally she said that she did not understand how this could happen (to teachers who dedicated their careers in hard-to-staff schools).

Kaila Peterson (#23) said she heard the other lady speak about special needs programs, and she wondered how they could replace veteran teachers who are patient and love the kids with new teachers. How? She addressed the table of CPS personnel directly and softly asked: "Am I worthy of an answer right now?" Diana Ferguson, Chief Financial Officer, informed her that she was certainly worthy of an answer, but then she went on to explain how that was not how this forum was set up.

Speaker Number 24 was Edwin Day, from the New Birth Christian Center, who said that charter schools were a very important part of the CPS network. CPS needed to open more charter schools.

The 25th person signed up to speak was Tiasha Badger, wearing a "Charter Schools For Our Kids" sticker. She said that she and her friends were in school now to become educators. In her senior year of college she needed to ask if she should work in CPS. What kind of job security was there? How would she pay off student loans? As a student herself she was lucky to not have experienced schools closing or tuition that was too high. She said she was for charter schools because CPS closed schools and the teachers that the students were used to were getting fired.

The 26th speaker, JacQuay Carr, was also wearing a "Charter Schools For Our Kids" sticker. He said that the main question was not about charter schools but about the budget. He said he was not directly affected because he was a past student and not a teacher. But CPS needed to spend money on either teachers or correctional officers in which case CPS would also be spending with extra lives.

It was 8:20, and they asked if there was anyone else who wanted to speak. Scott Saffro, who spoke third above, walked to the microphone. Diana Ferguson said, "Or again?"

So Scott Saffro returned, this time as Speaker #27. (Note: In recent weeks, many CPS students and employees in Track E schools have smoldered in Chicago classrooms.) Mr. Saffro said that he remembered working in CPS when union workers routinely fixed and installed the two window shades on the old two part windows and classroom doors had transoms that opened. Since that time, new single window shades and single windows replaced the old ones, and the transoms were nailed shut. So, 75 years ago, with no air-conditioning, though there were hot days, there used to be better ventilation in the classrooms. He said that today we were "Teaching in Easy-Bake Ovens" and that this was ignorant and insane. Mr. Saffro wondered if this was due to lawsuits. There were no further speakers. The hearing closed with thirty minutes left on the clock. 


January 29, 2011 at 2:37 PM

By: evelina aguilar

my wonderful teacher mr.vazquez

Mr.Rolando Vazquez is a awesome,wonderful, great, and smart teacher.He teached me alot of things i never knew,he explained it untill i understanded it.Heis a great man.

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