The 'unprecedented budget crisis' that isn't.... Vitale and Brizard immediately go on propaganda offensive to principals and teachers

The chambers of the Chicago Board of Education had been cleared for only a few hours following the Board's dramatic unanimous vote to break the union contracts for the eight unions on June 15, 2011. The Board had taken its vote after claiming they didn't have the money to fund the final year of the five-year agreements they signed with the eight unions (the largest of which is the Chicago Teachers Union) representing workers in the Chicago Public Schools.

The Chicago Board of Education pays more than one million dollars per year to the outside law firm of Franczek Radelet PC to do its labor negotiations and other work, despite the fact that CPS employes more than 40 attorneys in its Law Department and other departments at salaries around $100,000 per year. At the June 15, 2011 Board of Education meeting, James Franczek came out of the Board's executive session with the Board members before they voted to break the union contracts. Above, at the beginning of the meeting Franczek greeted union teachers. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Each member of the Board asked a couple of carefully scripted questions to those who presented the latest phony budget numbers and claims, then voted based on those claims. Within a few hours, both Board President David Vitale and "Chief Executive Officer" Jean-Claude Brizard began a direct appeal to teachers, principals and others for support in what they claim is a "budget crisis." Various members of the Board told friends and former acquaintances that they had to vote as they did "based on the information provided to us." But given the supposed sophistication of the seven members of the Board, they made no effort to cast a skeptical eye on that information, or to question the credentials of the people presenting that information. So, now, the public in Chicago is hearing about another of the annual "budget crisis" narratives that always come (without an actual budget to discuss) this time of year.

One of the ironies of at least one of the electronic communications sent out by Vitale and Brizard was that it went to a couple of dozen people who account for about $100 million in bureaucratic waste at CPS — the "Chief Area Officers" and their offices and budgets. The CAOs were one of the many expensive items that were carefully ignored during the scripted presentations on the latest "crisis." But since the CAO budgets were increased by nearly $60 million at the time of last year's "budget crisis" (which then Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman claimed included a "deficit" of "up to a billion dollars"), had the Board members and their senior executives been serious about fiscal transparency, they could have at least asked about the "areas." Instead, the Board members allowed their financial people to talk about "cuts" in the central administration (most of which had nothing to do with central administration, despite Mayor Rahm Emanuel's claim that CPS had "cut" $75 million there) while ignoring most of the administrative units at CPS: the so-called "Area Offices."

And instead of responding with critical questions, most principals seem ready to believe, for the 20th year in a row, that CPS is facing another huge "deficit", despite the fact that the presentations give to the Board of Education at its special meeting on June 15, 2011 were one-sided — and delivered by three people who have little or no knowledge or experience in Chicago's public schools. Of the three bureaucrats who reported to the Board during the melodramatic rendering of the latest iteration of "Budget Crisis," two have been with CPS less and a year and the third has been with CPS for a year-and-a-half.

The first of the three people in question are the latest CPS "Chief Administrative Officer," who no one had ever seen before he delivered a lurid but biased Power Point at the Board's June 15 meeting.

The second is a person who began working at the Board last summer and who was introduced on June 15 as the Board's "Treasurer". And the third is the Board's "Chief Human Capital Officer," who came to CPS during the first year Ron Huberman was serving as Chief Executive Officer.

One of the ironies of Vitale's June 15 letter to principals and senior executive staff is that he deliberately ignores the enormous cost of the "Chief Area Officers" whose ranks and budgets were expanded exponentially during the final years of the administration of Arne Duncan and then even more (to the tune of nearly $60 million extra in one year) under Ron Huberman. Vitale's e-mail distribution list would have provided him with an area to examine for possible cuts if he bothered to try and understand the Board's complex administrative structure, rather than just rubber stamping the demand by the mayor's office (and the mayor's labor relations lawyer) that the Board immediately set up a confrontation with the unions.

Each of the CAOs is being paid between $155,000 and $175,000 this year, and the budgets of their offices expanded racially during the past 18 months. The CAOs to whom Vitale sent his June 15 memo are: Benes, Craig E; Cheatham, Jennifer P; Coates, Judith; Craven, Akeshia E; Esparza, Deborah R; Fields, Cydney B; Fraynd, Donald J; Gering, Steve; Gurley, Annette D; Huery, Shonda; Little, Denise J; Megliola-Zaikos, Melissa; Mesa-collins, Isabel ; Mills, Rick W; Mims, Amy E; Ortega, Janie; Peters, Harrison A; Rosen, Monica S; Saffold, Karen V; Smith, Shawn K; Stalling, Sean E; Thomas, John F; Vidis, Jennifer D; Williams, Lynda W; Willis, Adrian G; Zrike Jr, Stephen. At least half of them had no teaching or administrative experience in Chicago prior to their being hired directly into executive positions at top salaries by Vitale's predecessors. For example, Janie Ortego and Stephen Zrike Jr. were working in the Boston area before Chicago hired them.

Teachers and principals who had worked their careers in Chicago's public schools quickly began noticing the ironies in Vitale's letter and its distribution to the protected area officers and areas, and contacting Substance with the information about Vitale's campaign. Others have been monitoring what some are calling the "Bizarre Brizard Charm Offensive" during which the new CEO, Jean-Claude Brizard, has been staging carefully scripted events at schools across the city. Many of them are offered under controlled circumstances as media events, with participants carefully screened so that Brizard doesn't get any uncomfortable questions (such as why he is expanding the area offices or retaining the controversial "Culture of Calm" program).

Despite the failure of the Board to submit to any examination of its "deficit" claims, the Board's propaganda departments went into high gear as soon as the vote to orchestrate a confrontation with the unions was taken.

In an email to all principals, assistant principals, and Chief Area Officers (CAOs), Yolanda Alonzo wrote on behalf of David Vitale, now President of the Chicago Board of Education:

Subject: Message from the President of the Board of Education of the City of Chicago

To all Principals and CAOs,

Because you are leaders in your respective schools, I wanted to inform you first of the decision made today by the Board of Education regarding collective bargaining unit raises for fiscal year 2012. As you know, we are faced with an unprecedented budget crisis. Given our deficit, we declined to find that there is a reasonable expectation that the Board can fund the $100 million in collective bargaining unit raises for Fiscal Year 2012. This decision does not impact step and lane increases, which 75% of all teachers in the system are scheduled to receive in Fiscal Year 2012.

I have attached a letter explaining this decision and ask that you distribute it to all teachers and employees in your school.

As the leaders of your schools, we regard you as a critical partner in our mission to prevent this fiscal crisis from impacting the educational opportunities we provide our students. Please know that while this was certainly not the decision we wanted to make, it was the one we had to in order to protect our core priorities. We thank you for your continued commitment to educational excellence and progress in our schools. We encourage you to contact us with questions or concerns.


David Vitale (Chairman, Chicago Board of Education)

In a second letter, to teachers, Vitale said a number of things, among them the following:

"We have tremendous respect and admiration for the work our teachers and other staff do on behalf of our children. At the same time, the Collective Bargaining Agreement provides the board the opportunity to determine if it has a reasonable expectation that it can fund these salary increases in the upcoming fiscal year. After hosting a public hearing today, we determined that it would be fiscally irresponsible for us to fund those pay raises..."


June 16, 2011 at 5:54 AM

By: John Kugler

Union Busting

If our contracts are so bad and they need to be broken, then why hasn't the parking meter contract been broken?

December 27, 2011 at 12:58 PM

By: Charles

Who are these people?

So, with this having been reported, what have the results been? What is the outcome? What do we citizens need to do? It is apparent that "leadership" is not leading, lack experience, and gained their positions via nepotism or clout. The job descriptions for CAOs does not mention (did not at the time) that you needed anything beyond a Bachelors. What a slap in the face to those who have worked hard in the system for years! I am quite sick of looking at so called leaders who are younger than some of my socks. I retired and am so glad I did but those capable folks I left behind are getting screwed. So are the students!

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