Budget hearings begin at Lane Tech on August 10

Despite major errors in the information provided by the Chicago Board of Education to the public and an unprecedented decision by Chicago Public Schools officials not to provide the public with copies of the Proposed Budget 2011 - 2012 in book form at local libraries and ward offices, more than 200 people showed up at Chicago's massive Lane Technical High School on August 20, 2011 to comment on the proposed $6 billion (operations) budget that will carry the nation's third largest school system through June 30, 2012.

While three of the five aldermen who attended the hearings listened carefully and reporters took notes, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis told CPS budget officials on August 10 that most of the major errors in the 2,000 pages of budget information provided to the public could have been avoided had CPS officials included the unions in the budget preparation during the months leading up to the presentation of the $6 billion document. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The August 10 hearing was the first of three scheduled to allow the public to comment. The second, on August 11, will be held at Westinghouse High School, and the third, on August 12, at Simeon High School. All of the hearings begin at 7:00 p.m. with the public able to sign in to speak at 6:00 p.m.

The August 10, 2011, budget hearing at Lane Tech High School was different from the previous year's. At the 2010 hearings, CPS officials had refused to answer questions from the public and refused to provide the public with any budget information at the beginning of the hearing, as had been traditional. Also different was the fact that CPS budget officials had again been churned during the previous 12 months. None of the budget officials who actually conducted the hearings at Lane Tech in August 2010 was still with CPS in August 2011, a fact that indicated some of the reasons why the budget information presented to the public was incomplete, inaccurate, or worse (simply deceptive).

In August 2010, the budget hearings at Lane Tech were conducted by CPS "Chief Financial Officer" Diana Ferguson, who had been in office barely one year, and veteran budget official Christine Herzog. By August 2011, Ferguson had resigned and Herzog was "not longer with us" (to quote Board officials). The two budget officials who conducted the hearings were Melanie Shaker (currently "Treasurer" and "Acting Chief Financial Officer") and Ginger Ostro (whose newly created title is currently "Chief Officer of Budget and Grants," a position that didn't exist eight weeks earlier). Ostro has been with CPS less than two months and is one of the top officials appointed by the new Board of Education to positions which don't yet exist in the budget at salaries considerably higher than those paid to their predecessors.

The general philosophy of the seven members of the Board of Education appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel is that the less an executive knows about Chicago's public schools, the higher the salary of that person should be and the more power that person should have. Under the structure of mayoral control, which has been in effect since 1995, the constant churning of top officials has created an executive class at CPS which is functionally and practically beyond accountability.

CPS budget officials answering questions during the Lane Tech hearings on August 10. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Many of the early speakers were from Service Employees International Union. They had been laid off or terminated by CPS, under the guise of "reducing bureaucracy."

Among the dozens of people who spoke (including this reporter) were teachers, parents, and many workers from public schools across the city.

One of the completely new and inexperienced executives at Chicago Public Schools was Ginger Ostro (above holding microphone) who came to CPS after being chosen for the position of "Chief Officer Grants and Budget" by newcomer Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.A poignant reminder of the discrepancy of the way in which CPS has been managed during the past several years was sitting right in front of the entire audience. Not one of the CPS executives handling the hearing at Lane Tech was at the Lane Tech hearing a year earlier. One, Treasurer Melanie Shaker, had just been hired at the time of the CPS budget hearings in 2010.

The Chicago Board of Education has resumed its attack on the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund, by projecting "costs" out to FT 2014 without mentioning that other factors are at play in the supposedly rising costs of Chicago's public schools. Four years ago, when Beth Swanson (now with Mayor Rahm Emanuel) was still working for CPS in the budget office, CPS began a similar offensive against its obligations to the CTPF (Chicago Teachers Pension Fund) in its 2008 presentation on the budget. Because the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union at the time (under the United Progressive Caucus, UPC, and Marilyn Stewart) had no budget research or the ability to critically present its opposition to the CPS narrative, in April 2010 then CEO Ron Huberman was able to convince the Illinois General Assembly (and Governor Pat Quinn) to rob the CTPF of $1.2 billion. A rerun of the same script is obvious under the regime of a new mayor (Rahm Emanuel) and a new Chief Executive Officer (Jean-Claude Brizard), but a major difference between 2008 - 2010 and 2011 - 2014 is that the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund are more vigilant against the lies and half truths about teacher benefits than were the earlier entities. Substance photo from the CPS Power Point presented to the August 10 budget hearings by George N. Schmidt.



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