BOARDWATCH: September 28, 2011 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education

Over two hundred members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) protested against layoffs of custodians, security guards, and other CPS employees before the Chicago Board of Education (BOE) began its regular monthly meeting on Wednesday, September 28, 2011 in the fifth floor chambers at 125 S. Clark Street.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard (left above) and CEO Noemi Donoso (right above) present the beginning of the narrative for the administration's 26-page Power Point during their report to the Board on the extensive and expensive reorganization of the nation's third largest school system at the September 28, 2011 Board meeting. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.After the Board meeting, several teacher members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) organized and led a protest in front of the Board headquarters against the longer school day and the disrespect shown to CTU president Karen Lewis by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Before public participation at the meeting began, two schools, Audubon and Northside College Prep, were honored. David Vitale noted that 350 schools across the country were recognized for receiving the U.S Department of Education's "National Blue Ribbon Award" for dramatic gains in student achievement and for overcoming the achievement gap. The principals and some others from each of the schools were there to say a few words.

The principals of Northside College Prep High School and Audobon Elementary were feted at the beginning of the Board meeting because the U.S. Department of Education had given their schools an award for supposedly improving test scores and "closing the achievement gap." Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.An announcement was made that Robert Runcie, Chief Area Officer (CAO), who started out at the BOE in 2003, will be leaving the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to become superintendent of the Broward County Schools in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. According to an August report in the Sun Sentinel of Florida, Runcie was one of more than forty applicants for the position. A July online report at, mentioned that the two previous superintendents, Jim Notter and before him Frank Till, experienced difficulties in the position. Donnie Carter is currently the interim superintendent. In Chicago, Runcie, who was brought in by former CEO Arne Duncan, worked in various executive positions, despite the fact that he had no Chicago classroom experience. He was at different time "Chief Information Officer," "Chief Administrative Officer," and a "Chief Area Officer." One month before he announced the Florida job he had become "Chief of Staff" to the President of the Board.

Keeping with the tradition that was established when the new Board was appointed in June 2011, business pre-empted the public participation. A 26-page Power-Point presentation gave details of an update of CPS "Redesign and Restructuring", the Longer Day Pioneer Program, and a preview of the Common Core Curriculum. The Power Point was narrated by Jean-Claude Brizard (Chief Executive Officer), then by Noemi Donoso (Chief Education Officer), and finally by Jennifer Cheatham (Chief Instructional Officer).

For the fifth time since June 15, 2011, when the Board of Education voted to rescind the raise to unionized workers because the Board said it didn't have the money, CPS officials presented the Board with another version of how "savings" had been made by reducing so-called "administrative" costs and creating what are called "efficiencies" in the jargon of the MBAs and mercenaries now in the highest posts in the nation's third largest school system. CPS refuses to provide the public with the details of how the cuts were made precisely, relegating itself to generalizations, while CPS officials expand the central office staff handpicked by Jean-Claude Brizard and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.According to the presentation, there have been "cuts" of $63 million to date ($16 million in cuts to the Chief Education Office, $32 million to the Area Offices and ARRA/Board Funded Discretionary amounts, and $15 million to School-based Performance Management). They announced that $44 million in cuts are still to come ($34 million to the Central Education Office and $10 million to Central Office administrative supports). Board members sat silently and did not ask any details about the nature of these cuts, which were to be dramatically presented to the Board a little while later during public participation.

Chicago's "Chief Education Officer" Noemi Donoso (center above) presented part of the official Power Point explaining how CPS was going from "Areas" to "Networks", had cut tens of millions from "administration," and was going to go all out for the "Common Core." Donoso, who never taught or served as a principal in a Chicago public school, has been in town five months. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.According to Donoso, the 24 "Area offices" will now be 18 "Network offices." Instead of the sub-districts being headed by CAOs ("Chief Area Officers"), the "Networks" are now headed by "Chiefs of Schools." The narrative stated that many positions in the "Area offices" will no longer exist by the time the "Network Offices" are fully in effect after October 14. (There was no explanation as to why Chicago had to move from something called "Areas" to something called "Networks", or why Chicago needed "Chief Area Officers" under Ron Huberman and Terry Mazany, but now needs "Chiefs of Schools" under Jean-Claude Brizard). A bar graph on one chart purported to show that CPS has the "shortest school year" compared to nine other major cities plus the national average. Details on the research behind the claim were not provided, and there was no mention of the fact that the longer school year discussions have been about the city's elementary schools (and not all of them).

In addition to having a $200,000 per year "Chief Education Officer" (Noemi Donoso), CPS also have a "Chief Instruction Officer" (at around $160,000 per year), who is Jennifer Cheatham (above delivering part of the Power Point presentation to the September 28, 2011 meeting of the Board of Education). Like Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard and Chief Education Officer Noemi Donoso, Cheatham has no Chicago Public Schools teaching or principal experience. She was brought straight to the top from outside Chicago. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Another slide featured the "Pioneer Program" (the 13 elementary schools that have supposedly voted in favor of a waiver of the CTU contract for the current school year). The narrative mentioned that each "Pioneer" school would receive $150,000 and each teacher would receive a one-time lump sum payment of 2% of the average teacher annual salary, which would be pro-rated depending on the starting date of the longer day program in the school. The presentation indicated that thirteen schools have signed on to the longer day program. None of the seven members of the Board of Education asked any questions about the highly controversial program, which had dominated the news about the public schools since September 2 when CPS announced the first three schools that it says have voted in favor of the waivers. Nothing on the Power Point charts told the members of the Board or public precisely how many elementary schools there currently are in CPS, and the Board members didn't ask.

Like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, the promotion of the "Common Core" (above on the slide from the Brizard Power Point of September 28, 2011) by the National Governors Association supposedly proves that they are educationally sound and professionally proven. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Next in the narrative was the controversial national "Common Core Standards." According to the presentation of the Guiding Principles of the Common Core Curriculum, "Results Rather than Means," and "Standards Rather than Strategies" would be stressed. No member of the Board of Education asked the presenters what the "Common Core" was and how and whether it had been tested in classrooms and schools for effectiveness with public school children.

During the presentation on the overheads, a paper version of the Power Point was distributed to the press. Also distributed was a two-sided fact sheet that seems to be a new activity CPS is taking during its meetings. The "fact sheet" distributed to reporters indicated what steps would be taken by CPS to comply with Senate Bill 630 (which was recently passed), a change in the credit card policy to eliminate 500 credit cards while maintaining only five credit cards, plans to issue bonds for $500 million, plans to purchase 2,000 box fans in advance of next summer's heat, the purchase of security cameras for fourteen high schools, and the renewal of the Youth Advocate Program for next year. This was apparently a summary, according to CPS, of the 162 page long agenda that was before the Board.

The strange conversion of the "Area Offices" (which had been established when Arne Duncan became CEO in July 2001 and had continued for ten years through the CEO reigns of Ron Huberman and Terry Mazany) into the so-called "Network Offices" was not explained in any detail. Instead, the Power Point presentation by Jennifer Cheatham simply repeated the mission of the "Networks," which were the same generally as the mission of the predecessors of the Networks (under Duncan, Huberman and Mazany, they were called "Areas"; under Paul Vallas, 1995 - 2001, they were called "Regions"). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Chief Counsel Patrick Rocks, the head of the Board's Law Department, then commented on how CPS would be implementing what had been Senate Bill 630, the facilities law now passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Quinn. The implementation by CPS required the rescinding of three "Board Policies" — those dealing with utilization, consolidation of schools, and closing of schools, in order to bring CPS into compliance with Senate Bill 630. The rest of the Board Report detailed which officials at CPS would be responsible for each part of implementing the new state law on facilities planning and spending.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis again reminded the seven members of the Board of Education that CPS should be cooperating with the union, not trying divide-and-conquer tactics such at the "Pioneers." During her remarks Lewis told the Board that the supposed "research" presented in the Power Point by Brizard, Donoso and Cheatham purporting to show gains made from a longer school day in Massachusetts was a lie. The CPS rendition of the data only follows one year. According to Lewis, when the three-year trend is shown, the scores are no better. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Public participation began with Karen Lewis, CTU President, at nearly 11:30. Lewis said that CPS needs to retain talent, not just develop it. Respect needs to be shown to teachers, the profession, and learning. She mentioned that we need to get beyond slogans and look at the idea of a world-class education. She expressed concern about the Pioneer Longer Day Program. She emphasized her interest in a better school day and equity in the distribution of resources. She said we need to push quality, not quantity, and asked what would be done to get resources.

Matthew Johnson, a community resresentative on the Local School Council (LSC) at Tilden High School, mentioned cuts that have taken place at Tilden. While the enrollment increased, he said, three additional positions were cut. He said it was unfair for children not to have the physical education postion filled. A year ago, under CEO Ron Huberman, the football team was cut and a student was jumped who would have been participating in the sports program. He asked that Tilden High School receive the same opportunities as the two schools which were honored earlier in this meeting. (Toward the end of this meeting, Matthew Johnson was seen being escorted out of the chambers by CPS security guards for unknown reasons.)

American Legion Commander Sylvester Hendricks asked for a moment of silence for students, principals, staff, and the late CPS Board President, Michael Wayne Scott. He objected to the lack of respect for issues brought to the administration and asked that, at the very least, phone calls should be returned to citizens regarding the safety of students. He requested a meeting with CPS Board President David Vitale.

Rosietta Williams, of the Ingleside and Chatham neighborhoods spoke of a special need for programs in general for these communities where students are on the street at 2:30 p.m.

Crystal Dunlap of Action Now spoke critically of the Board of Education. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Crystal Harris Dunlap, a concerned single parent, represented the concerned parents who support a longer school day, especially on the south side of Chicago.

Caroline Bilicki, a parent at Disney II Magnet School and Parent Teachers Association (PTA) President, spoke in favor of the extended school day. She listed the benefits as the ability to focus on Reading, Math, and Writing, the additional time for Art, Music, and Technology, and time for Physical Education, recess, a longer lunch time and opportunities to socialize.

Leonard Rau, a parent of Skinner North, also supports a longer day. He said it would allow more time for better opportunities and development rather than just tests. He spoke of teachers emotional, social, and financial needs. He mentioned that he was upset by some of the negativity that had been expressed. He added that he felt a system-wide change was needed. He spoke in favor of a better quality school day.

The "Pioneer Program" was offering $150,000 per school to any school that waived the Chicago Teachers Union contract. The offer was made two months after Jean-Claude Brizard and his "Chief Administrative Officer" Tim Cawley claimed that CPS did not have the $100 million needed to fund the raises for workers represented by the eight CPS labor unions. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Christen Dokic, who identified herself as a teacher at STEM school and a parent, said the longer school day would allow more time for subjects and activities. It also allows time for lunch for students, recess, and socialization. She concluded by saying American children need a global approach. When she was reached outside the Board chambers by Substance reporter Sharon Schmidt, Dokic admitted that she was not really a teacher in CPS. A full story will appear later in Substance.

Next came speakers who challenged a recent attempt by one South Side elementary school Local School Council to turn their school into a charter school utilizing the so-called "Parent Trigger" supported by Mayor Rahm Emanule. Speakers from Wendell Smith Elementary opposed the vote and the attempt.

Brian Roberts, a teacher, said the vote to turn Wendell Smith School into a charter school was illegal. He mentioned that students who have left Wendell Smith School have come back to show the progress they have made. He asked that Wendell Smith School not be closed in order to turn it into a charter school, but instead Wendell Smith School should be offered the resources that it needs.

Johnny Banks, the principal at Wendell Smith School, spoke of the committed staff and the academic curriculum. He said the school needs resources and asked that the Board vote against closing the school and turning it into a charter school.

Kathleen Murray, who was a teacher for 17 years and is now an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union, said the CTU looks forward to discussing a longer day program. She asked when will we see you support teachers and schools? When will we see you fight for the resources?

Mary Kay Feeney, whose son, Bernard Brown, attends Healy Elementary School, said her son previously attended a Catholic school which could not provide for her son's needs. He has severe ADHD and oppositional defiance disorder. She expressed concerns about his Individual Education Program (IEP). She said that the Board had cut the services of a Special Education Classroom Assistant (SECA) who had been working with him and that he had suffered as a result.

Shirley Howard, of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), said she was a grandparent of Alexis Randall who has to share books at Manierre School. Her granddaughter cannot go on field trips because there are no school funds for field trips. She said that when she herself was at Manley School, there was a teacher, a teacher aide, and books in every classroom. She asked that surplus TIF funds go to the schools.

President Vitale said there were limitations but he hoped to get more money for the schools.

Francisco Perez, of SEIU, a parent or two students at Kelvyn Park High School, and a security officer at Kelvyn Park High School, said four fellow officers were laid off and then replaced by other security officers. He said two weeks a shooting occurred outside of the school where students were practicing sports. He added, "If the children don't feel safe in their school, how are they going to learn?" He asked that the money be put back into the schools.

Jose Lopez, of SEIU, said four security officers were laid off. He volunteered to help and was able to reduce fights. He asked, "How will they prepare for the future if they can't focus on learning?"

Beverly King, also an SEIU member who had been laid off in May, is now a parent volunteer in a first grade that has forty-two children (ten of whom have special needs). She said this large a class size (with that many special needs children) was "doing a disservice to our children." She asked, "What kind of chance do they have if we don't give them the help that they need?" She added that we need to lower class size in order to provide a quality education. She asked President Vitale to declare a TIF surplus.

President Vitale replied that we're not going to make any pledges here, adding we have gotten some TIF surpluses in the last two years.

Greg Harris, a parent, LSC member, and a vendor, wanted to know who can I talk to about a solution to a vendor problem. He has been a vendor for twenty years and never had a problem before.

President Vitale directed a staff member to talk to him.

Regina Castelan, a volunteer, mentioned her love for Talman School which she said sets high expectations. She asked for a new building. She said the school community deserves it. The community wants the strongest leaders for the future.

Sarah Mesick also spoke in favor of a new building for Talman School at 48th and Rockwell. She mentioned a student mariachi group taught by Talman School parents. President Vitale said overcrowding at Talman School was a continuing problem.

Carmen Nunez, of McAuliffe School and C.A.U.S.E., a twenty-eight-year teacher (ten at Lloyd School and eighteen at McAuliffe School) was given an E-3 termination notice after the assistant principal became the principal. She was a bi-lingual teacher who was moved to second grade, had her rating lowered from superior to excellent, and was then moved to sixth grade. She was summoned by the Inspector General and was the only teacher asked about a letter to the community regarding a supposed administrative affair. She spoke of her mother's passing and the loss of her house. She told of a wonderful recommendation letter she had received at another location recently. She wants her case opened and reviewed.

Eric Johnson, from the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, spoke in support of charter schools. He said helped organize last Saturday's day of action parent rally in support of charter schools at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Atiyah Colbert, a parent, said that she was was at last Saturday's rally for charter schools. She also spoke in support of charter schools. She mentioned that charter schools already have a longer day.

Denise Weston, a parent of two children on the northwest side, Hakeem at Taft High School, who was given an illegal expulsion, and a younger one at Dirksen where actions regarding the student led her to obtain an order of protection, was told by Chief Counsel Patrick Rocks that a staff member would meet with her.

Penn Elementary School teacher Ceolo Munoz reminded the board, again, that the KIPP charter school inside Penn has been stealing classrooms away from the real public school, relegating special education children from the real public school to the basement, while KIPP refuses to serve most special education children, especially the most challenging. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Cielo Munoz, a special education teacher and an LSC member at Penn-KIPP School, said KIPP charter school wants four more rooms in the Penn School building. Although the BOE said children cannot be housed in the basement, she said Penn School children have been placed in the basement. She added that the Kipp Charter School has a teachers' lounge on the second floor while the Penn School teachers' lounge is now in the janitor's storage closet. President Vitale told her that we will take a look into the sharing agreement and see how the principals are getting along.

Andrew Nelson said he is a candidate for President of the United States in 2012.

Steinmetz High School Local School Council Chairperson Mary Jane Bunzol told CPS that the Board had cut the school's only nurse, and was leaving a school with nearly 2,000 students without a nurse. Bunzol also noted that because of the lack of the nurse IEPs for special education children were being thwarted. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Mary Jane Bunzol on the LSC and Parent Advisory Council at Steinmetz High School, expressed concern about the pulling of a nurse at Steinmetz. She wanted to know why this was done. She mentioned that Steinmetz has 2000 students and a staff of 200 and needs a nurse. She added that the IEPs need medical input and asked that they be given back their nurse.

Kevin Ammons, a community activist for twenty-five years who has been with CPS since 2000, was asked by Michael Shields to work at Ogden International on Erie Street. He said there were many problems at the school. He was asked to put marijuana in a student's locker by a certain individual, but wouldn't do it. He went to the principal regarding this. He asked President Vitale to sit down with him at his earliest convenience.

Substance editor, Steinmetz High School teacher, CTU Testing Committee chair, and CPS parent Sharon Schmidt told the Board that there was too much corporate testing and that it cost too much. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Sharon Schmidt, the editor of Substance News, a monthly educational newspaper and daily website, told the members of the Board that she was a step-parent of a CPS graduate and parent of two children who are now in CPS. She said that she is chairman of the CTU Testing Committee and then addressed two issues.

First, she criticized the Board for holding its meetings at a time and place when most parents and workers couldn't attend. She said CPS could hold their monthly BOE meetings in large auditoriums after school. She asked why don't you hold the BOE meetings as they used to, alternating every other month, sometimes here and sometimes in the schools. She spoke of students being bombarded with excessive, expensive and experimental tests, multiple times a year. She added that the overemphasis on test scores leads to comparing students as better than or worse than other students. She asked how expensive the tests are and how much CPS is paying for testing this year.

President Vitale wanted to know what her definition of tests is.

She replied that there were more than one hundred tests a year and she was talking about corporate-produced tests, not teacher-produced tests. President Vitale said that there was not enough evidence that testing is excessive.

She answered, "Find out what is going on at each school."

Following her presentation, Sharon Schmidt talked with fellow reporters outside the Board chambers. While Chicago Sun-Times reporter Rosalind Rossi continued to try and spin the story away from the high cost of CPS testing, other reporters were trying to establish the facts. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Monica Liceaga, an LSC member and a parent of two children at Gunsaulus School, wants the principal retained because she believes she is good in so many ways. She invites parents to a once-a-month coffee at the school. She asked the Board to come out to the school. She added that we need our principal now and don't want someone to leave us in the middle of the school year. She added that the principal is transforming Gunsaulus and that the LSC process was wrongfully done. President Vitale referred her to a staff member.

Angela Johnson, a parent at Gunsaulus, also wants the principal retained. She asked the BOE for help because she said the LSC is trying to have the principal removed.

Former Chicago Teachers Union official Earl Kelly Prince (above) praised Rosita Chatonda's CAUSE group, said that the Board's elimination of African American teachers and principals was racist, and called the Board's Law Department corrupt and criminal. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Earl Kelly Prince, who was an assistant to the late CTU President Jacqueline Vaughn, said that during President Vaughn's term of presidency 50 % of teachers were African-American, while now less than 30% are. He complimented the excellent presentation by Rosita Chatonda last month. He added that the decline in African-American teachers began in 2000. He alluded to corruption in certain departments in the BOE and mentioned the Illinois Constitution requirement regarding public schools.

Kevin Ammons told the Board how he was eliminated from the new "Ogden High School" by the principal's machinations. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.President Vitale replied that charter schools are public schools.

Ernesto Martinez (beginning in English but later reverting to Spanish) said Inter-American Magnet School was founded thirty-five years ago as a dual-language school. He spoke of a boundary issue which he said the principal had done nothing about.

Elizabeth Starr, a janitor for sixteen years, said that hundred of janitors had been laid off, compromising the health at schools. She said janitors used to be a team, but now work in different schools every day. Where there were once two to three janitors, now there is one.

At her first meeting following the Board's August 24 vote to appoint her to the newly created position of "Chief Community and Family Engagement Officer" (at an annual salary of $152,000 per year), Jamiko Rose spent a good part of the meeting ignoring those who participated in public participation and studying her Blackberry. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Jonathan Chatonda of C.A.U.S.E. and a graduate of CPS elementary and high schools, spoke of the firing of veteran African-American teachers. He said that in 2003, his mother was among those fired. Because of her firing, he had to leave school because her termination affected the family finances. He spoke on behalf of all teachers who were wrongfully terminated.

Jessica Chatonda, also of C.A.U.S.E., spoke of the impact on families of the firings of African-American teachers. Ms. Chatonda said she is the youngest of four children of an African-American teacher who had worked for CPS all her life. Ms. Chatonda said she obtained a scholarship to attend college. She said she could not understand the unfair treatment of her mother and asked for a thorough investigation of the termination of African-American teachers.

Board Member Dr. Mahalia A. Hines said we have investigated not only based on race but on what is fair, adding this Board cares.

Diondai Brown-Whitfield spoke of the Austin High Homecoming scheduled for October 8 at 1 p.m. at Hanson Park Stadium. It will be the 120th Austin High School Day. She said Austin goes back to the mid-1880s before Austin was a part of the city of Chicago. She added that Austin High School was a landmark till 1959 when one of the buildings was torn down. She would like retention of the landmark status.

President Vitale said, "I hope you have a great celebration on the 8th of October." To the public, he added, "Thank you for coming."

(At times throughout the meeting, President Vitale was difficult to hear because he spoke in a low voice, sometimes put his hand over his mouth when he spoke, and didn't always direct his voice to the mic.)

After public participation concluded, the Board went into closed session.


September 30, 2011 at 10:28 AM

By: Tucker Robinson

The CPS board

Check CTU contracts to see who was in line to be laid off before using the race card.

Usually the younger teachers are let go first based on seniority. That's the rules that Care'n wants us to play by.

Maybe she needs to read those rules and be a little more honest.

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