Which side is Iris Martinez on? Facilities Bill Star Votes to Gut Teacher Pensions and Pushes Some Charter Schools

At last month’s Chicago Teachers Union LEAD dinner (October 28, 2011), where teachers and union officials rub elbows with the politicians, one of those honored by the CTU was Illinois State Senator Iris Martinez. Sen. Martinez accepted the “Great Community Advocate” award from the CTU for her work with State Rep. Cynthia Soto in passing the facilities bill (SB 630), which became law defining how the Chicago Board of Education must go about any future school closings, turnarounds, or other major changes.

State Senator Iris Martinez (right) receiving the "Great Community Advocate" award on behalf of herself and State Rep. Cynthia Soto from Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis at the annual LEAD dinner on October 28, 2011. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.It was a law Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel opposed in 2011, and it was a stripped down version of the law Rep. Soto first proposed it to save Carpenter Elementary school from being closed three years ago. The original bill was meant to put a moratorium on the Chicago Public Schools Renaissance 2010 Plan to close neighborhood schools because of its negative effect on children. The best the legislators could do was the current law, which requires extensive hearings and earlier notification regarding proposed closings. [The hearings on the latest CPS criteria for closing begin this week. The Hit List of schools to be closed has to be published by December 1].

The union gave credit to Senator Martinez for co-sponsoring this bill that would make the process more democratic and transparent.

However, probably unbeknownst to many at Plumbers Hall who cheered on the powerful senator, Martinez had just voted six months earlier to destroy the defined public school teacher pension plan. It is a bill currently in the state house where it sits in the pension committee. The unions ran ads earlier to prevent the bill from becoming law just before Martinez voted in favor of it. Today the CTU is encouraging teachers to call their legislators to stop the bill from becoming law.

Sen. Martinez voted in favor of SB 512, a "pension reform" bill heavily promoted by the business community that would weaken the pension system by enabling some people to opt out. The bill promotes three options – 1) increase teacher contributions from 9% to 12.75%, 2) increase the minimum retirement age to 67 or 3) impose a self-managed plan similar to a 401K which no longer guarantees teachers a pension. SB 512 was widely regarding by pension experts as the law that would destroy Chicago's defined benefit pension plan for teachers by forcing younger teachers on to "defined contribution" plans. The result, pension actuaries predict, will bankrupt the CTPF within a quarter century. Already the Board of Education has avoided paying into the Chicago plan. If SB 512 passes, most teachers will eventually opt out of the plan as well.

SB 512 just failed to pass the Illinois House of Representatives during the veto override session, despite the multi-million dollar support from the Chicago Tribune and the millionaires of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago. But it had only gotten before the House because of the support of Democrats like Iris Martinez.

But it isn’t just teacher pensions that Martinez is against. She has been a supporter of charter schools at the expense of neighborhood public schools. Substance readers should remember Martinez is the big sponsor of the corrupt Aspira charter schools.

She helped Aspira, which is facing a federal lawsuit for strip searching three female students, get $12 million in state funding two years ago when funding for public education had dried up.

In fact, she was the sponsor of a bill in the state senate that would have increased the number of charter schools to 200 in Illinois.

Charter schools are privatized public schools that vigorously fight against their teachers joining a union. The charter school teachers make much less in salary and benefits compared to their public school counterparts, and turnover is quite high under what many claim are sweatshop conditions.

Proponents of the senator point out that Aspira teachers are among the few who are currently represented by a union. In fact, Aspira just proposed to build a new charter school with a unionized teaching staff.

And those who have watched Martinez recently with her work on the facilities bill, noticed her tenacious support has made enemies with the Board of Education.

“I saw her in action a dozen times during the facilities struggle, and she was very strong on our side,” said Substance founder George Schmidt, who is also a paid CTU consultant. “The facilities law is in place now and is driving CPS nuts with the hoops it has to jump through to close schools. For the first time, we have the right to the Hit List by December 1. CPS has had to post more than a half dozen pieces of information (so far) on its Website, and we will be able to organize because of the timelines available all through December, instead of being blindsided at the last minute.”

However, at the hearing for the new Aspira charter school (proposed for Central Park and Milwaukee) this past spring, one parent said Martinez should listen to the community, who are against the proposed charter school near Milwaukee and Central Park. At the forum, the majority who attended spoke against the proposed school because it would create more traffic congestion and would further undermine nearby Schurz and Kelvyn Park high schools, both of which are real public schools.

Martinez's close ties to a charter school that is receiving millions from the state of Illinois, largely thanks to her lobbying, has also raised some eyebrows. Aspira director Jose Rodriguez handled her finances in the last election.

Martinez did not return a call from Substance to explain her position.


November 15, 2011 at 6:35 PM

By: Howard Heath

Iris Martinez has been CTU's friend

As a former Vice-President (and lobbyist) for the CTU, I disagree with the assertion that Iris Martinez is not on our side. Her voting record was exemplary during my term (2001-2004). Unfortunately, many legislators we considered allies voted in favor of SB512. It is our duty as a new regime (at CTU) to enlighten legislators to the correct philosphy with regard to school "reform". It is never good politics to "close the door" on someone who has historically been an ally. We must attempt to rekindle those "old" allegiances first.

November 16, 2011 at 6:59 AM

By: Garth Liebhaber

Not a Believer

Cullerton claims when he and other senators voted for SB512

it was okay, because it was a "vehicle bill" and "did not actually do anything."

For a bil that "did not actually do anything," a lot of senators managed to vote for it.

I remember clearly when Mr. Vail was writing on the scandals at Aspira that Iris Martinez also did not return phone calls then, as she doesn't seem to now.

Let's also be clear that just because a charter school manages to unionize doesn't mean everything is all pink and rosy. Unfortunately, it actually legitimizes many schools that, IMHO, should be closed down and returned properly to the public domain. When you consider some of these schools have 50% annual staff turnover, regularly turn away students with special needs, "counsel out" high needs kids or simply not accept students based upon their name (ie., Jefferson, Powell, Walker, etc.), as well as lacking transparent budgets (as reported by Joravsky and others), it is incredulous they are allowed to not only stay open, but are rewarded with insidious amounts of tax money (UNO - 99 million from Gov'r Quinn) while regular neighborhood schools that gallantly serve every child that walks through the door are starved and punished.

Yet there's time to vote on bills that "didn't actually do anything".

November 16, 2011 at 8:03 AM

By: Bob Busch


Phoenix Rising

In my simple mind the charter school surge can be explained quite easily.

They are no more than a rebirth of the Parochial School System with public


Concerned parents who cannot afford to pay thousands of dollars in tuition

can opt to send their kids to charter schools. Except for taxpayer support these

charter schools are strikingly similar to parish schools, they offer the same illusion of child safety , by

not letting them in, scores are average because the dumb and broken are kicked out.

It also seems these charter schools are maintaining the old practice of assuring

ethnic identification.

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