MEDIA WATCH: Substance still waiting for response from CPS 'Communications' Chief Becky Carroll

Now that we're hearing from readers on the sophomoric attempts by the Chicago Public Schools Department of Communications to refuse to provide Substance with its daily press updates, Jean-Claude Brizard's public calendar, and announcements of media events they are hosting, sponsoring, or otherwise spending public money on, it's time for an update. Despite the equally sophomoric retorts of some defenders of CPS praxis, this is a serious breach of what the public should be receiving, "transparency" and all that.

On December 19, 2011, we posted here an email and other materials we sent to Becky Carroll, the current "Chief Communications Officer" (at $160,000 per year) for Chicago Public Schools. So far, Ms. Carroll has not responded in any substantive way.

During the days since we last communicated with Ms. Carroll about this problem (viz., discrimination against Substance in CPS communications distribution), we have received approximately a dozen press releases from the Mayor's Press Office, five from the Minneapolis Public Schools (we follow them because they hired some CPS veterans), a couple from the Chicago Department of Aviation, and a notice form the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation that they are offering a press tour of "Snow Command" later this morning (December 22, 2011). We're also following the stories about protests against the CPS Hit List, which is generating a half dozen protests today (December 22, 2011) at schools from as far south as Marquette Elementary to as far north a Piccolo Elementary.

The borrow a cliche: the silence from CPS is deafening.

Accordingly, this morning we've sent another email to Ms. Carroll repeating our current request, reiterating an older request, and noting a rather clumsy attempt to circumvent the law (compliance in form, but not in content) on reporting administrative salaries. We've discussed this matter in some detail with our lawyers, and we will simply have to move ahead, as we noted earlier, on the question if we do not begin receiving every single press release, notice of every media event, and all other materials issued to the press (and general public) by CPS's "Office of Communications."

Here is is:

Sent: Thursday, December 22, 2011

December 22, 2011

To: Becky Carroll, Chief Officer, Communications, Chicago Public Schools

From: George N. Schmidt and the staff and researchers of Substance

Re: (1) Demand that you end discrimination in the provision of public information

(2) Request for a useable copy of the annual administrators' salary list

(3) Request for a copy of the FY 2011 CAFR

Good morning, Becky:

I'm really disappointed you failed to comply with our previous request (dated December 19, 2011).

The clock is ticking, and as you may have heard, we find litigation droll, but sometimes necessary. We'd rather not, but we do have to defend our rights, and in these instances the rights of the public to accurate and timely information about CPS. In our opinion, you are in an ongoing process of violating our rights and those rights. But let's settle this amicably, please.

So, once again, I'm forced to return to your refusal to comply with the law and basic First Amendment realities, and to provide a couple of new examples.

Again, we ask that you begin to provide Substance, on a daily basis, with all communications generally shared with the media in Chicago (and elsewhere) regarding Chicago Public Schools. This must include all announcements of public events, press releases, announcements of press conferences, and media events featuring CPS officials. As you know, you, and these officials, are paid with taxpayer money and are therefore public servants. Substance, as a regular news and analysis service, has the right to all of this information so that we can cover the news on our beat regularly as it is happening.

Your discrimination against Substance, which continues, may be subject to litigation in the New Year, as I indicated in a previous message to you.

As you are as aware as we are, the attempts by CPS officials to spin the "news" and comply in the most dishonest way with legal requirements regarding transparency are legion. Despite claims of "transparency", CPS under the current Board of Education and the current CEO are committed to the opposite (coverups, spin, puerile compliance without serious implementation). In some cases, this is almost laughable, but still very serious.

I'll give two current examples, both of which indicate that CPS — your "Communications" — is trying to evade the requirements of the law as much as possible, and the public be darned.

EXAMPLE ONE: The administrators listing required by Illinois law. What the Board did at its November meeting.

For example, at the November 2011 meeting of the Board, the Board approved a Board Report (required by state law) providing the public with a listing of all "Certified Administrators."

Here is what that Board Report stated:

Board Report 11-1116-EX4 (“Chief Executive Officer’s Report on Posting and Presentation of Certified Administrators’ Salary and Compensation Report”


The Illinois School Code, 105 ILCS 5/34-18.37 States:

“Each school district shall post on its internet website an itemized salary compensation report for every employee in the district holding an administrative certificate and working in that capacity, including the general superintendent of schools. The salary compensation report shall include, without limitation, base salary, bonuses, pension contributions, retirement increases, the cost of health insurance, the cost of life insurance, paid sick and vacation days payouts, annuities, and any other form of compensation or income paid on behalf of the employee. The report shall be presented at Regular Board meetings subject to applicable notice requirements.”

The Talent Office has comlied the Certified Administrators’ Salary report for presentation to the Board and for posting on the Board’s website a true and correct copy of which is attached hereto. The Certified Administrators’ Salary Report shall be posted on the Board’s website effective December 1, 2011.

Approved for Consideration:

Alicia Winckler, Chief Talent Officer

David G. Watkins,

Chief Financial Officer

Jean-Claude Brizard,

Chief Executive Officer

Approve as to legal form:

Partick J. Rocks, General Counsel

As noted in my communication to you from December 19, much of what CPS is trying to do to spin public information can only be described as "sophomoric." This is a rather dramatic example. The clear wording and intent of the law are that this information become public in every school district in Illinois every year.

Would you please try and read the thingy that CPS now has on its website before you respond to me about this. The CPS version of that information, provided to the Board (apparently without anyone reading it carefully) was (deliberately, in my opinion) in non-searchable PDF format. The pages of the document, instead of being provided to the public in a spreadsheet format (as most districts do) is not only in PDF, but the actual pages listing the administrators and all the salary information are provided rotated at a 90 degree angle!, As a result, anyone trying to read them has to either read them sideways on a computer screen, or convert them in some way to a readable format. This is a ridiculous example of how CPS tries to evade legal "transparency" requirements, since the Illinois law is clear and I doubt that any lawmaker would consider this version of compliance by CPS to be funny.

EXAMPLE TWO: The CAFR presented to the Board at its December 14, 2011 meeting.

As you know, the Comprehensive Audited Financial Report (CAFR) for FY 2011 (the year from July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011) was presented to the Board at its December 14, 2011 meeting. This document should have immediately become available to the public, both on the website and in print form (as it has been). Instead, the FY 2011 CAFR is nowhere to be found on the CPS website, and nowhere to be found at 125 S. Clark St. This document is not something that can be edited by Board members (each of whom presumably now has a copy), by you, or by administration. It is an external, independent financial review of the condition of CPS finances through the first month of your tenure and the time of the "New Board" (which took office in June 2011, one month before the FY 2011 fiscal year ended). It is one of the most important legal documents that the Board produces each year, and forms the basis for the Board's bond rating reviews.

You don't get to edit this document, it is supposed to be released to the public. Now. Where is it? And why has its release been delayed by (as of this writing) eight days?

Now I know that the people responsible for these two items (the administrators' report was supposed to come from Alicia Winckler, who was recently "rebranded" from Chicago Human Capital Officer to "Chief Officer for Talent Development"), and David G. Watkins (who is now "Chief Financial Officer") are new to CPS. Ms. Winckler, as you know, came to CPS from Sears Holdings less than three years ago. Mr. Watkins just arrived, from whence we do not yet know. Some speculate that such recently acquired "talent" may be facing challenges in getting out required public information, but that is not the public's problem. If CPS chooses to bring in outside "talent" for these jobs, the public's right to know doesn't change while a bunch of novices in communications, human capital (er., "talent development") and finance learn the complexities of CPS.

Please provide us, in addition to the regular and routine media announcements mentioned earlier, a spreadsheet version of the Administrative List, and a copy of the FY 2011 CAFR.

Please provide us also with all the other stuff we've requested in digital form via email and by fax, as CPS was doing for years and years and years.

The Substance email address is

The Substance fax number is: 773-725-7503.

In case you've forgotten, in my December 19 request, I asked that you "provide us with all press materials that have been emailed or faxed to Chicago newspapers, radio news outlets, TV stations, and other news entities since August 1, 2011 under the Freedom of Information Act..." You have yet to comply with that request.

Happy Holidays, again...

George N. Schmidt


The Substance editorial, reporting, and research staff


December 24, 2011 at 3:10 PM

By: John Whitfield

Flurry of "Occupy" Lawsuits

Lawsuits Over Free Speech and Use of force to Break Up Tent Cities

Though the major Occupy encampments throughlout the country have been dispersed,they continue to live on in a flurry of lawsuits, because protestors are asserting their constitutional rights to free speech and assembly. Mass arrests by authorities have been challenged , as has the use of force to break up tent cities. Lawsuits have either been filed by attorneys representing the Occupy movement, or they are still in planning in both state and federal courts, from Red wood forests to the New York Islands, to the Gulf stream waters, eviction orders have been or will be challenged, as well as has the heavy-handed police tactics, and their banning of demonstrators from public properties. Though protestors have faced arrest and charges while doing nothing more than exercising their protected right to demonstrate, in places this fundamental right has been criminalized. Carol Sobel, co-chair of the National Lawyers guild Mass defense Committee stated, "when I think about the tents as an expression of thefirst amendment here, I compare it to Tahir Square in Egypt." She added, "Our government is outraged when military forces and those governments come down on the demonstrators. but they won't extend the same rights in this country." "they praise that as a fight for democracy, the values we treasure. It comes here and these people are riffraff." she said.

In Manhattan a handful of protestors began camping out in september in a lower Manhattan plaza. They were demanding an end to corporate excess and income inequality, and were soon jpoined by scores of others who set up tents and remained around the clock. Though similar camps sprung up in dozens of cities nationwide, and around the world, patience started wearing thin, and as you all know many camps, as was one in Grant Park, were forcibly cleared.

December 25, 2011 at 9:37 AM

By: J. Whitfield

Occupy protestors sue over free speech, force(source)


re- written (my comment above, "Flurry of Occupy Law Suits)from erika Niedowski's article in The Galesburg Register Mail)

published last week

john whitfield

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