SUBSCRIPTS: When the 'District 299' blog is totally full of ____ (as opposed to just partly, as usual), it's clear you can't cover Chicago schools from Brooklyn

How can you really learn anything about Sayre or Burbank elementary schools from 800 miles away? Shape shifting? Morphatious mutations? Magic? Although I haven't blogged to District 299 since five years ago, they went over to the scab Chicago Tribune for their hostings, at least three times a week I try to visit just to see what is up with one shrinking sliver of the Clark St. crowd (the source of some of the information that's put around out of that blog). It's usually pompous, almost always inaccurate from a ground level reality, but a joyous way to spend a few minutes in punditland. However, three days before Christmas the following got my ire. It was posted on District 299 by pundit Alexander Russo without any fact checking (not a surprise there) and with the usual smugness...

(Then) Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley (left), candidate Rahm Emanuel (center) and Alderman Danny Solis (right) during the UNO 25th Anniversary event at Chicago's Union Station on November 16, 2010. Daley and Emanuel talked about their support for charter schools and UNO. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt."Things are pretty slow but today's news includes coverage of continued protests against closures and turnarounds, proposals to include student input in teacher evaluations, and — this is perhaps the most newsy item of the bunch — indications that the City Council will override Sposato to let UNO open a charter in Galewood. So much for aldermanic privilege, right? Then again, the kids in Galewood need more spaces and better-performing schools than they currently have..."

As the younger generation puts it: WTF!? What "underperforming" schools?

What overcrowding?

Some would call both of those assertions nonsense. In the old days, a Tribune Copy Editor (like Jerry Crimmins, who actually demanded some facts from reporters) would simply spike such nonsense, and it it continued, the reporter would be looking for other work.

Not today. Pontification moves broadly from the editorial pages to the blogs, with the blessings of the one percent.

Despite the ridiculous claim by CPS that an UNO charter school is needed in the (current) 36th Ward because of the need to "relieve overcrowding", the fact is — that's simply not true. (And if it were, a charter doesn't help. If you want to relieve overcrowding, you put up a real public school).

But what's a few facts to a blog that's written by a guy who spends his days about 800 miles east of Chicago? Last night (December 21, 2011) a group of us from the CTU and the 36th Ward stood outside one of the Galewood elementary schools (Sayre) in protest against the expected City Council railroad which will take place on the morning of December 22, 2011 (the Zoning committee will meet and is expected to approve the UNO charter school despite the alderman's objections, based on the false "overcrowding" claim). The school we were standing at (Sayre, at Cortland and Newland) is fine, with about a 75 to 80 percent use rate by CPS standards. Even nearby Burbank (which was much more overcrowded when my eldest son went there, until its Gifted program was moved northeast to Beaubien) is doing comfortably, and that was where the population in that area was growing fastest. Siimilary, Steinmetz High School (where my wife and editor Sharon teaches English and journalism) is in a much more comfortable range than decades ago, when I taught there.

In other words, there is no "overcrowding" in that part of the 36th Ward that requires CPS to plop an UNO charter school out there to raid and pillage the local public schools, then dump its "failing" kids back into those schools after UNO has collected the annual kid fees and before they are tested.

But, then, you'd have a hard time walking the rounds at Burbank, Sayre, and the other schools out there from a pundit's pontification perch in Brooklyn.


Council to Buck Tradition for School Vote by DAN MIHALOPOULOS | Dec 19, 2011

Overriding the will of the local, rookie alderman – and selectively ignoring one of its own conventions – the City Council’s Zoning Committee will hold a special meeting Thursday to vote on a charter school proposal from an organization with close ties to Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Ald. Nicholas Sposato (36th Ward) delayed a scheduled committee vote last week, saying he was undecided on the plan for a site in the Galewood neighborhood, on the far Northwest Side. Normally, his reticence would be enough to put the project on hold indefinitely, given the council’s tradition of letting aldermen make real estate decisions in their wards.

But the Zoning Committee’s chairman, Ald. Daniel Solis (25th), told the Chicago News Cooperative on Monday afternoon that he would carry out his threat to discount Sposato’s wishes in this case and had called the special meeting just to vote on the matter at 10 a.m. Thursday at City Hall.

The United Neighborhood Organization has put forward the charter school proposal. Solis was UNO’s leader before becoming an alderman, and the clout-heavy Latino group’s CEO, Juan Rangel, was co-chairman of Emanuel’s campaign in the February mayoral election.

Under the unwritten council rule known as “aldermanic privilege” or “aldermanic prerogative,” the Zoning Committee customarily would not even hold a hearing on a development proposal without the local alderman’s express backing. Solis countered that the UNO school proposal was “too important to leave to protocol.”

“This issue just overrides [aldermanic privilege], when you’re talking about kids — kids who have to go to overcrowded schools — and when you’re factoring in the track record of UNO in most of the schools they have opened,” Solis said.

Solis said he brokered a meeting between Sposato and UNO leaders, but when that did not lead to a solution, he said, “I decided to push it.”

His arguments in favor of the UNO plan echoed comments last week by Emanuel, who has been a vocal proponent of charter schools and has forged a strong relationship with Rangel and UNO, speaking at the group’s annual dinner gala last month. Last week, after Sposato deferred a committee vote, Emanuel said he hoped that a deal could be worked out to allow UNO’s Galewood proposal to become reality.

Solis predicted that the UNO zoning change request would win preliminary approval from his panel. He said aldermen could schedule a special meeting of the full council solely to give final approval to the plan before the next regularly scheduled meeting, which will be next month.

Rangel had said any further delays would make it impossible to construct the school in time for the 2012-2013 school year. Chicago Public Schools officials already have given their support to the plan, but a zoning change is required to allow construction of a school on the site.

On Monday afternoon, Sposato again said he wanted more time to consider the UNO proposal. He said he only learned of the special zoning panel meeting announcement from a reporter: “I’m surprised and disappointed [Solis] didn’t call me.”

Sposato acknowledged that six members of his own zoning advisory panel recently voted unanimously to support the proposal from UNO, but the first-year alderman added that he has received petitions with “hundreds of signatures” of constituents who opposed the plan. And he said most speakers at a recent community meeting on the topic also voiced dissent.

“I was hoping to have another community meeting, but I guess not now,” Sposato said.

UNO officials have accused Sposato of bowing to pressure from the Chicago Teachers Union, which organized opposition to the Galewood plan and opposes the proliferation of charters in general. Sposato replied that he feared the new charter school would not perform well, noting that three UNO schools recorded results below the district average on standardized exams.

In recent memory, the precept of aldermanic privilege was violated only twice: to defeat a Wal-Mart proposal in the 19thWard on the South Side in 2004 and to approve the now-abandoned plan to move the Chicago Children’s Museum to Grant Park in 2008. The Children’s Museum plan was championed by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley over heavy opposition from environmentalists, neighbors who live near Grant Park and their alderman, Brendan Reilly (42nd).


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