MEDIA WATCH: Lies my newspaper told me... How the Chicago Sun-Times and corporate 'Better Government Association' lie about teachers and CPS sicks days

On February 3, 2012, when I opened up my Chicago Sun-Times and saw that they were blasting the right of teachers and other CPS workers to accumulate sick days and cash them out at the end of a career, I knew the article had been a setup from the new corporate (read, Hedge Fund chieftans and Private Equity creeps) owners of the Sun-Times. Teachers are going to have to expect more and more of this from the Sun-Times as Rahm Emanuel's buddies take control of one of the two daily newspapers in Chicago and ladle out their daily doses of lies under the guise of "special reports" and breathless half-truths. As soon as I read the report and saw the credit to the BGA, I remember all those press conference when Andy Shaw, then with WLS, sucked up to every lie Arne Duncan was telling, whether about "Turnaround" or the "Deficit" of each annual CPS budget. Shaw is now head of the BGA, and his version of corporate Chicago reality has become more dangerous because it has a better chance of posing as legitimate wrapped in the BGA cloak than it did when he was recycling Duncan's corporate propaganda from CPS.

Above, the Sun-Times story (actually, written by the Better Government Association, another outpost of corporate Chicago's propaganda) from February 3, 2012 leaving out that accumulated sick days for CPS workers were actually a form of deferred compensation. Of course, after cashing out his days without ever having taught one day for more than $50,000, Arne Duncan now agrees with the corporate ruling class that the idea was a "bad" one. Duncan was also CEO of CPS during two contract negotiations when the sick days provision was left in the contracts between CPS and its unionized workers. He never mentioned there was a "problem" then (but of course it was a problem that paid off nicely for Duncan when he left CPS for Washington D.C. in January 2009). Hundreds of teachers and principals are already responding to this latest attack, but before we go to the Chicago Teachers Union response, it's important for Substance readers to focus on the fact that every sick day retained for later cash out was a benefit that was "won" in a contract negotiation or strike — instead of a raise. But by 2012, history has been collapsed into an orgy of disinformation, misinformation, and other corporate lies. I saw it when covering the Civic Committee and Civic Federation versions of "pension reform" back in September and October at Speaker Madigan's offices in Chicago (those "working groups" on pension were public meetings, but nobody from the Sun-Times bothered to cover them), and it was the same kind of propaganda substitutes for fact, and historical amnesia for history.

One of the other benefits (to CPS) of the accumulated sick day perk for CPS workers is that people do not take as many days off. This has two benefits for the organization: fewer substitute days and more continuity of instruction. That point has been made thousands of times over the years and decades, but this latest attack on reason will now ensure that teachers and other school workers will be less likely to go to work half-sick, or when things are questionable.

But having heard some of the reports from CPS officials in the recent school closing hearings, apparently CPS workers are supposed to (a) never get sick or (b) go to work when they are sick and (c) spread whatever germs they have over captive groups of children.

During the testimony of the new "Network" "Chiefs of Schools" at recent hearings, one of the hits against teachers was that they took sick days. We've also heard that principals have been encouraged to write up teachers for taking sick days, as if that were a good way to lead an organization as complex as a school. That's the Mitt Romney/David Vitale / Penny Pritzker version of reality -- heavy on meaningless "data" and lacking in any human context. Substance will be publishing a list of every "Chief of Schools" who attacked teachers this way, and others, in the near future so we can make sure there is a lot of real accountability in the months and years ahead.

Late in the day on February 3, 2012, Substance heard that CPS was announcing that they were no longer going to honor the accumulated sick days (and vacation days?) of retiring principals.

Can they get away with that?

Maybe. After all, while Chicago teachers have those accumulated days in a contract (which gives some protection to our rights) Chicago principals gave up many of their rights during the days of corporate school reform (and mayoral control) in exchange for the highest principal salaries in history. Faust and other guys in that line of literature made bargains like that. But without stretching the metaphors and historical analogies too far, we've got to remind people that just because Arne Duncan cashed out some dollars, it doesn't mean we should cheer the liars at the Chicago Sun-Times and BGA, who are simply substituting corporate propaganda for fact.

The Chicago Teachers Union has responded (below). After that, we are reprinting the Sun-Times report so our readers later can get it easily.


The Better Government Association (BGA) report on unused sick day pay offs unfairly characterizes teachers and paraprofessionals as abusing the system. It is not an abuse. Teachers are given only 10 sick days per year. They are not paid for maternity leave and therefore must either accumulate unused sick days or schedule their births during the summer. Our members only become eligible for this benefit if they work 20 or more years or reach age 65; and, most of them do not get the huge payouts that the top Board officials have received.

It should also be noted that teachers and paraprofessionals who get this ‘deferred compensation,’ are the ones who do all they can to never miss a day of work. These are the same professionals who come early, stay late and are now being asked to work even longer hours, while their benefits and pensions are under attack.

This policy has existed since 1968. In the 1980s sick day accumulation was used by the Board of Education as a way of deferring compensation, and was eventually given to teachers and other professional staff in lieu of raises. The BGA report puts teachers in a Catch 22—if they use too many sick days they are given low ratings for bad attendance and if they accumulate too many they are falsely characterized as ‘greedy’ and ‘abusing the system.’ You can’t have it both ways. The Chicago Teachers Union would be very hesitant to change the current system unless there’s some other way to ensure that people who work in our schools can receive paid maternity leave or those who need a surgery can take care of their health without worrying how they will pay their bills.

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey will be on the Roe and Roper Show on WLS-AM (890) at 5:30 p.m. tonight. The call in number is 312-591-8900; he will also be live on “Politics Tonight” on CLTV at 6:00 p.m. with Paul Lesnik, which is also a call in show. He’ll discuss the BGA report.


CPS spends millions on workers for unused sick and vacation days, BY BARBARA ROSE AND PATRICK REHKAMP Better Government Association February 2, 2012 10:28PM

10-2-2010----U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan gives the keynote address to the American bar Association Section of Litigation's fall Leadership meeting at the Ritz Carlton. Sun-

The cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools system spends tens of millions of dollars annually on a perk that few other employers offer: cash to departing employees for unused time off.

Since 2006, the district paid a total $265 million to employees for unused sick and vacation days, according to an analysis of payroll and benefit data obtained by the Better Government Association under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

By far the largest share — $227 million — went to longtime employees for sick days accumulated over two or three decades.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently ordered a halt on paying unused sick time to non-union employees at City Colleges of Chicago after the BGA found at least $3 million in such payouts to former employees over the last decade. Among the biggest beneficiaries was former Chancellor Wayne Watson, who has received $300,000 of a promised $500,000 payout for 500 unused sick days.

“This policy is unacceptable to the mayor and not consistent with the city’s sick day policies for its own employees,” said Jennifer Hoyle, a spokeswoman for Emanuel. The mayor also directed other city agencies, including CPS, to halt such payments, review their policies and devise plans to end the practice permanently.

At CPS, the top payouts went to top brass, including more than 300 longtime principals and administrators, who received more than $100,000 during the six-year period from 2006 to 2011, the BGA found. The highest payment topped $250,000.

Beneficiaries included former schools CEO Arne Duncan, now U.S. Secretary of Education, who received $50,297 for unused vacation time when he left in January 2009, according to the data. Duncan now believes the policy should be re-evaluated.

“People should take a good hard look at whether or not that policy makes any sense and whether it should be kept in place in these tight budget times,” Duncan said through a Washington D.C.-based department spokesman.

The district’s policy of paying for accrued sick and vacation time drains an average of $44 million annually at a time when CPS is struggling to balance its nearly $6 billion budget by hiking property taxes, cutting staff and dipping into reserves. The obligation to pay this accumulating benefit contributes to the district’s long-term debt, showing up as a fast-growing liability on CPS’ balance sheet.

Moreover, payouts increase the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund’s liabilities because employees are allowed to use sick leave payouts to boost their final average salaries, which in turn increases their annual pensions.

In all, about 19,000 employees received sick and vacation payments during the six-year period. The average payout was just under $14,000.

Most private employers adopt a “use or lose it” policy for sick and vacation days to hold down costs and limit future obligations. Many question the wisdom of rewarding employees when they leave.

“What you’re doing is paying someone when they’re walking out the door, and that’s basically money walking out the door,” said Mark Schmit, vice president of research for the Alexandria, Va.-based Society for Human Resource Management.

Only 6 percent of employers pay for unused sick leave, while 16 percent pay unused vacation time, according to the association’s 2011 employee benefit survey of 600 human resources managers, largely at private employers.

CPS may be alone among Illinois school districts in paying cash for unused sick leave, said Thomas Kersten, professor emeritus of educational leadership at Roosevelt University.

“I’m not familiar with any district besides Chicago that pays for sick days,” he said.

Members of the Teachers’ Retirement System, which includes Downstate and suburban teachers, can accumulate as many as 340 uncompensated sick days for up to two years of credit, allowing them to retire two years early with full pension benefits.

CPS employees can accumulate as many as 325 days. They become eligible for payouts after working at least 20 years or reaching age 65. Depending on their tenure, they receive between 85 percent and 100 percent of their accumulated sick leave value.

Here are the top recipients of the practice, according to the data:

◆ Ascencion Juarez, CPS’ former chief human resources officer, collected $250,787 after he retired in 2009 after 38 years, including $200,285 in sick pay. Juarez declined to comment.

◆ Former Chief Education Officer Barbara Eason-Watkins collected $239,849 after she retired in 2010 after 35 years, including $159,843 in sick pay.

◆ Former Lake View High School Principal Scott Feaman received $211,641 after he retired in 2011 after 36 years, including $171,604 in sick pay.

Eason-Watkins and Feaman each used sick days to sweeten their pensions. As a result, Eason-Watkins collects an additional $7,440 annually in pension payments for the rest of her life, and Feaman collects $4,425 more, according to the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund.

Niether Eason-Watkins nor Feaman returned calls seeking comment.


February 4, 2012 at 8:27 AM

By: bob busch

Making the BGA's sick leave list...

Sick Leave

It feels good to have made the list. I am one of the greedy 300 named by the BGA and Sun Times who cashed in unused sick days for a lot of money. But when you figure that in my 41 years I accumulated 540 days but only had 310 where did the other 230 days go? Reaching the limit of 325 sick days in 2001 and retiring 10 years later, I sent 130 days back to the board unused.

I even tried to give 10 days to a sick teacher who had run out to no avail. Most of my friends said I was a fool for doing that, but truth be told I never liked to take days off. Being married, the sick leave balance was a disability policy in case I got sick or injured .

Luckily I had no major illness until the very end of my career. Luck was not the reason I never missed a day because of weather. Twice I was already at school when it was called off. I think stubbornness and a simple work ethnic kept me going. It was simple — if you can walk you can work. A couple of times when flu knocked me on my ass I stayed

home but if I wasn’t going to infect anybody out the door I went.

I never thought I would live long enough to cash in my sick days but I did. Every decade I worked I thought perhaps the Board would somehow recognize my service with a board resolution or a certificate perhaps a pen or maybe a watch after 40 years. All this fuss about a list I finally made now is strange.

February 4, 2012 at 11:45 AM

By: Christine Senorski

Huberman and..

I too have given my sick days to others. Two teachers in my building left school one day, never to return. Both needed days to maintain their insurance until the end of the school year. Although they probably both got much sicker than they should have because of the many infections students bring with them to school, especially those that leave anrd return to the country for the holidays.

Is anyone reporting on the pensions Ron Huberman has collected from the city?

After those of us who really care about the children leave because we can no longer accept the lack of respect shown by CPS bureaucracy, network administrations, and the press leave, who will educate and inspire the future children of our city?

February 4, 2012 at 2:05 PM

By: Rod Estvan

Problems ahead for abolishing sick time payouts

Mayor Emanuel probably will try to take no prisoners on this issue, because he will not want to be on the wrong side of the PR wave. There are going to be many problems in relation to abolishing the sick day pay outs, which I do believe got way out of hand. As I have stated on the D299 blog the BGA could find some real pay dirt in relation to the bump up many CPS administrators received in their pay during their final year of employment which sweetened their retirement benefits if they only wanted to look.

How is Mayor Emanuel going to deal with Dr. Mahalia Hines who he appointed to the CPS Board. Dr. Hines served as a principal in the Chicago Public Schools for seventeen years. Prior to that, she worked as a teacher in Chicago Public Schools for over 14 years. She did not retire until 2005, it seems more than likely she carried out with her bags of sick pay money. How is that going to work?

How is it going to work that Pat Rocks the CPS general counsel will stand to lose I bet over a hundred grand. Do you think he might himself file a lawsuit against the Board he has to represent to protect his own money. Clearly Emanuel will have to work out some type of hold harmless provision and phase in if he is going to abolish the current policy.

Rod Estvan

February 4, 2012 at 2:06 PM

By: John Kugler

Wake up

Mayor Emanuel has changed the rules—and you need to get in the game

"You're up against a powerful mayor," he said. "You want people to know about your longer day, tell your parents, put it on your Facebook, spread the word anyway you got. Get involved. You got to be active."

His message should be heeded by all the others who've closed their eyes for all these years.

February 5, 2012 at 3:56 PM

By: Chris Rudzinski

Sick days policy

Where is the union Public Relations officer?

We should be able to see a clarification everywhere:flyers, tv and radio ad.

Where are they?

February 5, 2012 at 6:24 PM

By: George N. Schmidt

Rudzinski's usual hypocrisy, ignorance build up the Board, bosses

Usually, since he gets most of is comments posted on First Class without CPS interference, we simply apply DELETE to anything Chris Rudzinski posts. After all, at this point he's a tout for CPS, and the next job we expect to see him in will be in Brizard's Office of Communications. Rarely has a former union delegate become such a suck for the boss, but this is another example.

First: The Chicago Teachers Union will never waste money on "ads" for corporate media. How much will Chris Rudzinski chip in to pay for an ad that simply goes to the same outfits that then bash the union? Fox News? CBS perhaps? Maybe Chris would have the union buy ads on WTTW, our "public TV station" run by guys (virtually all of the station's directors) who are union-busting multi-millionaires. Wasting our union money on that might be Rudzinski's idea of a good idea, but we haven't been that dumb since his "United Progressive Caucus" (UCP) was in power.

Second, had he been paying attention (say, going to the union website instead of hanging out doing ruling class apologetics on First Class and trying to slip them in here), he might have noticed that CTU responded immediately to the lies in the BGA ("Sun-Times") story, as we are doing here. But, then, that would interrupt the lurid fantasies our commenter indulges in.

Lastly, for this round, let's consider how successful Rudzinski's strategy and tactics were when he was part of the power structure. After all, when the UPC said Orr High School should become Orr high schools (that's the old small schools plural, for those who missed it), the delegate and the leadership (then the UPC) went along cheerily. Then, when "small schools" stopped being the flavor of the month corporate "reform" and "turnaround" landed on Rudzinski and all his fell union members at the Orrs (again, plural then), who stood up for them? Nobody. What they actually tried, under the then leadership, was whine about how hard they had worked at "small schools" while they were all (except the military school, which moved out just in time to avoid the massacre) massacred by AUSL and "turnaround."

But there is even a later chapter that needs to be here, for the sake of history.

Instead of helping track what happened at Orr when it went ASUL, the guys who are now complaining about those of us who tracked the hypocrisy (AUSL dumped half the kids to goose up its scores for a year; the former teachers could have chipped in, but their leaders, back then, were scrambling for the lifeboats like the captain of an Italian cruise ship)...

Leaving the documentation of that historical hypocrisy to the rest of us — which includes the current officers and staff of the Chicago Teachers Union. All of whom have been speaking out, organizing, and doing media work against this latest propaganda attack on the city's teachers, aimed, with Rudzinski's help, at the leaders of the teachers, Karen Lewis and the officers and staff of the Chicago Teachers Union.

How do you spell T R A I T O R?

February 5, 2012 at 8:30 PM

By: Bob Busch

Substance broke rent-a-preacher, rent-a-protest

If the news were Rhetoric 101, all the bastards would get an F for plagiarism. I have yet to hear any of the talking heads and mid drifts who read the official news give Substance and George Schmidt credit for the rent a protestor story they broke weeks ago. If anybody in the official news business digs into these faith based preachers the outcome will be startling. That is after George breaks it first. Way to go Substance.

February 10, 2012 at 12:19 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

Verifying and policing comments at Substancenews

As we make clear in our note (to "Substance readers...") every time someone wants to make a comment to, we require First Name and Last Name and a real email address. The email address is so that we can verify the "name" in the event that we suspect foul play. During the past three days, a flame war has erupted here among some real and anonymous commentators. Most of those have been deleted because the "people" commenting provided us with phony names and email addresses.

Below is the email message we usually send to those who try to comment but about whom we have suspicion:

"Your recent comment at has been removed until you identify yourself more precisely to Substance. Please provide us with a home or cell phone number so that we can verify that you exist and that you submitted the comment..."

That's for "new" people whom we don't know or for people who provide only a first name, or for those who look like they are using a pseudonym. As we try to make clear (and state above): "We are not operating a blog and do not allow anonymous or pseudonymous comments. Our readers deserve to know who is commenting..."

We also reserve the right to simply ban certain individuals from making any comments to Substance if they have proved, by some kind of record, that their comments are inappropriate, dishonest, air-headed, libelous, slanderous or from the paid point of view of the Boss...

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