PURE blows the whistle on Robocalls from 'reform' groups aided and abetted by Brizard administration.... 'these groups are just one big mushroom-like entity with various versions popping up here and there, their names made up by throwing the words 'Children' 'Reform' 'First' 'Students'...together'

[Editor's Note: While Substance digs out of one of the most serious problems with our website in recent years, we will begin to cover the news that is still breaking around Chicago, holding back on the national news for another day or two. One of the biggest stories — because it is still growing — involves the accusation by PURE in the commentary below that officials of the Brizard administration illegally provided Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), through their latest front group Ed Reform Now, with the phone numbers of CPS parents in order for DFER to make those Robocalls that went out against the Chicago Teachers Union's strike authorization voting that took place between June 6 and June 8, 2012. Below is the article as it appears on the PURE website. One of the delights of the past month for us at Substance has been that the coverage of the strike authorization vote and related matters by the corporate media in Chicago has inspired us to award our monthly "Media Scab of the Month" award, which goes first off to Alexander Russo of the Tribune Blog "". We have asked our friends from among the city's dwindling number of art teachers to design Russo's award so that it can be displayed here and forwarded to him at his current home in Brooklyn, New York. That's right, only the Chicago Tribune would pretend that a guy could cover Chicago's schools from 800 miles east of here...].

Above, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (left) listens with his usual respect to the scripted verbiage of Schools Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard during one of the mayor's publicity stunts on December 13, 2011 at Chicago Police Headquarters. At that time, Emanuel announced that COMPSTATCPS, the integration of Chicago Public Schools into the police data system, would reduce crime. After January 2012, crime in Chicago, as most dramatically indexed by gang murders, has doubled. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Did CPS share parent phone numbers for anti-CTU propaganda campaign? By Julie Woestehoff

UPDATE: After being rebuked by Alexander Russo, I edited the title of this post since it did not accurately reflect the content of the article. However, the fact that CPS claims they had nothing to do with this is not exactly convincing (see, for example, CPS’s denying they were involved in paying people to testify at school closing hearings).

Well, it’s looking as though the big bucks CPS and its corporate sponsors spent on discouraging a teacher strike authorization vote were wasted.

For example, many CPS parents received a robo call over the weekend from Ed Reform Now. Raise Your Hand shared around an audio clip of the recorded message — the speaker identified herself as Jennifer Herron, a parent and Local School Council member. PURE was able to determine that a person with that name did run for the LSC at Wildwood Elementary School this past spring. Jennifer repeated the City Hall mantra that teachers hold off on a strike authorization vote until the arbitrator’s report is in...

As Raise Your Hand has so clearly put it:

“The vote today does not mean that there will definitely be a strike. It only authorizes a strike in the event that the two parties cannot come to an agreement when fact-finding is completed later this summer. We urge both sides to take every measure possible to avoid a strike.

“If the CTU waits until mid-July to vote, all of the teachers who are away will be counted as NO votes. The many who are retiring won’t get to cast a vote. In other words, all members will not be able to vote. Per recent legislation, the CTU now needs to get 75% of their full membership to vote- not just 75% of those who vote.”

[Editor's Note: The complete commentary from Raise Your Hand is at the end of this article].

Jennifer’s ad was paid for by Ed Reform Now, a group tightly connected to Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). That’s the group so right-wing that real California Democrats sent the local chapter a cease-and-desist order to stop using the term Democrat (a report I shared a few weeks ago).

According to this tax return for ERN posted in the DFERWatch web site, the group’s income jumped from about $1 million in 2009 to $9 million in 2010, and about half of that income was spent on one contract with a public relations firm. This is education reform?

So, a few questions:

How did Ed Reform Now get the phone numbers of CPS parents? When PURE was doing a survey of parents a few years ago we were not allowed to use CPS’s data base of parent addresses – the survey had to be sent out by CPS. For CPS to give out phone numbers to an outside group looks like a huge breach of protocol and privacy. If they allowed Ed Reform Now to use their robo call system, that’s also a problem.

Why is Ed Reform Now getting in the middle of our Chicago school business? Their Board of Directors are all hedge funders. They claim no local branch — the branches they list on their web site are in Colorado, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Wisconsin and Washington.

Here’s a post I wrote a while ago when Stand for Children went into Colorado — it mentioned Education Reform Now as a partner. Our PAA Denver member tells me that ERN is based in Colorado.

This kind of stuff only reinforces the impression we all have that these groups are just one big mushroom-like entity with various versions popping up here and there, their names made up by throwing the words “Children” “Reform” “First” “Students” etc. up in the air and calling the sub-group by the first two or three words that fall to the ground. They are funded by the same billionaires, push the same ALEC-written laws, and falsely claim to be speaking for parents.

Well, isn’t it time to scrape that fungus off of our public education system? Grilled mushrooms sound mighty tasty to me right about now.


On the Robocalls that Many CPS Parents Received this Week

Many RYH parents emailed us to complain about a robocall made by a group called DFER that went out this week. Here’s the text:

“Hi, my name is Jennifer Herron. As a parent and Local School Council Member I am worried that a teacher’s strike will hurt our children. Teachers deserve a raise. But it bothers me that the union is taking a strike vote before the independent arbitrator offers a compromise. Teachers should wait to see the deal first. Text compromise to _____ to encourage teachers to put our kids first. Wait and see the deal before voting to strike. Paid for by”

Thanks to a RYH parent for recording this robocall and sending it our way! We don't think the info provided in this call gives an accurate picture. A major impediment in negotiations is that the arbitrator cannot make suggestions beyond what the city determines negotiable, which is currently narrower than the teachers' list of concerns. Teachers are concerned about issues far beyond a raise.

As RYH explained last week, the vote will only authorize a strike if the two parties can’t come to an agreement in July and does not mean a strike will happen. We encourage both sides to find ways to avoid a strike. In the mean time, we are concerned by the PR battle waged in an attempt to sway parent opinion.

This robocall, specifically, does not give the full story and we have many questions: Who is DFER and are they locally based? How much did this robocall campaign cost? Who funds DFER? And last, but not least, how did they get this list of telephone numbers to call? We will work to find out who funds DFER and to understand what motivates their campaign. We believe they have corporate funding but we want to get the specifics and will share with you when we have more information. Please contact us if you have any information.