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BOARDWATCH: Board of Education's October 24, 2012 meeting witnesses continuation of 'Management Musical Chairs' and major flubs by CPS administrators

The amended Chicago Public Schools (CPS) budget for the next fiscal year was supposed to be passed at the regular Board of Education (BOE) on Wednesday, October 24, 2012, at 125 S. Clark Street, but it didn't happen. A newspaper ad announcing the budget vote had to be posted five days in advance of the vote, but the deadline was missed, so the amended budget could not be voted on at this meeting. According to Tim Cawley, the CPS "Chief Administrative Officer" who was supposed to present a Power Point summarizing the changes in the CPS budget for the 2012 - 2013 school year, the oversight meant that the Board would have to hold additional hearings on the proposed budget. The Power Point was presented to the Board, but no vote was taken on the Proposed Budget.

The regular meeting began at 10:30 a.m. on October 24, 2012. All Board members were present. At the beginning of the meeting, Board President David Vitale recognized Barbara Byrd-Bennett as the new Chief Executive Officer (CEO), replacing CEO Jean-Claude Brizard. Brizard resigned from the post following the CTU strike, and was paid an amount that was not disclosed (reportedly a half million dollars) for the remainder of the contract that Board had presented him in May and June 2011.

The latest Chief Executive Officer of Chicago Public Schools (the fourth in three years), Barbara Byrd Bennett, above center, was appointed to a $250,000-per-year contract by the Board at its October 24, 2012 meeting. Below Byrd-Bennet are Board members Rodrigo Sierra (left) and Andrea Zopp (right). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Before this appointment, CEO Byrd-Bennett had served the Board as Interim Chief Education Officer after arriving in Chicago in March from Detroit, following the resignation of the original Chief Education Officer of the current Board, Noemi Donoso. Barbara Byrd-Bennett, according to CPS, had previously worked with schools in Cleveland, Washington, D.C., and Detroit. CEO Byrd-Bennett said that she had been a teacher for twelve years.

Next, Marquis S. Watson (in R.O.T.C. uniform), a Junior at Hyde Park Academy, was appointed as the Honorary Student Board Member for this school year. He told the Board members that he would be active in the job.

All Board members were present at this meeting.

Two CPS high schools, Lane Tech and Jones College Prep were among 269 schools to be honored nationally for academic excellence. This is the second time Lane Tech has received this recognition; it also was awarded this honor in 2006. Principal Powers from Jones and Principal Degnan from Lane Tech accepted for their schools. Principal Powers mentioned that the present Jones High School, which is in the same building as the former excellent Jones Commercial High School, has no gym, is cramped, and has no outdoor spaces. The new Jones building, finally being built on State St., will finally relieve these problems, which began 15 years ago when CPS changed Jone from a Commercial high school on orders from Richard M. Daley. He said most of the classrooms will be on two of the seven floors. No mention was made of what activities will occur on the other five of the seven floors.

Board Member Dr. Mahalia Hines asked if the old school will be kept as a neighborhood school. Principal Powers replied that we will cooperate in any way if the old school is kept as a neighborhood school. Community residents, supported by Alderman Bob Fioretti, have protested at the Board against the demolition of the current Jones building (six stories high) and have demanded that it be used as a neighborhood high school.

Principal Degnan of Lane Tech mentioned enrollment figures at Lane Tech and invited everyone to an open house on November 4. The Board members also asked questions about whether the Lane Tech academic program for seventh and eighth graders was going well. Degnan reminded the Board that Lane Tech had more than 4,000 students, with roughly 1,000 in each grade and an annual graduating class of 1,000.

Next, Board President Vitale asked for a moment of silence for Gene R. Saffold, a former Board member who passed away on October 8, 2012. Saffold has served on the Board of Education under Mayor Richard M. Daley and was Chief Financial Officer for the City of Chicago.

Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley (above left) and "Chief Talent Officer" Alicia Winckler (above right) presented the Power Point about the "Amended Budget" to the Board, but then told the Board that because the previous hearings on the item had violated state law, new hearings would be held on November 5, and the Board wouldn't be able to vote on the budget until November 14 — the latest in history a Chicago Board of Education has ever finalized a budget. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.After this, Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley stepped up to make a Power Point presentation on the Fiscal Year (FY)13 Amended Budget. He said the FY13 budget, which was passed in August 2012, must be amended to reflect the impact of the teachers' contract. The budget could not be voted on and passed at this meeting because the deadline for posting the notice in newspapers was missed prior to the earlier hearings. The notice had to be posted five days, not four days, in advance of the vote. Budget hearings will be held on November 5 and the budget will be proposed for approval at the BOE meeting on November 14.

The Power Point report told of the added expense for CTU members and other compensation would cost $103 million. He then asked the question: "How will we cover the new costs?" He mentioned the website details regarding this and presented information about how he claimed the Board was overcoming the extra costs in the new "Amended Budget."

Board Member Henry Bienen said that the financial costs of the contract, which Cawley's Power Point said would be covered with a $70 million increase in "operating revenue" was really not increased revenue. The increase in the "revenues" involve selling bonds to put off interest payments until later, selling surplus properties, and refinancing bonds. Bienen told the Board that these changes was not savings, but just changes in dates.

(Substance reporter George Schmidt noted that it is illegal to sell property and put the money in operating expenses. Income from property is supposed to be used for facilities).

The Board's latest budget Power Point once again overstates the cost of the raises negotiated with the Chicago Teachers Union by as much as half. Additionally, CPS insists on calling any raise won by the teachers' strike as a COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment), another example of the Orwellian insistence on the utilization of certain jargon by the Plutocracy. Then three percent increase in salaries for all CTU members if a "raise." COLA is a different category of reality, but CPS has been using the term for more than a year. Substance photo from the overhead during the October 24 Board meeting by George N. Schmidt.Board Vice-President Jesse Ruiz asked if there were administrative increases and was told no. "Chief Talent Officer" Alicia Winkler stepped to the podium to explain what she called the large "personal sacrifices" by administrators. According to Winckler, administrators (including principals) had not received Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) increases or step increases based on the size of the school in three years.

After Tim Cawley responded, Board Member Henry Bienen wanted to know how will we cover the new costs. He said that in FY 14 (the 2013 - 2014 school year) and beyond large items would be hitting the budget, especially increased pension costs.

Tim Cawley said that that we no longer can rely on reserves, because "there are no reserves," he claimed. When Board Member Andrea Zopp asked for dates as to how CPS was going to reduce administrative costs, Tim Cawley said there would be monthly budget reviews, department by department, and these reviews would be shared monthly.

The October 24, 2012 Board of Education meeting featured another example of Management Musical Chairs at CPS since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took over in May 2011. The latest "Chief Financial Officer," Peter Rodgers (above during the meeting) was not asked to explain anything about the finances of the CTU contract because he had recently been hired by CPS, reportedly from Diners Club. Rodgers replaced David Watkins, who served less than a year as CFO. Watkins had taken over from "interim CFO" Melanie Shaker, who has apparently been pushed out of her job as CPS Treasurer. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Regarding Board Member Henry Bienen's remarks, Board Member Penny Pritzker asked about pension costs and tax revenues. She said that with what we are facing, we must get a budget that's sustainable. None of the Board members remarked on the fact that they had just selected their third "Chief Financial Officer" during the 18 months since their appointments.

Then General Counsel James Bebley told of the new School Wellness Policy for students that was to be adopted today. The policy emphasizes nutrition education, physical activity, and physical education. Among other things, foods served to students and recess are not to be taken away as punishments; nutritional celebratory foods and extra recess can be rewards.

Vitale reminded everyone that the new website www.cpsboe.org will start to take advance registrations for public participation in November. He also mentioned that members of the public could request an office hours meeting by calling 773-553-1600.

Public participation began shortly before 11:30 with Michael Brunson, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Recording Secretary. Regarding the new BOE/CTU Agreement, Mr. Brunson quoted CTU President Karen Lewis who said, months ago, "This is our opportunity to do something amazing. Let's do something amazing."

Ten months ago, at the January 2012 Board meeting, Melanie Shaker (second from left, front row above) was the CPS "Acting Chief Financial Officer." Shaker was out of that position in less than four months. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Brunson said that after rallies, a strike, etc., we came up with an agreement that we mutually agreed upon. He spoke of the constant rumors of school closings. He asked that the closings be done in a participatory and transparent manner. He said that this is really about privatization, and profit, and dollars before people. He said the closings should be done with the right intentions or "there will be consequences."

Board President David Vitale responded that we came together on something we could accept based on your vote and your advice is taken seriously. Board Member Penny Pritzker remarked that the Board endorses participation and a transparent process.

First on the public participation list to speak was Dennis O"Neill of "Connecting 4 Communities" (C4C), whose listed topic was District Innovator High School and who spoke of the work being done to increase access.

Next Bechara Choucair, a Commissioner in the Department of Health, addressed the Wellness Policy proposed for CPS students (the Wellness policy for staff is in the union contracts, and was mandated for all non-unionized staff). He said that most CPS students are obese or overweight and that the new Wellness Policy addresses these challenges. He added that all schools must serve food in compliance with the "Gold Standard" — and that physical activity should be promoted before, during and after the school day for a total of 90 minutes of activity time every day. He spoke of a grant that had been received from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) regarding a "Healthy CPS."

By the time of the March 2012 Board meeting, David Watkins had become "Chief Financial Officer" of the nation's third largest school district. His tenure was less than a half year, during which he never commented publicly on CPS finances and the school system, claiming a huge "deficit," suffered a lowered bond rating and a seven day strike. By the October 2012 Board meeting, Watkins was gone without explanation. During all of the Board meetings since their appointment in May 2011, not one Board member has asked publicly whether the Management Musical Chairs they are overseeing at 125 S. Clark St. may be partly responsible for the school system's inability to provide the public (and Wall Street) with a coherent and credible accounting of its finances. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Dr. Adam Becker — of the Ann and Robert Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago — also addressed the Wellness Policy and student health. He said that the obesity rate is higher in Chicago than anywhere else in the nation. He named diseases related to obesity and said that most students are not eligible to serve in the military because of obesity and obesity-related issues (thus affecting national security).

Rochelle Davis, of the Healthy Schools Campaign, also spoke in support of the CPS Wellness Policy, which was to be voted on today. She said that health and academic achievement are connected. She asked that birthdays be celebrated without unhealthy food.

Claudia Terrazo, of the Healthy Schools Campaign, spoke in support of the Health and Wellness Policy. She said we have seen the benefits in children of healthy food and recess.

Christina Shaver, of a group calling itself "CPS Parents", is promoting a large scale parent survey. She said that they are requesting support to survey themselves parents reliably. She mentioned attending a conference at which CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett spoke. She said she wants to collaborate with CPS and asked CPS to verify that the parents are CPS parents, so that we can survey ourselves and ask the parents why they chose CPS and how they feel now. The survey will take place between October 24 and October 31; the results will be released November 13. Board President David Vitale said that we will work with you in every way we legally can.

Okema Lewis, this month of "Conflict in Content," spoke of the Board policy and school guidelines and policy for the Local School Oracle Program 309930. She is seeking she calls "purposeful education reform" and asked that relationships be redefined. She said that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that we must have the courage to do the right thing. She remarked that there was no continuity between the old and the new policies, there was confusion on the Local School Council (LSC), by-laws were never shared with parents, and collaboration was not addressed. She asked the Board not to allow policy to be put in place that has not been reviewed.

Alfred Rodgers, of the "Latino Organization Soutwest", said he wants more manpower in the LSC because they are not getting what the community needs. He said the community needs some of your time for problems that only you can solve, adding that he hoped that would be today.

Jesus Campuzano, of Southside Together Organizing for Power (S.T.O.P.), said that we don't need any more school closings, charter schools, and military schools. He asked why our schools are under-performing and asked the Board to invest in them. He also spoke of mice infestation inside schools, such as recently were exposed at Hirsch High School. He said that in one school (Hirsch), 200 children went to the hospital because of rat droppings in their food. He added that that's a law suit right there.

Martin Ritter, of Near West Schools, mentioned the full-page ad that had been placed in the Sun-Times by the Catholic Providence-St. Mel School asking parents who were looking for a school for their children because of neighborhood school closings to consider Providence-St. Mel. He used the ad as an example of how even the threat of closings undermines neighborhood schools. Mr. Ritter asked the Board do the right thing when it comes to school closings.

Rhonda Rue Gutierrez, of "Parents4Teachers", presented a letter to CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennet, asking for a moratorium on school closings. and charter openings because of the devastating impact on children. She said that the community has been ignored for much too long and asked for a meeting in the next two weeks. The widespread call for a moratorium has broad support among parents, students and teachers across Chicago.

Amy Green, also of Parents4Teachers, told CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett that one of her goals is to build trust. She said that past practices created distrust and that parents can provide insight.

Camille Mathis, of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) and a parent of children impacted by CPS policies, welcomed CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. Ms. Mathis asked her to be accountable. She quoted author Diane Ravitch and said we have a two-tiered school system in Chicago. She noted that Mollison School, where she is an LSC member, had to fight for school survival. Utilizing research that had recently been completed, she compared Dyett High School, an all-African American high school in Bronzeville, to Lake View High School. She said that Lake View has so much more, from a broad range of Advanced Placement classes to a vast number of activities for the students, while Dyett has been stripped of most of these. She said that there is no neighborhood High School or K-8 elementary school left in the Kenwood community thanks to recent CPS policies.

Kitesha Reggs, an LSC member and a parent, continued the presentations on behalf of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) people opposed to another round of closings. She said that her son graduated from Lane Tech High School. She said Dyett High School was high-performing but had been under-resourced, and she asked the Board provide the necessary resources that are provided in other schools. She mentioned gangs in the area, no computers in the computer room, no librarian, chains on the doors, and no honors classes. She asked, will you support our African-American community?

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said, I hear you. She then reflected on her own roots, telling the protesters, "...in my community, your word is your bond" and she promised that she would be answering the concerns raised by the speakers. She said we will schedule time for resolution and remarked that she wants more meaningful dialog.

Kitesha Reggs added that paid protesters attacked our students and there is a real estate grab in the community.

Jitu Brown, KOCO, told of a poll that was done and gave the Board a letter with a request. He provided information for the Board, handouts, and a policy brief from Annenberg at Brown University. He also spoke of a University of Chicago history of Dyett School. He compared Dyett to Lake View and said you shouldn't have separate and unequal in the city. He mentioned that in 2009, Dyett led in students headed to college, but later the opposite occurred. He said the children should have a fair shot.

Board President David Vitale said CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has suggested she will meet with you. He added, you get to meet with Barbara Byrd-Bennett, what more do you want?

Board Member Dr. Mahalia Hines asked who is the community in Kenwood, CAC. KOCO, and BG?

General Counsel James Bebley asked who is impacted, parents, teachers, students, over 100 people in this process. He said those impacted must be engaged.

Next, Cynthia Woods, Director of Advocacy for the Association of School Boards, told the Board about the 41st annual school tour taking place on Friday, November 16. She said there will be five different schools, including Lane Tech High School and three elementary schools: a charter school, National Teachers Academy, and a neighborhood school. She asked the Board to come to breakfast and meet with board members from out of state.

Delia Bonilla, an LSC member and a parent of children at Ames Middle School, said that the parents are against the school becoming a military school instead of a neighborhood school. She said that there are rumors that the school will become a military school and that the alderman confirmed this. She produced 1000 signatures for Ames to remain a community school. She said that there was no word from CPS on this and asked, what can you tell us?

Leticia Barrera, of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA) said that they were strongly opposed to a military school at Ames. She said door-to-door surveys were now being conducted. She wants Ames to remain a neighborhood school. She requested meetings with CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and she said that on November 1, the community wants CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett to be present. She said she rejected closed-door conversations.

Board President David Vitale said that at this time, there is no direct proposal to change Ames. He asked Ms. Barrera to let us know, we will try to have someone there (at the meeting).

Elizabeth Nevarez, of Eli Whitney School, told of fees being charged by the principal for air-conditioning. She said the principal's name is on the list of fees. She said parents shouldn't have to pay these fees. She mentioned that the principal said students would not receive a report card on Report Card Pick-Up Day if the fees were not paid. Ms. Nevarez asked that the parents who already paid the fees be given their money back.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said she would follow up on this.

Jauntaunne Byrd, on the LSC at Curtis Elementary School, said she had been here in August. She said that there was no school improvement plan at Curtis and she wants a plan. She said not to have one is a violation. She added that meetings are not publicized and she did not have the opportunity to participate. She mentioned that she is an LSC member.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett responded that we'll get to that.

Rodney Estvan, of Access Living of Chicago, said that there is a problem with the amended budget. He applauds the withdrawal of the budget. He said there should be no talk of refinancing bonds with "happy talk." and asked for a budget audit sub-committee, not a committee of the whole. He added that this amended budget is a problem and that the solution is not school closures. He mentioned that in Connecticut small school districts, there was discussion of the issues, and there needs to be discussion here in terms of the dollar cost.

James Gordon spoke of the restructuring of the Fine Arts program, music festivals and the all-city band programs. He said some festivals had been put on the back burner and told that they were pushed back, but not canceled. He added that specific dates for activities were not announced.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said that we will talk with you.

Jerry Skinner, of Kelvyn Park High School, spoke of a concern with neglect. He said student enrollment has increased, but the staff is not up to the enrollment. He spoke of various administrators in the school being required to teach many classes because of a lack of staff and of 4500 program changes. He added that Ames is a feeder school and privatization is being planned.

Board President David Vitale said that we will ask administration about this.

Ronald Jackson, of the NAACP, Tilden, and an LSC member, spoke of the misappropriation of funds. He said that in regard to the LSC, the community was not involved in the hiring process and that there was a teacher who was removed and should be brought back to Tilden High School. He also asked for a refund of fees for yearbooks that were never produced.

William Scott, of SOULutions, is a veteran Chicago educator and administrator for 50 years. He told Board President David Vitale about the vitality you bring here. He remarked that the situation at 2 a.m. at 35th and King Drive and State Street is almost an Afghanistan situation. He wants the student population to step up. He said a sailor would be appalled by the conversation. He was told that the police will work with you.

George Blakemore , who spoke as a concerned citizen, welcomed CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. He asked her how many problems have you solved where you have been before. He advocated the teaching of Black history because he believes it promotes a vision of where the student is going. He asked that Black students have not received the same type of education as rich people have received. He remarked that he felt he was being treated with disrespect at this "dog-and-pony" show. He also he is an advocate for the reparations that he says Black people deserve.

Lanada Avinger, a CTU member and a Hirsch High School teacher, thanked the Board for their support and for the structural changes done to the school.

Fermina Vega, of the Albany Park Neighborhood Council, said that her son is in seventh grade and she was concerned about the 20th day rule. She asked that the rule be changed. She added that the children are not getting the high-quality education that they deserve. She mentioned that last year, there had been 17 substitute teachers by the end of the year, and that there were sixty students in some classes because there weren't enough teachers.

Board President David Vitale said that he will take a look at the 20th day rule.

Scott Steward, a Math teacher, said that because of the 20th day rule, a program, Entrepreneurship at Gwendolyn Brooks High School had been gutted. He produced a letter from a former student. He asked that the program be reinstated.

Board Member Penny Pritzker called the program phenomenal.

It was said that it was just a bad decision to remove that program.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said that a staff member would be follow up.

Rosita Chatonda, founder of Chicago Alliance of Urban School Educators (CAUSE) and affiliated with the Community Action Council (CAC), the NAACP, and a Teacher for Chicago (TFC) graduate, said that our kids are not having the opportunity to become teachers. She said that she wants students in South Shore to take courses to become teachers. She told of over 10 thousand African-American teachers being displaced. She said that the South Shore NAACP is concerned about African-American teachers who will be displaced.

Board President David Vitale then asked the Board members if they had any reflections or questions.

Board Member Penny Pritzker said that the International Baccalaureate (IB) programs had fantastic results and she is glad we're expanding them.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said exit conferences would be conducted to determine the reasons why 40% of the students do not remain in the program.

Board Member Dr. Mahalia Hines said that we need to encourage entrepreneurship programs (at Brooks). She then asked why the man from Brooks had to come here and suggested that this could have been handled before anyone had to come here.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said that we will see a whittling in these kind of issues coming before us.

Board Vice-President Jesse Ruiz reminded everyone of the on-line sign-up.

Board Member Dr. Mahalia Hines then asked that the Board adjourn into closed session.



Comments:

October 28, 2012 at 3:32 PM

By: Lilith Werner, PhD

Lake View HS

Lake View High School is able to offer so many AP classes (we are now at 19 AP classes) and extracurricular activities due to our dedicated staff who always go above and beyond the call of duty. My staff deserve ALL the credit for making a wide variety of AP classes and extracurricular activities available to all students. The BOE does not make those decisions at the local level.

Sincerely,

Lilith Werner, PhD

Principal

Lake View HS

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