Board of Education meeting of November 14, 2012 features ranting against CTU by Board of Education members

On Wednesday, November 14, 2012, the Chicago Board of Education (BOE) held its regular monthly meeting at 125 S. Clark. The meeting began with school children performing songs, etc., for the Board members and the assembly. Board member Penny Pritzker commented that we should have more presentations like this, that it was a wonderful way to start the day.

Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale, above, lectured the Chicago Teachers Union's Recording Secretary Michael Brunson before allowing the union to speak during the November 14, 2012 Board meeting. Substance photo by David Vance.Next, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Barbara Byrd-Bennett said that two special principals, Principal Epps of Marconi Elementary School and Principal Buckner of Clark Elementary School, were present as her guests because they had attained the highest attendance of any Track E or Track R schools. Their schools were to receive large monetary awards for school supplies from Target Stores.

Then, CEO Byrd-Bennett mentioned the building utilization issue, covered earlier at the Urban League presentation she had given. At that event, a week earlier, Byrd-Bennett had announced that she wanted to postpone the announcement of the list of schools to be closed from December 1 to March 31. The apparent reason was that the CPS administration, which had been under the leadership of former CEO Jean-Claude Brizard until Brizard was forced out in October and Byrd Bennett promoted, had not done anything to clarify the school closing issues in the community.

Byrd Bennett said there were too many buildings and too few students, so it was necessary to "right size" the district. An modification of the state law (Senate Bill (SB) 630) was being sought, she said. SB 630, passed after fierce opposition to closing during the past several years, requires a December 1, 2012 deadline for announcing what critics call the annual "Hit List." Byrd-Bennett said the postponement was being sought, so that the new deadline could be March 1, 2013 instead. Byrd-Bennett said she would pursue this personally. She also said there will be a Committee on School Utilization that will involve the community. She said it will be an independent body that will gather input to face financial challenges. A diverse group will meet in every community; it will meet first with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). She added that CPS has a deficit that requires a concrete plan and we don't have the luxury of delay.

Board Member Penny Pritzker said she supports this effort that includes everyone's input.

CEO Byrd-Bennett met with the committee members last Friday to set the stage; the committee will be totally independent, she said. A report will be issued after each meeting and monthly. In March, a final recommendation will be issued. CEO Byrd-Bennett said it would be a perfect analogy to say that it will be like military commission reports to Congress.

Wendy Katten of the Raise Your Hand coalition gave the Board a report demonstrating how the Board created larger class sizes than reported in official data. Substance photo by David Vance.CEO Byrd-Bennett also said the committee would be provided with information about safety, enrollment and cost, but not academic performance. She said the community's input is needed in order to make decisions.

Board member Henry Bienen said the Board needs full data, that every year there is a big melt in attendance from fall to spring.

CEO Byrd-Bennett said aggressive re-enrollment and truancy would be addressed.

Board Member Andrea Zopp asked about how the community will find out about the meetings. She was told that websites will provide this information and that the information will be provided for those without computers.

Next, the Board moved to the topic of healthy snacks and beverages, regarding items sold on school grounds in vending machines and in school stores. The Board will prepare a Healthy Celebration Reward Plan and establish non-food fund-raisers that must comply with Federal Regulations. Snacks and beverages sold at sports events or dance performances are not affected.

Board Vice-President Jesse Ruiz asked that adoption by the Local School Council be included in the proposal and that the principal and Wellness Team will take recommendations under advisement.

President David Vitale told public participants that you've now had the opportunity to access the new website for online public participation sign-up. For the December meeting, on-line public participation sign-up will take place between from Monday, December 10 at 8 a.m. to Friday, December 14 at 5 p.m. The December meeting will take place on Wednesday, December 19. Beginning in January, only on-line participation will take place, which will apparently eliminate the opportunity to sign up between the end of the day on the Friday before the meeting and the day of the meeting. Exclusive on-line sign-up also will not accommodate those without access to computers. He said that the public also could request a meeting with Board members during office hours by calling 773-553-1600.

Forty-six persons had signed up for public participation, which began with Yvette Bridgeman, a parent in the Englewood-Gresham network, who thanked the Board for its support. She said her daughter, Precious Brown, who will be nine tomorrow and is in third grade, is learning a lot from the structure provided in her Oglesby Montessori School. Ms. Bridgeman said her daughter had already dissected a frog in first grade and learned a lot from that experience. Ms. Bridgeman invited President Vitale and the Board to breakfast at the school on Wednesday, December 5, from 9:30 to 10:30.

Ameil Griffin thanked the Board that children were being prepared for the future. He read a letter from a five-year old at Oglesby Montessori School. CEO Byrd-Bennett told him, "I'll be there." President Vitale added that his daughter benefited from attending a Montessori School.

Davetta Williams, a parent of three children at a traditional school, a charter school, and a magnet school, said she would like quality schools to replace the under-utilized schools. She requested a quality school in her Auburn-Gresham neighborhood.

Calvin Bridges, of New Schools in Chicago and a minister, told everyone about a free meeting in the United Club at Soldier Field on December 8. He said new school options will be presented and that 6000 attendees are expected.

Thomas Hencinski, a teacher, said he didn't tell his wife of his retirement plans, causing trouble in his marriage. He asked that his retirement be rescinded. He wants his history position back. He taught for 38 years and said he had superior ratings 90% of the time.

He said he has had no income since August 30 because he did not apply for his pension. He said he has been blessed with excellent health and told the Board he would appreciate anything the Board could do to assist him.

Michael Brunson, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Recording Secretary was next up. President Vitale told him, "You did not register to speak." and also told him, "Your organization does not behave civilly." President Vitale then quoted newspaper accounts that said that CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey had said to the Board that we're coming after you. President Vitale added that neither Board Member Penny Pritzker nor the Hyatt Hotel received Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds. He then told Mr. Brunson that you (the CTU) marched on my home when my daughter was home alone. He told him that you shouldn't be threatening and lying. Then he said, now I'll offer you your two minutes.

In the past, neither CTU officers nor City of Chicago aldermen were required to register to speak, but were allowed to speak before other public participants who had signed up. No aldermen were present at this meeting.

Mr. Brunson told President Vitale, "I'm the peacemaker." He said he was here regarding budget approval. He said that in the past, academic achievement was the issue and that now it is under-utilization. He spoke about demographics and asked, "Where is Mr. Secar?" the head of a department who has now been moved to Business Management. He mentioned that under-utilized schools were surrounded by charters and that there is talk of building more charters.

Mr. Brunson offered four suggestions:

1) Prove charters are public schools. Post all charter school data online.

2) Enroll everyone in charter schools in the pension plan.

3) Address stability.

4) Take the luxury of delay in opening charters after closing down under-utilized schools.

He remarked, "We will not allow you to shut down our schools," and added that it was the community, not just the CTU, (that marched on President Vitale's home).

Andrew Broy of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS), said that ten of the member charter schools have union agreements. He said he was here for the state of the budget and charter renewals; charter schools are up for renewal. He said that meaningful pension reform is needed and he mentioned school quality for students.

Patricia Breckenridge welcomed CEO Byrd-Bennett. Ms. Breckenridge said she was an American Federation of Teachers (AFT) delegate and said that the AFT wants a moratorium on new charters, She also asked that charters returned to their original teacher-led purpose and that they be unionized.

Terri Fitzpatrick, Local School Council (LSC) chairperson at Tanner Elementary School, thanked the Board, but said that her big concern was the safety of the children because of shootings around the neighborhood. She mentioned that a police officer (Officer Bailey) had been gunned down four doors from the school and no grief counsellors were sent to talk to the students. She said that the school has no playground, yet the children get recess now. She said that they were told that they will receive a playground by spring of 2013. Meanwhile, parents form a human fence to protect children at recess.

Yvonne Brown, of Chicago International Charter Schools (CICS), in the Roseland community, signed up to thank the Board for the opportunity to work for CICS Prairie and serve the community.

Benjamin Franklin is working in after-school programs in Roseland that help students to strive for honor roll success. They have a drill team, a football team, and a praise dance group.

Dr. Jamie Chriqui, of the University of Chicago (UIC) Institute for Health Research and Policy, spoke in support of the Healthy Snacks and Beverages policy. She said that taking away fatty and sugary foods and beverages will eventually lead to a lower Body Mass Index (BMI). She urged the Board to adopt strong nutritional policies.

Jose Hernandez, of Parents United, supports the Healthy Snacks and Beverages policy and the limiting of sugars and sweets at schools.

Guillermo Gomez, of the Healthy Schools Campaign, also supports the new Board policy. He told the Board, "Go for the Gold!" He added that on Halloween Day at Lincoln School, students replaced unhealthy snacks with a wax museum with ancient Egypt costumes and presentations.

Darryl Bright, a parent of a child at Spencer Technology Academy, said he was a graduate of Stand for Children (SFC). He remarked that the principal believes in him and empowers the parents. He urged all parents to join SFC.

Lisa Kulisek, a mother of a pre-school student at Smyth Elementary, chairperson of the LSC, a SFC member, and a graduate of "Stand Up," was concerned because Smyth is under-utilized. She said that parents are undervalued and the whole picture needs to be seen. She said that most of the students walk to school and have a one in eleven chance of getting in a magnet school. She said "Inequities from school to school are shameful," and "Some parents can't afford bus fare even to come to a meeting like this." She added, "Don't just look at the data."

Dwayne Truss, of the Austin Community Action Council, thanked the Board for Emmet School improvements. He remarked that there is no proof that consolidation and closing will benefit communities. He said that the March 1 deadline doesn't allow enough time to hire teachers for next year. He added, look at the Austin community, ACT never closed; that charter was suspended. He also spoke of the money spent on Lathrop and Nash schools.

Alexandria Janopoulos, a member of the Mikva Challenge Education Council, spoke of policy recommendations to improve CPS. She said the final product was in the Principal Guide Book which she presented. She said that there are five essential elements of successful schools.

Clarice Mills, of the West Chatham Community which offers services to six to eighteen year-olds, told of the T.E.A.M. Inc. program which uses technology, teamwork, sportsmanship, problem solving and ability. She presented handouts and asked that this program be an after-school program or a break-session program.

Shawn Meade, a Special Education Teacher at Kelvyn Park High School, spoke of inappropriate programming of schedules, that students were improperly placed, schedules were changed several times, and that there were mis-matches between teachers/students/ and IEPS. He said it was not possible to write meaningful goals for students. He mentioned that the Special Education Department Chairperson was now teaching six classes. He added that he, Shawn Meade, was speaking for the entire department.

Sabrina Childress wanted to inform the Board that her organization is offering services to schools in partnership with a university. Topics include violence, social skills, and sex education (off site). She added that children who change their reactions improve academically. CEO Byrd-Bennett told her that the chief of staff for academics will meet with her.

Sandra Rae Stone told everyone that the Headstart program came into the schools during the Civil Rights Era and left the schools during the Reagan Era. She said that Headstart programs were brought back to health again, nurtured by Barbara Bowman, who recently retired.

Wendy Katten, of Raise Your Hand, presented a data chart and apologized for not having copies for Board members. She said that 357 schools were over class size. She added that most of our classrooms are over-crowded. She mentioned that a Class Size Hotline was being set up, but that the LSC was not involved.

This concluded public participation. Twenty-three persons spoke.

Board Member Henry Bienen responded to the question, why open charter schools when closing neighborhood schools? He replied that there was a waiting list for charter schools and that parents are voting with their feet. He said, too, that children are not adequately served by neighborhood schools. He added that the over-utilization and over-capacity that Wendy Katten mentioned has to be dealt with. He remarked that Chicago has a geographic unevenness.

Board Member Zopp then said that we heard a lot of information today, much of which was factually inaccurate. She mentioned CTU Recording Secretary Michael Brunson and said he suggested that he talks peace, when they threatened us and said the Board should not dare to close a school. She added that threats and intimidation will not work.

Board Member Andrea Zopp made a motion that the Board go into closed session. Roll was called. Present were Board members Henry Bienen, Vice-President Jesse Ruiz, Penny Pritzker, Andrea Zopp and President David Vitale.


November 18, 2012 at 7:43 PM

By: Mohammed AlBadri


It was an interesting meeting. I attended it.

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