EDITORIAL: Not all 'strikes' involving Chicago's public schools are 'illegal'... Rahm orders illegal bureaucrats' strike against the Facilities Law by former Detroit (and Cleveland) school official Barbara Byrd-Bennett and leading CPS bureaucrats
As the hearings before the City Council's committee on education made clear within an hour, the elected legislative leaders of Chicago are facing a strike by some of the highest-paid bureaucrats of the nation's third largest school district. How that strike was organized under the direction of those appointed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is something for the history books, if historians of Chicago are more curious than most reporters today (and if they seek to go beyond that silly version of reality once viewed as "the first rough draft of history").
What was clear to everyone paying attention on November 20, 2012, in the City Council chambers of Chicago, three floors below the offices of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, was that a group of hired hands, each being paid more than one hundred thousand dollars, were breaking the law and lying to the aldermen who questioned them.
Their quarter million dollar a year boss, Barbara Byrd Bennett, had defied the elected representatives of the people of Chicago, ignored their hearing, and was obviously ordering a series of lies, half truths, and evasions, in order to break the law.
The main spokesman for CPS during the hearings was the system's newly appointed (at an annual salary of $195,000 per year) "Chief Transformation Officer," Todd Babbitz. In answer to most questions from the elected officials, Babbitz said that he couldn't answer the question. None of the other CPS officials in the room was able to provide precise answers either, despite the fact that sitting in the back was the one CPS bureaucrat who for more than a decade had served as the system's head demographic person. When some aldermen were informed that James Dispensa was present in the City Council chambers, where he had from time to time testified as a CPS official in the past, he quietly slipped out of the room, leaving the questions to recently hired officials who know little or nothing about the nation's third largest schools system.
The law in question, which took two years to become law, is the facilities law (called "SB 630" at the time it was finally passed). SB 6390 clearly states that by December 1 of each year, the Chicago Public Schools must provide the people of Chicago with a list of those schools to be considered for closing, consolidation or a number of other so-called "reforms" (which to not "turnaround", which thereby became the most widely used change in February 2012).
During the first year of Rahm Emanuel's Board of Education, the expensive bureaucracy at CPS complied with the law -- although not without creating some anger among the people. The newly created office called "FACE" (Family and Community Engagement") along with others held hearings, as required by law, promulgated the rules for closings, as required by law, and published the list on time, as required by law. Several public officials attended the hearings conducted by FACE at Westinghouse and Simeon high schools, where despite the presence of some of those later exposed as "paid protesters", the opposition to the proposed actions and the CPS guidelines became generally clear. At the time, in October and November 2011, FACE was headed by a former community organizer named Jamiko Rose.
At the time the Board of Education voted to close (or reconstitute) the schools in February 2012, there was a second deadline, easily brought to the attention of the Board by its multi-million dollar Law Department, or by any of the millions of dollars in outside lawyers that the Board routinely votes to pay month after month after month. CPS would again be facing the December 1 deadline to announce the proposed closings for 2013, and it was also facing the first of two major deadlines for providing the public with a ten-year facilities plan.
But somehow, the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education, each appointed by Rahm Emanuel a few months earlier, didn't tell anyone on their staff that by January 1, 2013, CPS was supposed to have a ten-year facilities master plan to present to the people. Nor, apparently, were the highest ranking officials at CPS during the summer and autumn of 2012, preparing to meet the deadlines in the law. The strike of the bureaucracts had obviously begun, although at the time it was still below the radar of most Chicagoans.
For reasons which are still not known to history, but will be, on November 20, 2012, the overpaid and undercompetent leaders of public education in Chicago refused to follow the Facilities law. Instead, more than a dozen elected officials, some of whose constituents had been repeatedly injured and insulted by CPS facilities decisions, were treated to a new wrinkle on the old game of evading the law by CPS. This time, it was in the form of a so-called "Commission" that is supposed to do the work that has already been done by the legally established task force set up by the law. The "Commission" is chaired by the affable and oleaginous retired chairman of the city's electric company, Frank Clark, who told the aldermen, over and over and over, how important it was to respect the process and involve the public, without ever explaining how the legal process that had been in place was being subverted by the very Commission that he was heading, or why he had agreed to do that work in the first place.
History as it has already been lived is something of a guide.
For years, community leaders and a growing number of activist teachers have referred to the annual list of schools to be closed or otherwise changed radically as the "Hit List."
Protests against the Hit List grew throughout the 2000s, as former CEO Arne Duncan followed the demands of a plan called "Renaissance 2010", developed by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club and promulgated by Mayor Richard M. Daley. Duncan first closed schools at the end of his first year in power. In April 2002 he announced that Williams, Dodge and Terrell elementary schools were "failing" and had to be turned around. Duncan was hailed in the city's newspapers as a hero who was showing the courage to deal decisively with "failure," etc., etc., etc. Beginning in 2004, the annual closing of schools became part of "Renaissance 2010."
By December 2008, Duncan knew that he would be leaving Chicago to become U.S. Secretary of Education, but the annual Hit List was mandated by higher authority, the man who had appointed Duncan, Mayor Richard M. Daley. So a Hit List for 2009 was implemented by Duncan's successor, a former police officer (and protege of Mayor Daley) with no educational experience named Ron Huberman.
Protests escalated against the Hit List as Huberman began his term of office.
There were protests in December 2010 and January, February, and later in 2011 against the last Hit List considered by former CEO Ron Huberman, and in February 2011 there was no Hit List. and there was much anger, but by the Chicago Board of Education voted under its legal powers to close schools at its February meeting.