Pickets and press conference on eve of December Board meeting... Protests continue to escalate as Chicago Board of Education readies to approve new charter schools while threatening closing of up to 100 real public schools
Ptotests against the Chicago Board of Education continued to grow on December 18, 2012, as more than 80 people gathered in the cold outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters at 125 S. Clark St. in Chicago on the eve of a Board of Education meeting that is scheduled to approve eight new charters schools while CPS is moving to close more than 100 real public schools because of what it calls "underutilization." Chanting "Whose Schools? Our Schools!" and "We want teachers, we want books, we want the money that Rahm took!", the spirited picket line marched in front of the headquarters of the nation's third largest schools system under the watchful eye of more than two dozen Chicago police officers.
Following the picket line, the group held a press conference where representatives of teachers, parents and students criticized the policies of the current seven-member Chicago Board of Education, all of whose members are currently appointed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
They then marched to the headquarters of one of the corporations owned by Chicago billionaire Bruce Rauner, who has been a major leader in the push towards massive privatization of the public schools and union busting. After a brief rally in the lobby of the building at 208 N. LaSalle St., the group dispersed for the night, promising to renew the campaign against the "fat cats" who are trying to privatize public schools and bust unions on December 19, when the school board meets.
The groups sponsoring the rally, press conference, march, and confrontation included the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM), Action Now, and the Chicago Teachers Union.
The latest protests capped six days during which more than 1,000 people have spoken out or protested plans announced by city and school officials to close more than 100 of the city's real public schools. On Friday, December 14, a massive turnout at Horner Park for hearings by the "Commission" on school utilization saw more than 500 people waiting to speak in a space with seats for only 200, and CPS closing the testimony while half the registered speakers were refused the right to speak. The following day, more than 200 people showed up at a West Side church to speak out against the Board's school closing plans, and on Monday, December 17, more than 300 turned out at the church of long-time Chicago mayoral supporter Leon Finney to protest the planned closings.
Targeting Rauner and the group of Chicago billionaires and multi-millionaires who have been pushing the privatization agenda for years, the group has also utilized the recent CTU research publication "Black and White" and the satiric video on "Fat Cats" released earlier by the union.
Additional protests are expected at the Board of Education's December 19 meeting, which is scheduled to begin at 10:30 in the morning. Hundreds of people are planning to protest despite convoluted efforts by the Board of Education to close out the majority of the members of the public who are demanding a voice in school decisions. For 18 years, the Chicago Board of Education and the schools system's top officer (called since 1995 the "Chief Executive Officer" rather than schools superintendent) have been appointed by Chicago's mayor. From 1995 to 2011 that mayor was Richard M. Daley. Since May 2011, former White House Chief of Staff and Wall Street millionaire Rahm Emanuel has been the city's mayor.
One of the issues currently inflaming opposition to the policies of Mayor Rahm Emanuel is the announced plan by Emanuel appointed Barbara Byrd Bennett, whose title is "Chief Executive Officer" of CPS, to close more than 100 real public schools which she has told the media are "underutilized." Independent studies by researchers for the Chicago Teachers Union and by the parent group "Raise Your Hand" have both challenged the mendacity of the city's claims. A study by Raise Your Hand showed that CPS officials deliberately used a formula which exaggerates the number of so-called "underutilized" schools and understates the number of schools which are "overcrowded." During the past year, CPS officials have claimed that the school system has as many as what it calls "200,000 underutilized seats" without ever citing how those numbers were arrived at.
One of the droll sideshows at the December 18 event was the presence of a right-wing blogger who has taken to challenging real journalists who cover Chicago Teachers Union and other protests against Rahm Emanuel's policies. Although Emanuel has stopped trying to deploy "Rent A Protesters" on his behalf (as he did during the 2011 - 2012 battles over the Longer School Day), Emanuel still uses conservative preachers and churches which receive large subsidies through programs dependent on the mayor's good will.