BOARDWATCH: Chicago Board of Education approves controversial budget and 'performance' policy while forcing the public out of the meeting

The FY14 (Fiscal Year 14) Budget Proposal and the SY14-15 (School Year 2014-2015) "School Quality Rating Policy" were the the two main items on the agenda at the Chicago Board of Education (BOE) monthly meeting at 125 S. Clark Street on Wednesday, August 28, 2013. The budget was supposed to have been passed in June, but again the Board had delayed. At the July meeting, "Chief Administrative Officer" Tim Cawley had reported on the proposed budget and told the Board that next year the Budget would be prepared and ready to go in June, instead of delayed.

Under the watchful eyes of Todd Babbitz, Phillip Hampton, and Ginger Ostro, Chicago Public Schools "Chief Administrative Officer" Tim Cawley presented his Power Point version of the FY 2014 CPS budget at the August 28, 2013 Board of Education meeting. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The meeting began at 10:40 a.m. while parents, children, and teachers protested, over-flowing the sidewalks in front of the building. Public participation did not begin until 12:48 p.m., after the above items were covered in Power Point presentations and other policy changes proposed for the agenda were also discussed at length.

When roll call was taken, all board members were present for the first time in some time: Dr. Henry Bienen, Dr. Mahalia Hines, Vice-President Jesse Ruiz, Deborah Quazzo, Andrea Zopp, Dr. Carlos Azcoitia, and Board President David Vitale.

The meeting began once again by postponing public participation.

First: Thanks were given to all the city's "sister agencies", the management team, the principals, and all who helped Monday with the first-day school opening that followed the massive closing of schools last June and the movement of 12,500 students.

Jose Lopez of Humboldt Park (CAC) Community Action Council, accompanied by State Representative Cynthia Soto, and Principal Marcy Sorenson, spoke at some length about the community, its "three pillars," its partnership with New Life Covenant Church, and CEO (Chief Executive Officer) Barbara Byrd-Bennett's five-year plan.

Then CEO Byrd-Bennett spoke about the opening of the school year. She mentioned that this year all schools are beginning on the same date, instead of following two different schedules as occurred last year and had for several years during the later years when Mayor Richard M. Daley had appointed the school board and the CEO.

"Chief Talent Officer" Alicia Winckler (above, with beads) reported to the Board of Education's August 28, 2013 meeting that most teachers from the closed schools were working at the receiving ("welcoming") schools. Although the "Chief Financial Officer" Peter Rodgers (above right) was present at the meeting, the presentation on the budget was left to the "Chief Administrative Officer" Tim Cawley (above left). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Before the formal presentations began, "Chief Talent Officer" Alicia Winkler announced that many, but not all teachers, from closed schools went to welcoming schools, leaving a small number of teachers who haven't secured positions.

After this, Tim Cawley, Chief Administrative Officer, gave a Power Point presentation on the FY2014 Budget Proposal. He began by mentioning the "billion dollar deficit" that CPS official had claimed the Board faced for the previous eight months, blaming it all on Springfield and the teacher pension obligations.

Cawley said that the reserves used last year and this year will run out after this year and thus, there will be no "general unrestricted reserves" after this year. He then spoke of the "Nutrition Budget Overview," claiming fewer nutrition workers had signed up for the early retirement buy-out plan, leading to more nutrition workers in the budget than previously reported.

He also mentioned that changes that will take place to the English Language Learners Funding and the effect of that upon the budget. In the end, despite "the burden of the pension cliff" which he said "lies in the hands of Springfield, he proposed "approval of the budget, as revised."

Adding to Tim Cawley's remarks was Ginger Ostrow, Budget Director, who spoke of the need to budget for furniture, computers, etc for new schools, including charter schools.

Comments made by Board members covered how many fewer employees there were in the last five and a half years, charters versus traditional school expenses, and student-based funding — which they said is the same for charter schools and traditional schools. Tim Cawley then repeated that "the money follows the students."

Other budget comments included the information that the school engineer used to be part of the school budget but was now in the central budget, so it looks like an increase in the central budget when it's not. Cawley has been reporting that since 2011, when Rahm Emanuel appointed this Board and his first CEO (Jean-Claude Brizard) "central" expenses have been reduced by $700 million. Every time he repeats this statement, nobody on the Board asks any critical questions.

President David Vitale stressed that there is a better way of informing the public in the future.

It was also mentioned that charter high schools lost students, so therefore, they have fewer funds.

In addition, it was decided that the 10th day cut-off will now replace the former 20th day cut-off, when the decision is made as to how many positions there will be in each building, based on enrollment. Because the budget is now student-based, if there are three more students, money for three more students will be there. If there are three fewer students, three fewer students will be funded. Once again, the remark was made that the "money follows the student." Under the new 10th day cut-off, the principal will decide who goes.

Tim Cawley mentioned that TIF funds had been used for Jones High School, a brand-new Back of the Yards school, run-down high schools, magnets that were expanded to high schools, and some charters adding grades. Furniture is being recycled. Charters are being asked to go into "areas where we need capacity," [where there are over-crowded schools] and must bring their own facilities.

Mention was made in regard to diverse learners that they are part of the general education budget.

Although he was only brought to Chicago by a Board of Education appointment in December 2012, by August 2013 "Chief Accountability Officer" John Barker (above during the August 28 Board meeting) was tasked with delivering the Power Point presentation to the Board on the latest "Performance" policy. Barker and "Chief Executive Officer" Barbara Byrd Bennett assured the Board that this "performance" policy would finally get the performance matrices right. Prior to being appointed to his current $175,000-per-year Chicago position, Barker worked in Memphis, where he was part of the leadership that was responsible for the scandal-ridden Tennessee "value added" matrices of "performance." Substance photograph by George N. Schmidt.Next, John Barker, whose title is "Chief Accountability Officer," gave a Power Point presentation on SY14-15 School Quality Rating Policy. He said that the Illinois State Achievement Test (ISAT) (grade 3-8) will be phased out, "with no ISAT at all for the 2014-2015 school year." During SY14, the ISAT will not be like previous years and will be aligned to the Common Core Standards.

Planned changes include: instead of three levels of school performance, there will be a five-tier rating of schools, the Northwest Evaluation Association Measures of Progress (NWEA MAP) will replace the ISAT for elementary students, national standards will replace CPS historical benchmarks, and there will be a test target participation rate of 95%, not just the best students. Finally, provisional support status (for remediation schools) versus intensive support status (for probationary schools) was explained.

Comments were made by Board members that the plan needs to be parent-friendly, the five essentials survey needs to be made clear, the plan seems punitive in regard to probationary schools, and the label "optional" school instead of "alternative" school appears preferable because "alternative" has become corrupted.

Dr. Barker then mentioned that Principal Perez who received a principal bonus for her performance shared it with the school.

Alicia Winkler, Chief Talent Officer, then spoke of changes in the performance evaluation process that are planned in regard to principals and assistant principals and Chief Counsel James Bebley gave an overview of Board policy changes.

President Vitale asked for recommendations for a junior or senior high school student who could be the honorary student board member at future board meetings. Applications can be made to the high school or online.

Audience members were reminded of the chance to meet with board members during office hours by calling 773-553-1600.

At 12:49 p.m., public participation finally began with Lawrence Msall, President of the Civic Federation allowed to speak first, even though he was signed up to speak later in the list and dozens of people had been waiting longer than Msall, who arrived around 11:00, according to one Substance reporter.

Msall said that he cannot support this years budget and that it is "unsustainable." He remarked that using the reserves allowed the deficit to be closed and that in the future, we cannot rely on future early payments (from the state). He added that the lack of action on pension reform was critical to the district and we cannot afford this. He said that the Civic Federation supports a property tax to the maximum allowable amount under the law.

President Vitale responded that we need to go to Springfield.

The meeting then finally got to those who had been waiting to speak.

Andrew Broy, of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS), spoke next. He mentioned that this was the fiftieth anniversary of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Dream" speech. He remarked that this year, children are in school before Labor Day. He added that there would be $1000 more per pupil if the pension increase had been used and all schools will suffer unless we work together to solve this problem. He announced that Chicago Talent High School had to close because of the lack of funds.

Jesse Sharkey, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Vice-President, said he wrote his notes on the back of the CTU budget, but your budget (CPS) is written on the back of a promissory note [that cannot be cashed]. He mentioned the cuts to schools and the class sizes that are over contract. He said that a fair share in taxes must be paid and that the flat income tax rate must be changed with the wealthiest paying their fair share. He also added that the average CPS pensioner receives a pension of $41 thousand and no social security.

Jazmine Marchan, of Ames Middle School, said a military school wants to take over and she asked them to leave Ames alone. She said that if Ames turns into a military school, there will be fights with Northwest, Hanson Park is 16 blocks away and there are four gangs, and that school buses would be needed in order to get to Pulaski, She pleaded, "Don't turn Ames into a military school."

Ana Razo, of Ames Middle School, said that Alderman Roberto Maldonado wants to turn Ames into a military academy. She said that she went to Ames and was accepted at Lane Tech. She stated that elementary school is the basis of what one learns. She asked the Board to leave the school as it is. She said that she wants to discuss with CEO Byrd-Bennett why a military school is not wanted at Ames. She then quoted Plato on education, "The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future life."

Deborah Koller, who was born in Rogers Park, asked why am I here (in the city)? She said that she was the youngest of five when her mother decided to go to the suburbs. She said that a hassle-free education is deserved by the parents. She said that the shortfalls in the city budget are being put on the parents. She wanted to know, why should families like mine continue in the city?

Bonita Robinson, a reading specialist, supports today's boycott. She said that there has been no real progress in reading in 20 years. She added that more charters are being opened and the racist closings of schools will be tied to your name. She spoke of a plantation-like management of our school system and the new Jim Crow. She said that before reform, I could teach, but now CPS is giving less and calling it more. She quoted John Lewis, former civil rights leader from Georgia, that this is the most racially divisive time since slavery.

Wendy Katten, of Raise Your Hand, said that charter school spending had increased while spending on traditional schools [had been cut]. She wants the Board to stand up for a graduated income tax. She added that this is a terrible budget, you could have reformed the TIF surplus, and I know you will approve this budget today because it's your job to do what the mayor wants you to do.

Irene Vitullo, of the Friends of Whittier, spoke of the millions in renovations poured into the school. She said these were not luxury renovations. She mentioned that "LaCasita." nickname for the Whittier field house, had been occupied for 42 days and nights. She concluded by saying that 160 schools do not have libraries, mostly in poorer neighborhoods.

Maria Kirkmanbey, of the Chicago Math and Science Academy, who has a child, Alexis, in the Chicago Math and Science Academy in Rogers Park, quoted "money follows students," and said, with a better budget, can you imagine..."

Jesus Campuzano, of S.T.O.P., thanked the Board for closing schools, for more gentrification in the neighborhoods, for cutting teachers, and added, we will make sure the mayor is not elected in the next term.

Mary Hughes, of Cassell, said it was a fine arts magnet school that was over-crowded, whose budget was cut, was understaffed, had Special Ed cuts, whose library was possibly eliminated, which lost a drama position, and is a Level 1 school now with 30% low income and greater Special Ed enrollment.

Charlene Campbell, of POWER-PAC, a parent of an eighth grader at Reavis, wants student discipline data made public. She spoke of students who are getting suspended, expelled, and arrested. She asked, "Are the schools creating supportive environments or pushing out problem students?"

Marlene Kaba, of Project NIA, came to discuss the Chicago Student Safety Act modeled after New York. She said we will work with the police department - we have no luck with CPS. We have worked with Jadine Chou and we want a resolution that two times a year data will be released to the public.

Rodney Estvan, of Access Living of Chicago, spoke about the FY14 budget. He spoke of a 33-page report on the budget and issues with the rating system. He said a student-based budget will not provide more funds for special ed students. He mentioned the 25% increase in charter schools, the pension funds, and social security. He added that there was no increase for special ed students. He remarked that CPS could not afford the Gates contract. He also said that the pension solution will not solve your fiscal problems. He explained that property taxes in Chicago are way too low compared to the suburbs, mentioning that Evanston has a high property tax rate.

Adenia Linker, of Lane Tech High School, played an audio recording quoting CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. She said that the full day is not rigorous - it's ridiculous. She said that a Pandora's box had been opened and that the editing of videos of BOE meetings will not silence us.

Okema Lewis, a Title I provider, spoke of the 50th anniversary of the "Dream" speech [by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.]. She spoke of Title I money that has been moved into miscellaneous accounts, of computers planned for Simeon so that parents can write resumes, that will not be ordered. She asked the Board to consider what will happen when schools don't get to spend funds.

Reba Brown, of Bogan High School, was concerned about the arrest of high school students and how it affects Title I students. She spoke of a son who was in honors last year and she wants a meeting with the Board.

Abbie Illenberger, of Grassroots Collaborative, told the Board that today you will approve a budget and that Monday schools started. She told them that you say you have no choice because you have no money. She asked the Board to renegotiate toxic swap rate deals, declare a TIF surplus, request a fair state tax system, and stand up to the mayor and the banks for our city's children.

Dennis O'Neill, of Connecting4Communities, said that the property tax was the biggest item in the budget. He asked for a meeting that was supposed to have taken place in July. He asked that this meeting be scheduled as soon as possible.

Yulanda Thomas, of Chicago International Charter Schools (CICS), who has two children who are charter school students, one in Urban Prep who is doing great, said we are our children's role models.

Norine Gutekanst, of the CTU and a former Whittier teacher, mentioned that in April, the principal was removed. She spoke of the fact that "LaCasita" (the field house at Whittier), which had been used as a library and a community center, had been demolished in 15 hours. She told the Board that a 2010 asbestos report said that asbestos had been found there. She added that at Whittier, there was no air-conditioning, music, library, and there was a loss of special ed teachers. She asked the Board, "What is your commitment to our children?"

Jackson Potter, of the CTU, quoted Rodney Estvan who had spoken earlier at this meeting regarding special ed funds. He said that there are moneys for alternate schools, military schools and S.T.E.M. schools. He added that this is not the time for charter expansion. It would be forcing the hand of parents to choose charter schools. He spoke of ads for charter schools and nepotism in the contracting process. He asked the board to reconsider the time-line and process and allow other options.

Janene Logan has two sons at Perspectives School of Technology and she feels that kids have been kept safe there.

Nellie Cotton, of Fleming, said that we have seen a civics lesson here today, that there were all kinds of spending on new initiatives while there were also cuts. She asked that there be no school closings for five years and that the Board stop punishing our children. In regard to pension reform, she said that the teachers had paid their part.

Liz Brown, a taxpayer, said she didn't expect the Board to hear what the community had to say. The Board has opened 15 new charters this month and more charters have been requested. She mentioned a Tribune survey one or two years ago that showed that most people do not support charter schools. She asked President David Vitale, "Let's talk about how this affects students." She added, the more we test students, the less educated they become.

Nicholas Mann, of Whittier Elementary, mentioned how "LaCasita" was demolished under the cover of darkness and they were told it didn't contain asbestos. He said that because of LaCasita, we already had a library, that books had been donated for use in LaCasita at no cost to the Board, and yet you tore it down, a cowardly action. He added that CEO Byrd-Bennett said that a court and soccer field were planned.

Caroline Bilicki, of Disney II, mentioned Ted Kimbrough (former Chicago Superintendent of Schools), who in 1992, said that staff teachers are most important and she stated that this is still true today. She urged the Board to reconsider admission policies for magnets. She remarked that she knew it was not the Board's policy to respond to public participants, but she asked that teachers at a school be given preference for their children to attend that school in order to keep families together. She added that this would be a pioneer program by Chicago.

Board Member Andrea Zopp asked for clarification.

Frances Newman, of Chicago Alliance of Urban School Educators (C.A.U.S.E.), said she was appalled at our children being used as pawns last month, my last time here. She mentioned that the closings affect African-American children and teachers. She urged parents to be responsible.

Public participation concluded at approximately 2:00 p.m.

President Vitale invited comments from the Board and then the Board went into closed session.


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