BOARDWATCH: February 26, 2014 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education continues Vitale's policy of suppressing democratic speech against CPS policies with escalating viciousness...

At the regular monthly meeting of the Chicago Board of Education at 125 S. Clark Street on February 26, 2014, more parents of children at traditional neighborhood schools finally got a chance to speak during public participation. Charter school supporters often dominate the public participation portion of the meetings, but it was not true in February 2014. An equal number had to go home early because public participation, which supposedly begins at 10:30 in the morning, did not actually start until well into the afternoon because the Board members and administrators loaded the beginning of the meeting with Power Point presentations and rehearsed questions and answers.

Flanked by Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and CTU Quest Center Coordinator Lynn Cherkasky Davis, one of the new National Board Certified Teachers spoke to the Board. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The roll call indicated that Board members Andrea Zopp and Mahalia Hines were absent, so the Board barely had a quorum. Present were Henry Bienen, Board Vice-President Jesse Ruiz, Board President David Vitale, Deborah Quazzo, and Carlos Ascoitzia. Also present, as announced by the secretary, were James Bebley, Chief Counsel, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Honorary Student Ashley Gordan and the latest "Shadow Student of the Month", who has only been in Chicago for a year.

What the Board calls the "honoring excellence" portion of the meeting recognized the 107 newly-minted National Board Certified Teachers (NBCT). They had been also honored at a ceremony on Friday, February 21. Lynn Cherkasky-Davis, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Quest Center Coordinator, and CTU president Karen Lewis, who is a National Board Certified Teacher, were present, surrounded by a large number of the new NBCT teachers. After joking that she didn't want these remarks to take away from her later "two minutes," Karen Lewis told the audience and the Board that 98% of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teachers who begin NBCT complete the course successfully. In the rest of the nation, she said, 47% who begin complete the program. Three teachers who had just become NBCTs also spoke to the Board.

"Honoring Excellence" didn't end with the teachers, however.

Next came the preachers (although by then people who were signed up to speak had begun asking why the two groups both had to be "honored" in February 2014, since only the NBCT teachers were current events). No matter: The preachers were next honored, and a large group of them came to the front of the meeting.

Two pastors, Pastor Santiago and another preacher, spoke. They said they spoke on behalf of faith-based community groups and talked about the work they said they were doing in cooperation with CPS. They spoke of distributing warm winter coats to students who had great need of them in this brutal winter and how their "Safe Haven" and "Safe Passage" programs had made kids safer, without mentioning that massive protests against the school closings that had taken place in their own communities and usually involved members of their own churches. They claimed that none of the children in Safe Haven and Safe Passage programs have been victims or perpetrators of violence since the programs have been initiated.

Then came the Power Points.

Chicago Public Schools Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley, above, during the February 26, 2014 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Following the National Board Certified teachers and the locally active preachers, CPS Chief Executive Officer Byrd-Bennett talked about the problems she said CPS was facing. Ignoring the revelations of her own financial report (the CAFR, which was finally presented to the Board at that meeting, two months late), she said the financial crisis facing the city's public schools was caused by teacher and other worker pensions. She claimed that the "urgent financial crisis" brought about the pension contribution that must be made by CPS this year. She said that CPS is the only system in the state that must contribute out of its operating budget and that pension contributions will continue to increase. She told the Board that her administration was asking for the same Illinois "pension reform package" as the one that was recently passed by the Illinois legislators for the Teachers Retirement System (TRS), for suburban and downstate teachers and university employees, be applied to CPS. She said that CPS will meet with representatives of CTU next month to develop a solution to this crisis (later, Karen Lewis would remind the Board and the public that CPS officials had been dodging meetings on this issue for the past several months).

Then, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Tim Cawley presented a plan for what he claimed would result in "a more efficient and cost-effective approach to facilities management." Cawley claimed that the plan would result in $40 million in savings and also claimed that the work of his office has already resulted in "$50 million saved" since 2012 in facilities and operations costs. Then came Cawley's privatization pitch.

Cawley said that under a Board Report to be voted on at the meeting, CPS will "partner" with Aramark and SodexoMAGIC to provide cleaner schools with less strain on principals. Without mentioning the fact (later noted by the President of the Operating Engineers Union) that for a century principals were not "burdened" by the need to supervise the custodial workers, Cawley claimed that the best way to do all those things was to further privatize the custodial work. He said there would be a reduction in building engineers, custodians, and "unnecessary overtime" thanks to the reform being outlined in his Power Point -- plus better purchasing of supplies, and more work would be performed internally.

The Power Point presented by "Chief Administrative Officer" Tim Cawley actually claimed that by replacing mops and buckets with expensive psedo-"Zamboni" machines and various cleaning products with a corporate package would result in "cleaner" Chicago schools. Cawley's claims also created a new series of "matrices" for management that claims that cleaning of public buildings can be arrayed in a kind of Race To The Top from "Level 1" (THE BEST, hospital cleanliness) to "Level 5" (dirty, etc.). The Board members didn't challenge Cawley's fanciful presentations or the factual claims Cawley made, probably because the whole thing was designed as part of the Board's union busting thrust to privatization and all of the Board members have read and believed their "Atlas Shrugged" version of reality. Cawley talked as if mops, buckets and brooms were as old for cleaning as smoke signals are for communicatioins and praised some "new technology" he claimed the privatization plan would introduce. He added that "old technology" -- such as mops and brooms, -- did not get the schools as clean as they could be, but that this plan would do just that. He said under current reality, CPS had too many suppliers, and principals time-managing areas had resulted in many schools still not being clean. The Board members didn't ask him for any comparisons or how the cost of what he called the "Zambonies" to be used to provide super clean schools would be paid as they replaced mops and brooms.

Talking as if the programs was already a done deal, Cawley said that Aramark would assume all custodial management, invest in new equipment, and train, schedule, and supervise the work of 1800 custodians. SodexoMAGIC would use energy efficiency improvements, such as what he called a "Zamboni" machine that would deeply and efficiently clean hallways to bring schools to what corporate jargon has declared to be "Level 2 cleanliness". Explaining the terminology that was just introduced, Cawley told the Board that "hospitals meet the standard of Level 1 cleanliness." He said that presently some schools are "Level 3" or "Level 4" in cleanliness and some are even "Level 5" in cleanliness, without naming any or explaining why that might have happened.

Cawley then listed the other school systems and businesses that employ SodexoMAGIC. He concluded that principals don't want to schedule custodians or use academic funds for cleaning. He added that 825 custodians are now assigned to schools during the day to assist with cleaning of lunchrooms or emergency cleaning when children become sick. He said that the real (privatized) cleaning will be done by the firms at night and that there would still be Board engineers who would be assigned according to needs of the building.

Aarti Dhupelia presenting the Power Point on Suspensions and Expulsions. Like many recent executive six-figure hires at CPS, Dhupelia's qualification for the job in public education management is that she has an MBA from an expensive university (in this case, from the University of Chicago) and has mastered the art of the Power Point and talking about the "bottom line". Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Cawley made a big deal about the fact that engineers had previously been assigned on the basis of the square footage of a facility, as if that were somehow not a valid criterion for figuring out how much support was needed to keep a building clean and well maintained. He said that in the future, under his new privatization program, there would be some new criterion, based on what he called "need" -- not square footage as was done in the past. He also said that principals would still be in charge and have a telephone number at one of the privatized outfits to call to report problems. Cawley did not mention that CPS had previously privatized custodial work, during the early years when Paul Vallas was CEO (late 1990s), and that the corruption in the programs and cronyism had led to problems in the schools and privatization's near collapse.

After Cawley finished, the Power Points continued, even as parents who had signed up to speak in the morning had to leave because it was already afternoon.

Next the "Chief Officer of Academic Enhancement", Aarti Dhupelia. She presented a Power Point presentation on CPS "Suspension and Expulsions Reduction Plan and Data Highlights."

Duphelia said that the CPS Student Code of Conduct had been revised in 2012, and since then a "positive impact" is evident. She talked about what she said are the six key components of the CPS "Suspension and Expulsion Reduction Plan" announced in February 2014. She said that there would be a joint commitment to tackle overuse of suspensions and expulsions -- and open up charter schools to alternative placement.

The reason for that was the data had made clear the charter schools were kicking out a huge number of children when compared with the city's real public schools. Dephelia's presentation showed that the number of students expelled from district-managed schools was 52 out of a 353,261 enrollment in School Year 12-13. During the same year, the number of students expelled from charter schools was 151 out of a 50,200 enrollment in School Year 12-13. The rate of expulsion was enormously lopsided, with the charters obviously dumping kids, just as critics have charged for several years.

Board member Deborah Quazzo (above above) tried to get Aarti Dhupelia to exonerate the charter schools, even after the data the CPS loves showed that charter schools suspend and expel their students at an enormously greater rate than the city's real public schools. Dhupelia would not deviate from the data sown in her Power Point. The scandal of Chicago charter schools' suspensions, expulsions, and push outs has begun to become national news despite the CPS attempts at massive news management. Quazzo, a long time privatization champion and corporate executive, is the most recent appointee to the Board by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. In the foreground above is Board General Counsel James Bebley. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Board members asked questions about how many expulsion referrals took place in charter schools and said that charter schools do not have to follow the same suspension process as traditional neighborhood schools. They also noted that "legally" CPS cannot require participation of charter schools in this reduction plan, and that CPS should be looking around the country at codes of conduct that we hope charter schools will adopt. The newest Board member, corporate executive Deborah Quazzo, asked a number of leading questions trying to cover up for the scandal that the report showed from Chicago's ever-expanding charter schools.

As the time for public participation continued to be pushed back, the Power Points continued.

The next staff member to make a presentation was Jack Elsey, a Michigan person brought into Chicago by Barbara Byrd Bennett. Elsey's unique title is "Chief Officer of Innovation and Incubation." Elsey's topic was charter schools' renewals and reviews.

Like the other CPS executives who presented lengthy Power Points at the February 26, 2014 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, Jack Elsey (above) has never taught or served as a local school leader in any Chicago public school. Elsey was hired by Chicago on the recommendation of the new "Chief Executive Officer," Barbara Byrd Bennett, in December 2012 at an annual salary of $165,000 per year. Elsey's job title, "Chief Officer for Innovation and Incubation," was also a creation of the new administration of Byrd-Bennett, who had worked with Elsey in Michigan. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Elsey told the Board that all charter school operators must complete a renewal process at the end of their contracts. He said five charter schools and three contract schools had been recommended for renewal, some with conditions, at this Board meeting. Again, there was a great deal of discussion with Elsey following his Power Point.

Barbara Byrd Bennett then made an announcement that nominations for the candidates for Local School Council elections had been extended to March 14 at 3 p.m.

After this, Byrd-Bennett said, "This concludes my report" at 12:12 p.m.

The Board's Secretary, Estela Beltran, spoke next. She said that everyone was reminded of office hours that are available with Board members by calling 773-533-1600. All were also told that the date of the next Board meeting would be March 26 with sign-up to speak beginning at 8 a.m. on March 17.

Public participation began with CTU President Karen Lewis. Lewis said there was so much to talk about, the pension theft which would affect her husband and mother, student council and LSC voices, schools on probation, parents who were not fooled by the lack of authority, the enrollment decline, and lots of things that students cannot do, such as wear baseball caps or head scarves.

She said that these restrictions affect our Muslim brothers and sisters. She spoke of an atmosphere that was punitive and rigid. She mentioned charter schools that were counseling out students, a practice that looks like suspensions and expulsion, and teachers who were not trained in the restorative justice process. She said the focus on punitive measures was still too strong and we need to focus on academic and social needs of students.

Cook County Board Commissioner Reyes was also scheduled to speak before the public began, but the late timing of the other stuff had forced him to leave.

Finally, the "public"began public participation. It was nearly 12:30, so many who had written their remarks to begin "Good Morning" either read them as is or corrected them.

Amy Smolensky, a parent of two sons at Burley School, spoke of the encouraging environment that had been created by teachers at Burley, and was being destroyed by CPS policies. She said the drop in funding had changed things. There was no Art, no Music, no Reading specialist, and Physical Education (P.E.) was also affected. She said this amounted to "a CPS bloodbath." She remarked that a bake sale should not be for classroom positions and added, "It's time for CPS to do its part."

Next came the challenge to Tim Cawley's Power Point on behalf of more privatization and union busting. Speaking of the ARAMARK contract, Bill Iacullo, the President of the Operating Engineers Union Local 143 said that engineers had managed the system for 110 years and asked, "Why not give it back to them?"

Bill Iacullo the President of Local 143 of the International Union of Operating Engineers told the Board that engineers could do a much better job of managing the custodial workers than was being presented through the fantasies in Tim Cawleys Power Point. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Iacullo told the Board that in regard to day-to-day operations, he said engineers still feel that taking care of the schools is their responsibility and they have done the job despite the coldest Chicago winter in 25 years.

Noting that the flimsy comparison studies presented by Cawley in is Power Point were not convincing, Iacullo asked why a comparison was not made of Chicago to larger school systems, such as New York and Los Angeles.

Instead, the Cawley Power Point showed a smaller system (Detroit, which went to ARAMARK when Barbara Byrd Bennett was running things there) and Houston, which has long been cited by Rahm Emanuel as better than Chicago. (The last time Houston was a part of the dialogue on Chicago was when Rahm Emanuel was claiming the Houston had the "Longer School Day" Chicago needed -- until the CTU showed that Houston's "outcomes" were lower than Chicago's, and Houston's charter schools were a scandal).

The Board members ignored Iacullo's questions. Later they approved the newest privatization plan.

Public participation continued with more parents who had been able to stay taking the podium.

Beatriz Martinez, a parent of two children at Namaste Charter School, said both her children were "above level" and she was glad she had a choice for her daughters. She also said that Namaste has had great success and asked for the renewal of its contract. Allison Slade, founding principal of Namaste, claimed the school had "outperformed" neighborhood schools. Slade told the Board her concerns about the renewal process which, she said, required the school to negotiate a contract renewal "in a week's time." Board member Carlos Ascoitia mentioned that she was his former student.

Mary Gruber, who has two sons at Ray Elementary School, said that Ray was a terrific place with a strong community and diversity. She told the audience and the Board that Ray was "in transition" this year because of "Student Based Budgeting" and the Board's school closings. The closing is Canter Middle School, which is being closed over two-year phase so that its remaining students can graduate (Canter is the 50th school closed, but only 49 were technically closed in June 2013).Clendenning told the Board that Ray, which had been K - 6, had a seventh grade added last year and that next year, eighth grade will be added because of the Canter closing. She added that there was no "money cushion" at Ray -- and that aides have been lost and programs have been cut.

Joy Clendenning, a CPS parent of three at Kenwood High School, said that Latin was now taught at Kenwood and that the students won a fifth place trophy at the state competition. She asked for an increase in funding because of the cuts in counseling, trade-offs, and the expense of P.E.

Allison Jack, of the International Network of Charter Schools (INCS), asked the board to vote to renew charter school contracts. She said the process was difficult this year and said there was a need for clear requirements. She said she worked in the Chicago Public Schools ten years ago.

Jennifer Gierat, a parent of three CPS students at Byrne School, spoke of budget cuts, lost staff, Arts but no Music, and a principal who was forced to make a "Sophie's Choice" about curriculum. She also mentioned the consideration of online P.E. and Art.

Karen Convery, of Audubon School, said there was a lack of funds, leading to cuts in Art, Music, and Support Services. She spoke of privately raised funds for Art and Music and parents being asked to raise $100 thousand for P.E. and Arts.

Eleanor Griffith, also of Audubon, spoke against the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) test and other standardized testing, such as the Illinois State Achievement Test (ISAT). a Constitution Test, and an Algebra test. She also mentioned awards ceremonies, students who ask other students what their scores are, and the fact that the NWEA test determines the classes you take if you get into a selective enrollment high school. She remarked that the NWEA test is changing the school to a stressful place. She added that one standardized test a year is enough.

Nathan Kaplan, of Mitchell School, said the school has 361 students and is above average. However, he said, per-pupil funding has led to a 23% cut and cuts in staff and programs. He asked for an increase in per-pupil funding for all students and said that a progressive tax code was very important.

Frank Paolucci, a parent LSC member at Canty School, read a letter from the then future mayor Rahm Emanuel, dated October 15, some years back during Arne Duncan's term. He said that the school had 828 students today and needs more space. He asked, "Is this the year that Canty gets an addition?"

Brenda Delgado, of Salazar School, said that the classroom should be the last place to be cut. She spoke of the $178 million increase in Central Office this school year. She said that going back to the 2010 level of funding would allow for the needs of the schools. She added that Salazar has nine NBCT teachers, 26-32 students in classes, and that they raised funds, yet they received less than Peyton received.

Joshua Freedland, a parent of a first and fourth-grader at Jamieson, said that the facilities were inadequate, the classrooms were overcrowded and that there were over 35 students in fourth grade. He said the teachers were outstanding, but the facility was unsafe and there was a need for an increase in per-pupil funding.

Victoria Bryant, parent of a third-grader at Burr Elementary, said there had been cuts in Art and Japanese instruction. She said schools need to be fully-funded and that the last place to cut was in the classroom.

Wendy Katten, of Raise Your Hand, presented a two-page list of solutions to the Board, asking for administrative cuts. She mentioned going to Springfield to advocate for a graduated income tax. She also provided survey results from parents and quoted statistics from the survey of parents. She added that some parents plan to leave Chicago schools and that pension reform will not work for this mess.

Angela Johnson-Williams, Principal of the Providence Englewood Charter School, said the school has 424 students and that the enrollment has grown. She said there would be a focus on a Special Education Program and that a Summer Program will be expanded.

Gina Abbatemarco, who is on the Blaine School LSC and has a second and seventh-grader at Blaine, said that last year we took a hit and we're still reeling from the many question asked about the cuts. She mentioned fund-raising and student fees. She said that when she asked for more money for the school, she was told pension reform was the answer. She also asked about Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds going to high schools, not elementary schools.

Della Bonilla, Vice-President of the Ames School LCC, accompanied by a group of more than ten, said that they were here to save Ames. She asked for an advisory referendum on the March 18 primary ballot for precincts surrounding Ames to protest conversion to a military school.

Alondra Moreno, a seventh-grader at Ames, asked the Board to please listen to the community. She said she had been shuffled from Falconer to Ames and would be shuffed again if Ames became a military academy. She said that military students were walking in the school already. She asked the Board, "When will you stand up to dirty politics?"

Zulema Razo, of Belding School, asked for an increase in per-pupil funding. She said the band had 40 students, that the school had lost a Reading specialist and a bi-lingual teacher, and there was only one Art class per pupil per week per classroom.

Robert Lamont, of Veterans for Peace, said he had been in the Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC) at Harper High. He said it was punitive and he was trained to kill people. He said he was trained in negative reinforcement and that a sergeant had once told him, "You're here to kill!" He asked that the Board train students in peaceful ways and asked the Board not to seduce students into the mililtary.

Roberta Salas, of Murphy Elementary Fine Arts Magnet School, spoke of the Murphy budget. She said private Art lessons were out of reach for most of Murphy's students, that there had been many staff losses, and that Band had been brought back for this year. She asked for an increase in per-pupil funding.

Juan Tanchez, of Curie High School, said his child had gone to Namaste Charter School for nine years, where his standing was 13 out of 805.

Norine Gutekanst, of the CTU, had handouts for the Board. She said that in August, CEO Byrd-Bennett had promised to cut the number of tests and now there were 28 tests. Ms. Gutekanst also quoted statistics on the numbers of tests students take. She said that instead of taking the ISAT, children should be in school to learn. She added that there was no elected school board, there was no say in tests, and tests were not in the contract. She asked CPS not to give the ISAT this year and not to discipline members who take a stand to teach.

Ann Toebbe, of Bret Harte Elementary School, said that most days, kids don't get called on because the class size is more than thirty. She added that there is no library.

William Calloway, of Christianaire, Inc., spoke of children under the poverty line and advocated for more social workers and child psychiatrists.

George Schmidt, of Substance newspaper, spoke against the ISAT test. He called it a form of child abuse. He said that the wealthy score better and cited relatives whose children attend New Trier in Winnetka.

Cassandra Creswell, of More Than a Score, asked the Board to stop the misinformation about the ISAT. She asked that principals stand down from giving the test.

Michelle Hoppe-Villegas, of Peyton High School, asked about the allocation of scarce resources and the Lincoln School decision. She said that the Master Facilities Plan was the law. She mentioned that Lincoln School was surrounded by schools with empty seats and the playground was being eliminated. She claimed the Lincoln School decision was made to prop up taxpayer values. She spoke of a code for "rich white people."

Myrna Torres said that the AARP Experience Corps is "a non-profit organization that sends volunteer tutors over the age of 50 to tutor CPS students in literacy and reading." She said that 110 older adults work with two to four students per group in 92 classrooms, after being trained in the five pillars of reading.

Sarah Hainds, of the CTU, said neighborhood schools are losing important programs because of a drop in per-pupil funding. She spoke of charter schools moving each year and the disruption this causes. She also spoke of Nobel Charter Schools and the selection bias.

Qwantel Frasier, a senior at Paul Robeson High School, wants to be a principal or CEO. He asked for help in making his dream come true.

Bettye Eboifo, of Paul Robeson High School, spoke of the declining enrollment. She said that they were not getting the programs that they asked for and wanted to know, "What is the future of our school?"

Avelardo Rivera stated his student I.D. number and said his school was not receiving any support. He said the school has done pretty well on standardized tests. He asked that the Board let the teachers teach and added that "We are more than a score."

Matthew Hancock, of Chicago Teachers Academy, said that 95% of graduates were accepted into college. He asked that the charter school receive a three-year renewal rather than a one-year renewal.

Public participation ended at 1:50.

The Board then voted on some agenda items and after that went into closed session.


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