Kennedy King budget hearing July 16, 2014 show growing public resistance to CPS budget tales... Chicago in 2014 -- when one of the speakers asked kids at one elementary school what they wanted to be when they grew up, half of them answered 'Alive'

From approximately 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM on Wednesday, July 16, 2014, 31 speakers in an audience of approximately 100 signed up to mostly comment toward but also question Chicago Board of Education (BOE) Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 budget hearing panelists. They were given virtually no response at Kennedy - King College, located at 6301 S. Halsted. None of the seven members of the Board of Education was present. Nor did anyone see Barbara Byrd Bennett, the "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago Public Schools, the nation's third largest school system.

The panelists at the Kennedy King CPS budget hearing on July 16, 2014. Left to Right: Mary De Runtz, Deputy Chief Facilities Officer; Felicia Sanders, Deputy Chief of Schools for Network 13; Kimberley Lewis, who as the emcee did not identify her position for the audience but is a Senior Manager with the Budget and Management Office; Kourtney Freeman, who identified herself to the audience only as being the timekeeper but is a Senior Budget Analyst in the Budget and Management Office; Jack Elsey, Chief Innovation and Incubation Officer; and Ginger Ostro, Chief Financial Officer of Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Substance photo by Susan Zupan.The six BOE representatives sitting at the table on the stage from left to right in the auditorium off 63rd Street were: Mary De Runtz, Deputy Chief Facilities Officer; Felicia Sanders, Deputy Chief of Schools for Network 13; Kimberley Lewis, who as the emcee did not identify her position for the audience but is a Senior Manager with the Budget and Management Office; Kourtney Freeman, who identified herself to the audience only as being the timekeeper but is a Senior Budget Analyst in the Budget and Management Office; Jack Elsey, Chief Innovation and Incubation Officer; and Ginger Ostro, Chief Financial Officer of Chicago Public Schools (CPS). The people sitting up front did not put name cards in front of them so the people attending the hearing could know who they were.

When I specifically asked at the stage for names and positions before the hearing began, I was told that the person at the microphone would introduce them.

When they were introduced, their names were mostly mumbled. When an audience member Lee Edwards asked aloud for them to please give their names and positions again, everyone was informed that the panelists would state their names and positions as they responded to questions from the audience.

By the end of the meeting, only Mary De Runtz, Jack Elsey, and Ginger Ostro had tried to tackle any possible responses to audience inquiries. The answers to virtually all of the questions were:

"We will need to get back to you on that..." or

CPS put a Power Point on the screen above the stage, but refused to provide paper copies of it to those who attended the hearing, so it was additionally difficult for people to comment on some of the representations made in it. Substance photo from the screen."We do not have that information available at this time..."

...or just plain silence.

In the hall, other CPS employees reacted similarly regarding the stating of their positions.

When I asked Christina Lee, identified vaguely as "being from the CPS Budget Office", her position title, I was told, Im just part of the team. (She is an Executive Assistant in the Budget and Management Office.)

Other representatives from CPS who were in attendance were: from FACE (Family And Community Engagement) Lionel Smith (Manager) and Elvis Ortega (who translated for Spanish during the meeting), the latter with CPS for one year; also part of the budget team were Juan Gonzalez (Financial Systems Analyst) and Mike Sitkowski (Budget Analyst II), the latter with CPS for one year.

There were probably more than six CPS security guards in attendance, with a few of the men very active near the end of the hearing, threatening to or removing speakers from the microphones when their two minutes were "up."

Latisa Kindred told the hearing at Kennedy King that she had been laid off from her teaching job at Simeon Vocational High School. Kindred, before her layoff, was the only African American woman teaching electrical shop in the entire Chicago Public Schools system. While the hearing's Power Point prattled according to the script provided from the offices of Mayor Rahm Emanuel about how CPS is expanding "STEM" (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) programs in Chicago's public schools, the fact is that Student Based Budgeting is doing the opposite. Critics of the mayor's talking points also point out that the high schools in Chicago's suburbs, including New Trier where Rahm Emanuel went, don't need to create publicity stunts around "STEM" propaganda because the high schools offer all students a full range of math, science, and vocational classes. Only Chicago is making a big deal about so-called STEM, as if the whole idea had been invented when Rahm Emanuel walked into the mayor's office in May 2011. Substance photo by Susan Zupan. There were at least two Chicago Police Department police officers present. Before the start of the hearing, the audience was told by Kimberly Lewis that there was no food or drink allowed in the auditorium. Someone from the audience loudly questioned if that included water. Ms. Lewis replied yes, oops, then noticed that she had a water bottle on the table in front of her. It wasnt as mutually entertaining as it might have been if the audience did not know so well at this point in time that this was all just going to be a typical CPS kangaroo court hearing, falling on deaf ears that wouldnt affect any changes anyhow on anything in any way. For this reason, the 31 speakers messages to the BOE and the mayor are reported here today.

The audience was told they could also refer to the website:

Suffice it to say here that the overview attempted to present: CPSs ever growing budget deficit; sacrificial cuts that wouldnt as drastically cut from classrooms to the greatest degree possible; pensions being the cause of all evil in the CPS financial world; state funding being the lowest in the country except for the additional money CPS again received from the state this year; and a most interesting description of a one time change in accounting practices. (Apparently for CPS accounting purposes, property tax revenue from upcoming, August property taxes are being counted somehow as was not the practice in prior CPS budgets?) Is it an oxymoron to state that CPS is using even more one-time resources? One title on the handout as well as for slide #13 was: Investing in buildings is investing in classrooms. This audience was not having any of it. Here are the highlights from speaker after speaker who spoke out against the budget, the mayor, the Board of Education, the state of public education, and the panelists on the stage:

3rd Ward Alderwoman Pat Dowell was allowed to speak first. She spoke of the unique circumstances of some of the schools in her ward. Three welcoming schools that had made test score gains would now be losing positions and money that would be needed to maintain the improvements; one, Drake Williams, had the highest percentage of special education students in the district. (Note: Williams Elementary and Williams Middle Schools were closed and welcomed into Drake as a part of Mayor Emanuels 50 school closings.)

Alderwoman Dowell stated that Crispus Attucks had the highest percentage (over 50%) of homeless students. (Note: Crispus Attucks, which had already been moved from the original Attucks building at 39th and Dearborn to the Farren building at 51st and State, is scheduled to complete its "phase-out" to welcoming school Beethoven in the upcoming school year.) The resources given to the welcoming schools were working, Dowell said, but CPS expected the same results next year without the same resources. As she handed the panel written copies, she said she looked forward to CPSs reexamination and changes to the budget.

Page 13 of the CPS Power Point puzzled people (what does a "self funded" classroom investment mean in a public school system?) but the people siting in the front were unwilling to answer most questions. Substance photo from the screen. CPS officials refused to reproduce the Power Point on paper for the people who turned out to attend the hearings.Gresham Elementary School parent Gregory Clements, first commenting that the turnover fight continues, wanted to know where to look in the budget to find the savings CPS made from the bidding processes that were utilized. No one answered that question. (Note: The BOE voted for an AUSL, Academy for Urban School Leadership, turnaround for Gresham at the end of this 2013-2014 school year.)

Brenda Delgado-Als, an LSC parent and from Illinois Raise Your Hand, said that this CPS budget would cause great harm. She suggested that the $29 million for the CPS "Portfolio" budget, as well as money from "FACE" and "Accountability," should be redirected to neighborhood schools. She spoke against the proliferation of new charter schools. If the Board wanted to truly engage us, then shift the funding.

Caroline Als, the elementary school age daughter of the previous speaker, told the panel that her school, Salazar had no gym, no auditorium, and no library. With cuts this year they would also have no extra math and reading, and classes are full. She said, Thats not fair.

Joy Clendenuing, a CPS parent from Hyde Park, spoke of the need for CPS students to have the choice of a well-rounded public school in their neighborhoods as an obligation and a priority. She said to stop unfunded mandates, stop spending money on standardized testing, and stop the destabilizing and disinvestment of neighborhood schools. When she said that Dyett High School students deserved a neighborhood public high school, that was when the audience began clapping for each of the speakers.

Megan Cusick, a CPS parent and member of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Librarian Task Force as well as a member of Chi-School Librarians, spoke of CPS making things even worse after the closing of 50 schools, with over 140 librarians lost in one year, plus over 60 this year totaling over 200 across CPS in two years. Research showed the correlation between students having professionally certified librarians and increased school performance. Give the $29 million for Portfolios and money from charter schools to the neighborhood public schools.

Did CPS serve investors or children? CPS parent and middle school science teacher Kimberly Walls brought the house down. She told the panel that she knew they were tired and that they just made-up the budget. But this would be their last budget. They all better get their own Plan B like they have made so many others out in the schools get a Plan B because when Karen Lewis gets into office, they are the ones who are going to be out of their jobs this time. She noted that she could not stand seeing black people on the panel, with ancestors who fought for our rights in history rolling over in their graves. I dont care if I lose my job tomorrow! Your job is gone! We are gonna send Rahms ass on out of here! (LOTS of clapping and cheering followed.)

Maria Ortega, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, spoke of her child who could not get into kindergarten due to a lack of space. Her child was put on a waiting list, as number 245. On the southwest side of the city, they needed resources to give the same opportunities to all children. Historically, African-American and Hispanic children were the most affected. Please send more resources to our schools.

Maria Szyman, a teacher librarian from Nathaniel Green Elementary School, said that what the Board claimed at its last meeting regarding there being a lack of librarians was absolutely not true.

They could hire back the ones they just cut. Libraries have been chosen to take the hit, with the disappearance of almost half sp far -- and more each week. How could CPS say we were focused on literacy for the Common Core or college readiness without libraries/librarians and research? She questioned budgeting that made principals choose between library and P.E. positions.

Recent elementary school graduate and a member of SWOP (Southwest Organizing Project), Carl Ferguson was one of a few speakers who spoke out forcefully against the Board allocating any money to Concept Charter Schools. He said that he did not recall his own school ever being investigated by the F.B.I.

Reyna Castelan, a parent and volunteer at Talman Elementary School and a member of SWOP, also spoke out against money going to Concept Schools. She demanded as a homeowner that her tax money go to our community schools, questioning why CPS would invest in a school under investigation that the community did not trust. Note: There was a running joke in the audience by this point that questions were not going to be answered such that often when there was a question asked by a speaker, one person in the audience would say loudly, Thats a question.


The speaker and audience collectively would then leave an uncomfortable pause of silence for someone on the stage to reply. At this point, Jack Elsey replied, We are following that situation closely. Some in the audience noted that Elsey was brought to Chicago by Barbara Byrd Bennett from Michigan, and that the "Office of Incubation and Innovation" that he is "Chief Officer" of doesn't exist in any other school district in the USA. Elsey's current annual salary is $195,000, and like other CPS executives, he gets a secret "performance bonus" that is not made public every year.

Asean Johnson, Marcus Garvey Elementary School student, said that budget cuts to his school resulted in the loss of: a librarian, a computer teacher, the 7th grade teacher, and a 4th grade math and enrichment teacher. They had to use a parent as a librarian and the counselor for a computer teacher. He said that what hurt the most, though, was to see the faces of the panelists -how they did not care and looked bored. He mocked if the panelists could tell what a question was. He spoke of the electrician who was let go from Simeon. He called out (Kimberly Lewis), And you in the light green and yellow shirt, I see how you rolled your eyes. Her reply in her role as MC was: Can you please wrap up please.

Someone from the audience yelled out that she was donating her time for Asean to continue.

And so he did.

When Asean asked directly why they gave money to charter schools after laying off 1,000 teachers this year, Ginger Ostro answered: Because students attend charter schools and the money follows the students. Asean countered that that did not make sense; they needed to invest in -- and not cut -- what was already there [so students wouldnt go to charter schools]. When he wanted to continue speaking about money needed for social-emotional learning, he was again told his time was over. Another woman said she would give him her time, she was Speaker #21. He was directed to wait until that time to speak again.

Shoneice Reynolds, Aseans mother and Marcus Garvey PSRP, said that this hearing was a Dog-and-Pony Show. She remarked on the budget presentation regarding pensions, pensions, pensions, but there was no mention of how CPS took a pension holiday for years. They needed to stop blaming working class people for the budget. The pensions were money owed to people. She mentioned: unequal funding of schools; Concept Charter Schools being investigated in three states; Simeons loss of the last electrician program in the city (thats a career!); and tax breaks for Wal-Mart and Office Max.

Chicago Teachers Union organizer and Chicago Public Schools parent Matt Luskin was one of the dozens of citizens who had the microphone snatched from their hands at exactly TWO MINUTES during the public hearings on the $6 billion budget. Luskin didn't need the microphone, and finished his remarks using his teacher voices despite the planned CPS suppression of much of the speech prepared for the hearings. Substance photo by Susan Zupan.Latisa Kindred introduced herself as the electrician being referred to prior. (The audience clapped.) She said that 97% of her students become certified electricians. She contrasted her students working with their hands in the face of the violence of the city. She was being laid-off due not to performance but budgetary reasons by (she quoted) the principal and the Network to meet the goals of the school.

Question: On slide #14, what do you mean by career and focus education?

Basic answer from Ginger Ostro: I can get you the specifics, but I do not have them right now.

Questions: How were budget decisions made, and what were the guidelines given?

Basic answer given by Ms. Ostro, looking imploringly at the other non-responsive panelists: We do not have anyone on the panel who knows that; well have to get back to you.

Ms. Kindred said that the vocational programs at Simeon (mentioning that Auto was also closed) were a gateway to the middle class. She compared that to the 82 people shot over the recent holiday weekend. She said that these were issues that must be addressed.

Herbert Singleton, presently an organizer with CTU who worked for 30 years with chronic juvenile delinquents, spoke about the wrap-around services (such as anger management and social-emotional programs for families) cut four years ago. Those 12 year-olds were now ages 16 and 17. If you did not identify children at-risk at an early age, but instead just cut, cut, and eliminate, then you pay later.

Maria Moreno, CTU member, spoke of CPSs racist policies of years of disinvestment on the south and west sides, of hundreds of African-American teachers who were the backbone on the communities losing their jobs. Whether they claimed underutilization or overcrowding, CPS was going to give money to charter schools while cutting money from public schools. She reiterated that when/if counselor and social worker positions were cut, violence would increase.

I spoke next, identifying myself as a CPS teacher, CTU member, and reporter for Substance. The general comments I made were that a city and nation that continually presented austerity budgets for its children and its own system of public education, and that did not have the interest, creativity, stomach, backbone, or intelligence to do otherwise, indicate a city and nation in serious trouble. I ended by saying that to stop the public education Armageddon (if anyone had seen the movie), I got five words for you, A.J.: We need Karen Lewis for mayor!! (Ok, that was six words.)

Reyna Powers, a teacher assistant from Clissold, spoke of budgets that also needed paper and pencils in order for children to prepare for their futures.

Sharon West, at Hurley School for 29 years, spoke of the importance of library positions. When CPS cuts without anything else, crime goes up. She spoke of the need for hands-on programs in the community, for students to have jobs with which they could provide for their families. She implored for children, parents, teachers, all of us, to work together.

Karen Bymum told about how learning to sew in school led her to owning her own business. She spoke of the hands-on programs now out at Walter Dyett High School sewing, typing, woodshop. For some of these children, without these programs, the only hands-on they have left is how to shoot a gun. She asked why CPS was taking money from us and giving $76 million to a charter school from Turkey? Why didnt the mayor put his kids in one of these schools, instead of the Lab School? Would they answer that online, too? The only answer CPS ever has is to close schools.

Security moved in on her, and she left the microphone.

Asean Johnson spoke this time about investments in social-emotional learning to make a more peaceful place in Chicago versus hearing about shootings every day on the news. He said: Its up to you to do this, and if they didnt, we shonuf gonna have someone who will do it.

Darlene Obamer, an LSC/community member, said that last year she was promised at the budget hearing that someone would contact her, but no one ever did.

She said that due to the Goodlow and Earle closures, she was worried about her grandson having to choose between two gangs. A few CPS employees there were seen to be giving her their cards. (Note: CPS closed Goodlow but moved Earle into Goodlow as the receiving school for Goodlow.)

Tommy Davidson, a certified welder, spoke of the vocational programs lost at Simeon. He asked if anyone on the stage could change their own oil. He said that we needed to get the kids back into these programs.

Parent Andrea Parker said she would speak as an advocate even though she knew the panelists would not do anything. A product of CPS, with a PhD, she clearly saw that CPS was deteriorating. They were not in the business of educating our kids; they were in business for you and your friends. With all the cuts and closures and firings, there should be a surplus. She said there was, but it was hidden. She spoke against spending money on standardized testing. She said that $20 million was spent to distribute condoms to poor neighborhoods. Security guards forcibly removed her from the mic.

Lee Edwards, from Chicago Citizen Newspaper, asked specifically about the budget related to Coles School which had a leak in the ceiling. Mary De Runtz told him the principal should contact Facilities Management; she gave him an emergency number (773-553-2900). When he questioned the budgets regarding the loss of teachers and how that happened, Ginger Ostro said that principals made those decisions. He insisted that the panelists state their names and positions again.

Dawn Payton said that, as an LSC parent of five children in CPS, she was a big stakeholder and wanted to sit at the budgeting table and give her input. There was a back-and-forth between her and Ginger Ostro. Ms. Ostro was talking about proposals and providing budgets to schools; Ms. Payton was referring to making the decisions to not cut money to neighborhoods schools and to not give money to charter schools. She said to go tell the mayor that I want to be at the table.

CTU Area Vice President Patricia Boughton said that it was frustrating to speak before panelists who were not in any position to do anything. She educated the audience about pensions: in the past, in lieu of a pay raise, CPS agreed to pay 7% with employees contributing 2%. Then under Mayor Daley, CPS took a 10-year pension holiday. CPS didnt pay into the pensions, even when the years were good, under Clinton, financially. The pension problem was not people, teachers, or pensioners; the problem was due to the Board and the politicians who spent money like gamblers but didnt pay their rent to the landlord. Teachers also do not collect social security. In the future she would probably need to go live in a chicken coop.

Chicago Teachers Union organizer and Chicago Public Schools parent Matt Luskin was one of the dozens of citizens who had the microphone snatched from their hands at exactly TWO MINUTES during the public hearings on the $6 billion budget. Luskin didn't need the microphone, and finished his remarks using his teacher voices despite the planned CPS suppression of much of the speech prepared for the hearings. Substance photo by Susan Zupan.CTU Organizer Matthew Luskin said that CPSs change in calculations this year was really lying to make the mayor look good. He hoped it was a one-time fix, doubting they could ever pull that off again. Slashing pensions/retirements along with the 50 school closings negatively impacted African-American neighborhoods the most. Money and budgets are not just statistics. It was/is about people, students. Comparing himself to CPS, he said that as a father raising three sons, if he did not have enough money for dinner, he would not choose which child to feed. (This got loud applause from the audience.) He did not see leadership in CPS. CPS was not fighting for our children, CPS was fighting for the bankers downtown.

When security grabbed the microphone from Luskin, he continued his presentation while walking away.

Rhonda McLeod, National Board Certified Teacher from Gresham School, spoke about the budget impacts to students with special needs (non-speaking autistic and deaf students), particularly regarding the loss of trust and relationships involved with the budget for special education bus aides. Would the cuts result in the buses being packed, then it was oops, we forgot about you? She spoke of a situation in which a child was left on a bus for three hours. Question: How does this budget address the relationship needs of children? Answer from Ginger Ostro: Well have to get back to you.

Ms. McLeod said that they could no longer call the bus company regarding any issues, they needed to call downtown.

Mahiri Anderson, a teacher and parent, asked and waited for an answer to the question of why CPS spent money for charter schools. Jack Elsey answered that it was one of the strategies to bring high quality education to students, and charter schools were held to the same standards.

Mr. Anderson then referred to research indicating that charter schools did not raise achievement above the level of the neighborhood schools, therefore there was no return on the investment. As a taxpayer, he wanted his money back. He said that there was a disinvestment in the brown communities. He was surrounded by security before he left the mic.

Melody Farmer, a homeowner, asked laid-off teachers in the audience to stand. The audience was much diminished at this point near the end of the hearing, but three or four teachers stood up. She told the panelists that these were the faces that stabilized our schools and communities. Their jobs were more important than those on the panel.

The final speaker was Raymond Lopez, 15th Ward Democratic Party Committeeman. He spoke of the need for working together; pensions as a promise; the need for an increase in revenue (he was willing to work with the Board for this); and specific school situations. The closing of Earle School added to 300 abandoned buildings. Question: Was anything specific planned for the building?

Answer by Ginger Ostro: A Task Force working with the community will recommend what to do. He said that there were not enough public schools now to serve 4,000 households. Speaking on the need for more funding not cuts for wrap-around services, he listed shootings near schools: a shooting just the night before (July 15) two blocks from Shields; another recent shooting three blocks from another school; and a shooting on the playground of Henderson.

He said that when he asked kids recently at Henderson school what they wanted to be when they grew up, half of the kids said, Alive.

The hearing ended shortly after 8:00.


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