BOARDWATCH: Chicago's school board continues lies, while outrage explodes at the July 23 meeting. The $6.8 billion budget again increases money for charters (including those under federal FBI investigation) while continuing draining dollars from real public schools...

It has been months since all seven members of the Chicago Board of Education (all appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel) have been at a monthly meeting of the Board together. Considering that they only have to perform that public duty one day a month, and at a location conventient to their downtown offices, the seven members of the Board have seemed since the year began to be alternating "days off" so that they don't have to listen to the public criticisms of their hypocrisies and craven subservience to the mayor's privatization programs. And so it was on what is arguably the most important meeting of the year, July 23, 2014. That was the meeting at which the Board was to approve its annual budget. Deborah Quazzo, the millionaire financial planner, was missing, just as Andrea Zopp, Henry Bienen and Mahalia Hines had been during the previous months.

Three Board of Education security staff wrestled Jesus Ramos and dragged him out of the July 23, 2014 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education after he told them to stop harassing his wife, Rousemary Vega. The two, along with their children, were at the Board meeting, where Ms. Vega had registered to speak against the priorities of the proposed 2014 - 2015 budget. When Board member Jesse Ruiz, who claimed to represent the north side Latino community, began leaving the Board chambers as criticisms of Board members' hypocrisy grew. Vega said "Coward, Ruis. You're a corward..." and more than a half dozen large security men swarmed around her and her family. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The anger of the public was explosive as the budget was the central item discussed. Once again, the Board was adding tens of millions of dollars to the budget for charter schools, while again cutting hundreds of thousands of dollars from the city's remaining real public schools. Before the brief (less than two hours; two minutes per person) public participation portion of the meeting was over, dozens of people had articulated their anger with the Board's budget priorities. Several simply refused to allow the Board's security to continue to suppress their rights to free speech and the two-minute limit on public speaking sanctimoniously proclaimed as sacred by the Board's President, the multi-millionaire former head of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and other major financial centers, David Vitale.

So... If the five or six members of the seven-member Chicago Board of Education (who rotate showing up for the monthly meetings of the Board of the third largest school system in the USA) thought they were going to continue smugly with their agenda of massive privatization and charterization of the city's public schools without even more anger from the majority of the people of the city, they were wrong. Even hiding behind a massive screen of security guards and Power Point evasions, the Board members were unable to simply get to vote on their 2014 - 2015 budget. There were major interruptions, anger, and loud denunciations. Because of the smugness of one Board members, there was a ruckus that led to an entire family being dragged out. The six Board members and their executive staffs (most of whom they've hired from outside Chicago) weren't smiling by the time they ran off into "closed session" on July 23, 2014 at a little after one in the afternoon.

Although CPS security tried to prevent news photographers (including Substance) and news reporters from getting to the story as the attack on the family of Rousemary and Jesus unfolded at the July 23, 2014 Board meeting, most news people got some part of the story. Above, from a distance, David Vance of Substance got a picture of the moment when CPS put Jesus in a chokehold of the type that has been barred in New York and other cities and which recently killed a man on Staten Island during a minor altercation with the NYPD. Substance photo by David Vance.The members were so non-plussed that they didn't even take the usual time for their "Hooray for Hollywood" moment, each reading from a carefully prepared script about why they had to do what they were going to do and why and how their critics were wrong because the people didn't get the "real facts" (as Vitale puts it) and the Board members, like acolytes of a medieval cult, had special insight.

Usually, the members of the Board each has a script to read from after all of the people who have spoken during public participation have had their say, and after nobody can refute that Board members' versions of reality with mere facts, let alone the truth about their polices. But not on July 23, 2014. That day, 14 months after the same Board members had voted to close the largest number of real public schools in any one city in American history, the Board assembled to approve a new school year budget. That budget will again increase the amount the Board spends on charter schools, this time by more than $60 million. Again, Chicago will be reducing the money the city is spending on its real public schools. A large minority -- perhaps a majority -- of the city's real public schools are now without libraries thanks to what the Board, in its Karkaesque lexicon of unreality, terms "student based budgeting." A handful of charter school cheerleaders were there to talk about how their lives would have been ruined -- RUINED! -- without the caring teachers at their charter schools (as if the city's real public schools had no caring teachers), but the majority of speeches to the Board was to remind the Board members of their hypocrisy as they continued following the corporate school reform script in the face of almost unanimous opposition to their policies from the majority of people in Chicago.

Wearing her Black Caucus tee shirt, Kimberly Walls finished her remarks to the Board and then asked a question. As she waited for the Board members to answer (they did not), the microphone was snatched from her by Board security. Substance photo by David Vance.The flashpoint came when Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz rose to leave the chambers in the middle of a speaker and an angry parent called out "Coward" at him. Within a few seconds, a half dozen large male security people had surrounded the diminutive female who had called out, and within a few minutes, a mother, her husband, and their children were being herded out of the Board meeting. while Board President David Vitale tried to act as if the problem was rude people rather than massive cuts in real public schools, sanctimonious lectures about civility, and constant talking points.

The chatter from the Board members is clearly designed to mask the fact that the Chicago Board of Education has escalated its campaign of privatizing the city's public schools system (which was already well underway by then) since the latest Board was appointed in May 2011 by Rahm Emanuel. Under Chicago's system of "mayoral control", the Board members and the "Chief Executive Officer" are appointed by the mayor without any democratic checks and balances.

Although a small handful of speakers repeated the usual salvation stories that come from the city's charter schools (making it sound as if students who attend the city's real public schools are raped and murdered in the hallways regularly until they leave in fear, with none ever getting as far as college), the majority of the speakers were well informed and very angry.

The volatile mixture of growing arrogance on the part of the Board members and staff, on the one hand, and the increasingly well informed people who critique the Board's policies, on the other, has resulted in situations not seen since the 1970s, when the Board members were routinely trying to have their critics arrested.

The response of CPS officials since the beginning of 2014 has been to try and restrict the ability of news reporters and photographers to move around during the Board meetings. Jadine Chou, who is currently head of security at CPS, told me several months ago that I would be arrested if I continued to "disrupt" the Board meetings. According to Chou, "disruption" is when I move around the meeting to get different angles to photograph. The security staff, many of whom I have known much longer than Chou has worked for CPS (like most top CPS officials today, she was hired from outside the system, without experience in education, by the Emanuel administration; her main qualification, like so many of them, is that she has an MBA), has been warning me that they have been told to "take me out" of the Board if I continue to "disrupt" the meetings.

When I asked what authorized the Board to restrict the movement of reporters during a public meeting, Chou showed me the rules of the Board and said that David Vitale was the person who said my movements to photograph the meetings was "disruptive." I told her that the government (the Board) does not have the right under the First Amendment to restrict the press (Substance and everyone else from the growing press, which nowadays includes bloggers and alternative media people) where the "news" is.

"I will go where the story is, not where you try to place me," I told Chou.

When the story broke loudly on July 23, I went towards it. Other news people, including most TV camera crews, headed in the same direction, despite attempts by CPS security to stop us, too.

The attack on the family of Rousemary Vega and Jesus (and their four children) was not the only bullying by CPS security in the course of the July 23 meeting. In less than two hours, Substance was able to photograph six separate instances where the Board's security people, on orders from Vitale, grabbed a microphone away from someone trying to continue speaking.

One of the most interesting things in covering the meetings of the Rahm Emanuel Chicago Board of Privatization is how the members of the Board operate. Two of them (Andrea Zopp and Jesse Ruiz) are lawyers in their other lives. Supposedly, until the past twenty years or so, lawyers were supposed to uphold the law. Only criminal lawyers representing mafia clients (like my friend the late Rick Halperin) got a wink and a nod in Chicago. Lawyers were supposed to remind the rest of the people what the law was. And no law is higher, supposedly, in the USA than the Constitution -- and the Bill of Rights.

Another speaker considered 'disruptive" by Board President David Vitale was registered speaker Queen Sister (above). When she took the podium to speak and began by taking camera photos of the Board members, Vitale signaled a security guard to stop her, until the Board's attorney nodded that she was right when she asserted her right to photograph a public meeting, and for a moment security backed off. Substance photo by David Vance.But to watch Jesse Ruiz and Andrea Zopp in action, one would think they had studied "law" in East Germany or Romania during the days of Walter Ulbricht or Nicolai Ceausescu. The law, in any dictatorship, serves those in power and the official Party Line. And that's how the seven members of the current Chicago Board of Education operate in the face of growing public exposure of their contradictions and hypocrisies.

As they moved towards the passage of their $6.8 billion budget on July 23 ($5.8 billion operational budget; $1.0 billion capital), the Board members again had their carefully scripted queries in front of them.

But the furious outbursts against their hypocrisies (the most noteworthy of which was the increase in more than $60 million for charter schools while real public schools are again cut) caused them to cut and run without the usual ten or twelve minute recitation before they went into closed session. On July 23, they skipped the usual recitation and skipped straight away behind closed doors.

Many Chicago citizens know that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has utilized his Hollywood connections to get George Lucas to put the Lucas Museum on Chicago's lakefront -- if Rahm can force the city to provide the land. Less well known is the possibility that Rahm is also developing new uniforms (above) for Board of Education security staff (rehearsing in the shadow of the projects) as David Vitale and the seven members of Rahm's Board of Education demand more serious protection against irate citizens as they continue to slavishly vote for the whims and wishes of the mayor who appointed them against the wishes of the vast majority of the city's taxpaying citizens.Jesus and Rousemary were among a half dozen or more people who tried to speak or ask questions of the Board members and who had the microphone snatched away from them when their two minutes were up. Others included parents, two teachers, and others who tried to challenge or even ask questions about the Board's priorities.