BOARDWATCH: Chicago Board of Education meeting of March 25, 2015 was highlighted by large public protests against against the filth program due to the Board's privatization of custodial services... CPS officials also continued to repeat their lies about CPS 'losing money' due to PARCC Opt Outs....

Workers in purple and gold jackets from Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1, waving gold banners, marched and chanted along the north side of Madison Street in front of the headquarters of the Chicago Board of Education at 42 West Madison Street while across the street at the One South Dearborn Plaza. Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Vice-President Jesse Sharkey, surrounded by supporters, was interviewed by television reporters prior to the regular monthly meeting of the BOE on Wednesday, March 25, 2015. Clearly, the Board continues to pursue controversial policies that generate large protests.

In his presentation to the March 25, 2015 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, Chicago Teachers Union vice president Jesse Sharkey told the Board the union would be willing to cooperate on financial issues if the Board seriously developed a plan to increase revenues by fair tax policies. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The meeting, in a long narrow room at the lower level of Board headquarters (the old Sears store), began shortly after 10:30 and eventually ended shortly after noon as the Board members went into executive session.

Roll call indicated that the following Board members were present: Dr. Henry Bienen, Dr. Mahalia Hines, Andrea Zopp, Dr. Carlos Azcoitia, and Deborah Quazzo. Also present was Board President David Vitale, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Barbara Byrd-Bennett, and Chief Counsel James Bebley. Absent was Board Vice-President Jesse Ruiz. Student representatives present were Angel Diaz and shadow student Tyler Cortez.

The meeting began with the recognition of successful students from Beaubien, Bell, and Whitney Young and several other schools, for achievement in spelling bees, science fairs, and academic decathalons. Six students described their science fair projects. At the end, CEO Byrd-Bennett said, "I didn't understand a thing." Dr. Azcoitia, said, "I always wanted to be a scientist and you have given me hope."

The intense ruling class pressure to push the myth that Chicago Public Schools face an unprecedented "deficit" that can only be alleviated by reducing pensions was also the theme of the editorial (above) that appeared in the Chicago Tribune the day of the Board meeting.The business portion of the meeting followed with the announcement by Barbara Byrd Bennett that "Latino and Latin-American Studies" were launched at the Mexican-American Museum, to emphasize culture, dignity, and identity. It was also stated that Latinos now make up the largest percentage of demographics in Chicago. Another fact shared with the public was that Chicago public school students speak 130 different languages. Future language activities include a new "Seal of Literacy" to be awarded to students who master two or more languages and the "Dia de los Ninos Parade" which will take place in Pilsen on April 25.

After these announcements, Karen Van Ausdal, "Executive Director of Social and Emotional Learning" gave a Power Point presentation on the Chicago Public Schools, Suspensions and Expulsions Reduction Project (SERP) Update in March 2015 to the February 2014 Plan. Karen Van Ausdal, the Board's $115,000-per-year "Executive Director of Social and Emotional Learning" (above right on on the screen) went far beyond the red two-minute warning light (on the podium) during her lengthy Power Point presentation about how much CPS has reduced suspensions and expulsions since it approved the June 2014 revisions to the Student Code of Conduct. Subsequent questions by Board members showed they were almost tumescent at the data driven up to them by Van Ausdale, showing a significant drop in both suspensions and expulsions from Chicago's real public schools (the charter schools are still allowed to create loopholes which are not being stopped). No one asked Van Ausdale whether the Board's policies have actually added the "intervention" teachers (or perhaps counselors) to the schools to do the work professionally, nor was there any discussion of the growing problems with out-of-control students who view the entire program as a way of bullying students and threatening teachers. None of the Board members asked Van Ausdal why her department specialized in the "social and emotional learning" needs of females, but the demographics of the department speak for themselves. The central office staff for the department has 18 persons, only one of whom is a male, according to the current CPS "Position File." Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Updates include revisions in the Student Code of Conduct, what she called "accountability and resources," professional development, community engagement (including supposedly reviewing Charter School Codes of Conduct), and the CPS Suspensions and Expulsions Data Summary. The "summary", to no one's surprise, showed fewer suspensions and expulsions since September 2013 compared to September 2014. The work ahead. Ms. Ausdal then quoted a current CPS teacher about her work with a "Restorative Practices" Coach.

Following Van Ausdal's Power Point presentation, Andrea Zopp asked about charter school expulsions that she said occur at a significant rate. She also stated that charters have their own Code of Conduct, but it is aligned with our policies. In reply to this, Chief Counsel Bebley said that charter schools must submit their policies to CPS and must follow due process protections for students with disabilities.

The PARCC controversy got some attention, with Barbara Byrd Bennett repeating a claim, challenged by most and even refusted by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, that there would be a financial loss to CPS and the schools if students don't take the PARCC.

Byrd-Bennett said that CPS "could not afford the loss of millions of dollars" if the Partnership of Assessment for Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) were not given. This was in contrast to her statement in January 2015 that the PARCC would be given to only 10% of the student population. Later, a decision was made that all students would take the PARCC because of a threatened loss of funds, even though the claims about lost funding have been completely discredited. Following CEO Byrd-Bennett's announcement, Board President Vitale reminded everyone that office hours are available to meet with Board members, by calling 773-553-1600.

The Secretary then announced that the next Board meeting will be on Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at the Loop office, with public participation sign-up beginning at 8 a.m., Monday, April 18, and ending at 5 p.m., Friday, April 24, or when all sixty slots are filled. For the first time in a couple of months, Board President Vitale didn't say publicly that the Board has been "planning" to hold its meetings in the communities across the city, rather than downtown where privatized parking now costs more than $30 for one day. Members of the public had begun asking why the Board can't find one of its more than 600 real public schools to hold the Board meeting, since it did so successfully at Westinghouse High School in November 2014.

At that point public participation began with two aldermen bringing problems from their communities to the Board.

The publication of the story about the absurdity of the Board's refusal to allow the construction of the Wells High School "Field of Dreams" had been published in the Chicago Sun-Times, but the members of the Board gave no indication that they intended to repair the damage they had done to the dreams of the school. First to speak was Alderman Joe Moreno of the First Ward. Wells Community High School members stood with him. He spoke of the incredible baseball team at Clemente High School and the team at Wells, too. He said the baseball playing fields were bad, saying that the students have to play under "Third World" conditions. He told of the community raising over a million dollars for playing fields at Wells, but said that they may lose the money even though the field has already been designed.

Adding to this message was retired teacher Susan Nesbaum. She said that a partner, the Ripkin Foundation, was found for this project which they worked on for two years. Yet, according to CPS, the group cannot use the money and thus lost the money. The Foundation is building in Marquette Park instead. The group was also told they could not use matching funds. One student who called the proposed field, "The Field of Hope," was crushed when told that there would be no field. The student pleaded, "Wells needs this field. Please don't shut us out."

First Ward Alderman Joe Moreno criticized the Board for forcing student baseball players to practice and play under "Third World conditions," as he stood with teachers, parents, and students from Wells High School to protest how the Board of Education had sabotaged a grant Wells had arranged with the Ripkin Foundation to build a decent playing field at the school. Hall of Fame immortal Cal Ripkin Jr. (Baltimore Orioles) has devoted a great deal of the efforts of his foundation to promoting baseball for urban children, but CPS officials undermined the grant that Ripkin had provided for Wells High School. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The Board President said. "My staff and I will get together with the alderman."

Next, Alderman Mary O'Connor of the 41st Ward, spoke of the need for an annex at Ebinger School because of the overcrowding. She said the school is at the breaking point and asked for the Board's help. Additional remarks by parents recounted the harrowing results of the overcrowding. They told of pre-school being bumped out, teaching taking place in the hall, early lunches, a need for more space inside classrooms, and a need for a bigger gym and auditorium.

Mary O'Connor, 41st Ward Alderman, and parents from Ebinger Elementary School, detailed the heart-breaking conditions caused by the overcrowding of the school by CPS. They appealed to the Board of Education members for an additional facility to relieve their problem, noting that the problem is disrupting the eduction of the children, some of whom are attending "classes" in the halls. Left out of the discussion with CPS officials, who claimed there is "no money" for schools like Ebinger, was the fact that during the previous 15 months the Board had found tens of millions of dollars to build facilities that were no needed (and in some cases opposed by community leaders) in Lincoln Park and the Gold Coast. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Board President Vitale told Alderman O"Connor that some of us will get out to see your school... "you are on our high priority list," he added.

Next, CTU Vice-President Sharkey said, "Let's talk about money." He said CPS had spoken in the press about pensions, the shortfall next year, and the deficit. He remarked that we are looking at but not talking about California-scale cuts; we will talk about this the day after the election.

He added that cutting pensions is not the solution. He also said that the $15 minimum wage costs more money, but the problem cannot be solved with cuts.

Board President Vitale said that we are not in denial; we do talk about it. He stressed that it is real but the ability to raise taxes is limited. He added that Springfield needs to cooperate; we recognize the needs.

CTU Vice-President Sharkey responded that we are willing to go to Springfield and we have other ideas.

Board Secretary Estela Beltran then gave the directions for public participation. She reminded everyone of the red, yellow, and green lights on the podium that are visible to the audience. The red light indicates when a speaker's two minutes have come to an end. If the speaker does not stop then, the speaker is reminded that time is up. (Both alderman were reminded of the two-minute time limit for speeches.)

As usual, press coverage of the March 25, 2015 Board of Education meeting ignored most of the issues raised, but at least the Sun-Times got part of the story about how CPS's re-privatization of custodial services had left the schools with more filthy condition than before. Earlier the same week, the Sun-Times had also covered a Chicago Principals and Administrators Association press conference regarding the failure of the two private corporations, Aramark and SodexoMAGIC, to maintain decent conditions in the schools. Sixty individuals were signed up to speak during public participation; eleven of the twenty-five speakers who actually spoke praised charter schools or the AUSL "Network" within CPS.

The first speakers lined up to praise AUSL. Tiffany Tylora (the way it was spelled on the Board's agenda; she said Taylor) spoke first about Lewis School of Excellence, an Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) school where her sons attend and where her daughter will soon attend. She said the school was turned around three years ago and she is happy about this. She said she volunteers each week and when needed.

Janice Holmes, a community advocate near AUSL Lewis, said she has spent 19 years in the community and that she wears many hats. She repeated the quote, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste," and spoke of the need for a policeman or safety patrol because of the location of the school across the street from LaFollette Park.

Samantha Creightney of the "AUSL Howe School of Excellence" (since AUSL began taking over schools, the rebranding has included the designation "school of excellence" no matter what the long-term performance of the schools may turn out to be) told of the great things happening at Howe. She said that the school was trying to increase parent participation by having a "family movie night" and other activities meant to encourage parents to come in to the school.

Linda Watson of the AUSL "Herzl School of Excellence" said that she is a parent and PAC Chairman. She also said great things were happening at her school: a full day, pre-k, and a turnaround arts programs. She added that AUSL has done phenomenal things.

A parent at a regular neighborhood public school, Julie Rodriguez, then spoke of the need to relieve overcrowding at John C. Dore School, which is on the Southwest Side. She said that we need to know funding is being established to deal with this crisis.

Board President Vitale responded that we are working with the alderman and trying to come up with a plan.

Then the speakers praising charter schools spoke again. Pedro Morales of Chicago International Charter School (C.I.C.S.) Prairie Charter where his over-achiever son is a second grader whose grades are high.Morales praised the help the charter school is getting from 9th Ward alderman Anthony Beale. Stephanie Bassett, also of CICS Prairie School said that she is the proud parent of charter school children. Lori Fink, of CICS Prairie Charter School, said that we need to expose students to other careers. She said the school has a bilingual coordinator and offers free

English classes for community members who then go on to obtain GEDs. She added that Anthony Alderman Beale (9th Ward) was helping the charter school.

Then it was back to AUSL. Damita Cohn, of AUSL Stagg "School of Excellence" thanked the Board for being active in supporting the school, by seeing that speed bumps were put in. She also said that the bullying of her son was a problem that was getting better.

Douglas Hunter (right, in red shirt) stands up for "Fight for 15" at the Board meeting while a low-wage working class worker explains to the smug arrogant members of the Board the problems her family is facing because of low pay, un-availability of decent reasonably priced child care, and other proletarian problems in Chicago in 2015. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Next, two workers spoke of the need for a $15 minimum wage. Douglas Hunter is fighting for a $15-an-hour minimum wage. He said that low wages bring violence to the community. Nancy Salgado (listed on the speaker's list as "Virginia"), a McDonald's worker, spoke of the impact on taxing bodies and schools of the big corporations paying low wages in Chicago. She said she is fighting for a $15-an-hour minimum wage. She told the Board that she has a daughter at Brentano school who no longer experiences bullying and has improved in her math scores, but that the stresses of working for corporate tyrants makes it difficult on her family and schooling. She said that cuts to child-care are affecting her; she now has to pay $50 a week instead of $40 a month.

Robert Lamont returned to the Board meeting to speak against the militarization of CPS on behalf of Veterans for Peace. Lamont reminded the Board members that the military method of solving problems is to use violence, and even kill people. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Next a Veterans for Peace addressed the issue of de-militarization of the schools. Robert Lamont, a Veteran for Peace activist, told the Board that he had taught at Westinghouse High School during his teaching career after serving in the Army -- in the infantry. He spoke of the song "Heaven Help Us All" by Stevie Wonder. The lyrics state, "Heaven help the boy who won't reach 21 and heaven help the man who gives him a gun." He stated that there are contradictions between CPS policy and the government's.

Next, Kim Morrow read what her child, Tobey Morrow, a fifth grader at Lincoln Elementary, wrote about: mistakes in the PAARC test, her desire to see scores submitted, to learn, and to be in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

After that, Sarah Hainds, CTU Researcher, spoke of the concern about outsourcing nurses, therapists, and management. Because a nurse could not be staffed, her daughter was told to stay home because of her need for insulin and no one able to administer it. She also spoke of filthy schools.

Another charter school parent spoke next. Vernel Brown who identifies herself as a concerned parent of three children at Catalyst Circle Rock School thanked the Board and told of tumbling programs and visits to Ravinia by Circle Rock students.

Then George Schmidt, parent, who said that more Substance reporters cover the Board than reporters from other news sources. His topic was "dialectical materialism 2015." He asked several

questions: "Has the Board applied for action in regard to toxic swaps?" "Where did the Great Seal of the BOE go when you moved? "How many schools opted students out of the PARCC?" "How many children opted out?"

After noting that he and Substance have been covering CPS for 40 years, much longer than any other members of the press, Substance editor George N. Schmidt asked the Board a number of questions, beginning with whether the Board had finally gone to arbitration on the variable rate bond deals (also called the "toxic swaps"). The Board ignored the question, and Schmidt went on with additional questions which exposed the hypocrisy of the Board. Substance photo by David Vance.Schmidt told the Board that the claim that the EPAS testings measured progress towards college was not true, noting that no research has validated the marketing claims for the three expensive tests (the EXPLORE, PLAN, and ACT) sold by ACT, Inc. to CPS. The Board members, including at least one who knew that what Schmidt said was true, stared angrily straight ahead.

"Are you going to stop third-world conditions at baseball fields as Alderman Moreno

said?" The only question the Board answered was the question about the Great Seal. Board President Vitale said it will be set up in this room now that the move has been completed.

Next, Joy Clendenning spoke about current education issues. She stated that Raise Your Hand (RYH) was in Springfield today about the funding cuts. She said that U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan denied that the federal government was saying that federal funds would be cut if the PARCC test was not given. She said that there needs to be clarification. Students have been told they would be fined, suspended and expelled for opting out and that the teacher will face repercussions. She went on to say that the PARCC test continues to disrupt, children are missing

hours of instruction, computer labs are not available, and yet another round of PARCC testing will take place in April and May. She concluded that the PARCC test should not be a high stakes test.

Chicago Teachers Union organizer Marty Ritter spoke. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Then, Martin Ritter, of CTU, who was a CPS teacher, asked if charter schools follow mandates. He thanked Andrea Zopp and said he appreciated the statistics on suspensions and expulsions not being reported. He asked that charter schools provide the most up-to-date numbers regarding suspensions and expulsions. He remarked that we want fair discipline policies before the next Board meeting.

Carrie Sloan from the ReFund America Project challenged the Board's austerity panic. She told the meeting that the recent downgrade in CPS bond ratings was a scare tactic by Wall Street to continue the pressure against public worker pensions. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Carrie Sloan, of the ReFund America Project, addressed getting money back from predatory financial deals for education and services. She said that a report had just been released showing that CPS and Chicago credit ratings had been downgraded. She believes that this is politically motivated and is the reason an austerity agenda is being pushed and pensions are being threatened. She added that suggestions have been made about remedying this situation and now banks are collecting termination fees.

Melvin McGrew, another charter school parent, spoke of Butler College Prep and says he loves all things Noble. Robert Arista added to the words of praise for Noble Street charter schools. He said

he himself graduated from Foreman High School and now his son is on the honor roll at a Noble Street charter school.

Next, two janitorial workers, told about the difficulties regarding their jobs. Maria Navarez, who is a member of SEIU, Local 1, told the Board about privatizing custodians in CPS. She said she is assigned to two schools and named the chores she is expected to complete at the schools.

The Board members just stared smugly as school custodial worker Anthiny Marshall Jr. (above) talked about the impossibility of doing the school cleaning job following the cuts of 40 percent of the crew he works on by the Board's newly privatized cleaning contractor. Instead, the Board members waited until the end of the meeting to allow "Chief Administrative Officer" Tim Cawley regale them with another round of falsified and unverified "data" claiming that the schools had become cleaner than ever before now that the cleaning is going into the profit margins of Aaramark and Rahm Emanuel supporter MAGIC Johnson's SodexoMAGIC companies. Substance photo by David Vance.Anthony Marshall, Jr. has been cleaning CPS schools for 20 years. He said that there has been a reduction in the number of janitors assigned to complete the work. He said it was hard to be expected to go beyond the call of duty day in and day out. He added that we all want clean schools so that kids can learn. He asked that the Board bring back the laid-off janitors.

Finally, Kimberly Torres, a parent of a student at George Washington High School spoke of the need for a roof at the high school, a roof that was promised. She said that patching the roof didn't work. She added that deep cleaning is needed at the school, buckets of standing water are in the halls, gym equipment is suffering because of this problem and the principal is punishing students by keeping them in the lunchroom. She asked, "Would you accept this for your child?" She added that the children are achieving great year after year. She concluded, "We pay taxes and we expect remedies."

After Public Participation finished, Board members asked questions and commented.

Dr. Azcoitiz wants an update on school cleaning. He said that the two surveys that were conducted are contradictory regarding the correct state of affairs. Tim Cawley, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), said he did not know how the principals' survey was conducted and referred to what he called an "independent audit." According to that matrix, Cawley said in public, 92% of schools are now at what he called "Level 2" in cleanlines. He said this is a significant improvement which shows great progress.

But, he added, "we are not at perfection yet."

Chicago Teachers Union researcher Sarah Hainds told the Board that the privatization of nursing services was risking the lives of students and disrupting the schools. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Referring to the testimony of the two Board custodians, Board member Andrea Zopp wanted to know how much we asking people to do. She said that we are pushing employees beyond "reasonable expectations" and that this is not the way to go.

Tim Cawley said he will follow up about the work load and what is reasonable.

Near the end of the meeting (just before the Board went into executive session), "Chief Administrative Officer" Tim Cawley was once again called upon by some of the Board members to explain why the schools were still filthy, 14 months after Cawley had presented the Power Point materials rationalizing the privatization of custodial services to Aramark and SodexoMAGIC. As usual, Cawley fed the Board members "data" which demonstrated that the schools had improved in "cleanliness" according to the corporate scales he had earlier (January 2014) presented to the Board in Power Point. Neither Cawley nor the Board members mentioned that the contractors who had reduced the staffing at schools in order to create their profit margins were major donors to Rahm Emanuel. Referring to the questions about the dangers being demonstrated because of the privatization of nursing services, Board member Mahalia Hines said she had met with Sarah Hainds in an arranged office-hours meeting and they discussed options.

Board President Vitale said he sent a letter to the federal government regarding the cost of testing (in reference to Joy Clendenning's testimony) and has not yet received a response.

Dr. Hines then requested that the Board go into closed session.


March 27, 2015 at 8:49 PM

By: George N. Schmidt

First and Last Names required for comments

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March 28, 2015 at 3:34 PM

By: Susan Hickey

Nurses, social workers, counselors, psychologists and other clinicians

Right now, CPS has frozen the hiring of social workers and psychologists and there are schools without coverage. We are being told this is because we are not billing our services at the 100% level. This is difficult when the students we see are being tested! Our compliance numbers will be low and we are being reprimanded for it even though the students will be tested until June! The other groups- Occupational and Physical Therapists, Speech Pathologists, and Nurses have even more schools not covered due to in the case of OTs and PTs- they can get better working conditions in hospitals and clinics. The issue of inadequate numbers of school nurses is dire.

The Board has replaced CPS social workers in one school with social workers from an agency which makes us very worried. This with the use of community social service agencies to do our and the counselors' jobs for Social Emotional Learning and therapy. We are being told we are NOT clinicians but 'related service providers' and that our sole focus is to help students learn (but in reality test well as it is all about data!). I have personally seen a rise in the number of students that have been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder which I believe come from the pressure they are facing with testing! At the beginning of PARCC I had to comfort a 7th grade boy who was crying as he was upset that he would not pass if he did badly in this practice test!

We are doing a disservice to learning for the love of learning with all this emphasis on testing. Having us who are educated to be therapists not allowed to do what is disaprately needed in our schools worries me.

March 28, 2015 at 5:35 PM

By: George N. Schmidt

Privatization fanatics at the Board of Education

True, Susan, but let's please look at the deeper picture. The schools were closed (rather than retained as multi-use community schools with smaller classes) to promote privatization. Playground teachers, nurses, social workers, music and art teachers -- all are dumped for privatized (and obnoxiously promoted and marketed) privatized alternatives.

That's a big part of what the current fight is about, and even though, with all the weaknesses of the "reform" from within the Democratic Party (and that's all Chuy is and Harold Washington was), it's a baby step away from the John Galt worshippers currently and cynically in power.

The fact is, privatization fanatics control every aspect of Chicago City Government at this point in history. The seven members of the Board of Education were chosen for their fundamentalist religious devotion to privatization in education, and their "diversity" in race and ethnicity satisfies a dwindling number of people who are bamboozled by that kind of stuff. The ruling class has mastered this method of obfuscation, so that as long as the crooks, con men and women, and liars are "diverse" providing Rahm with a version of "Rham's Rainbow" standing behind him every time the TV cameras turn on, the Hollywood thinking is that the "people" will buy the con. This time around, Rahm has had to invest more heavily than usual in the "Rahm Love" nonsense featuring mostly black people auditioned by the likes of the sellouts at UniteHERE and a couple of other unions (SEIU Local 73, for example).

These people can more likely quote "Atlas Shrugged" and the hagiographic nonsense versions of the Reagan years than they have any knowledge of actual Chicago or U.S. history. But it doesn't matter, since the money is on their dies and they become wealthier and more powerful provided they vote for every privatization scheme and then solemnly proclaim its virtues with the smarmy charms of a Tim Cawley aided and abetted by Mahalia Hines and similar surrogates...

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