BOARDWATCH: Charter zealots pack May 27 Chicago Board of Education meeting, repeating a liturgy that's been chanted for years, but which brings smiles to the nodding members of what many are now calling the 'Chicago Board of Privatization and Corruption'...

Organized and zealous parents, students and alums from several Chicago charter schools packed the May 27, 2015 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, demanding that the agenda further expanding the charters of Chicago be approved and adding that Chicago Public Schools should end the policy of not letting charters utilize the 50 school buildings closed by the Board's vote two years earlier.

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey warned the Board not to turn vacant public school buildings over to charters, even as the Board agenda included a number of items whereby the charters would pay $1 per year to lease entire buildings as part of the sweetheart deals to promote Chicago charters. Substance photo by David Vance.When members of the press and public arrived at the monthly meeting of the Board, we quickly discovered that 43 of the 60 slots allocated for "public participation" had been taken by charter people. The charters had obviously been organized to sign in at the beginning of the sign-in time and freeze out all others.

The problem has arisen because under David Vitale, the Board pretends that it can only allocate a maximum of 60 slots for "public participation," not matter what. The sign-in is done by computer, so that the Board can simply use the computer program to lock out anyone beyond the arbitrary maximum.

Since Rahm Emanuel appointed the current members of the Chicago Board of Education in May 2011, the Board has slowly tried to strangle public participation. This is done while they are encouraging the proponents of privatization (which includes charter schools) to monopolize the brief time allotted. This is done by limiting each speaker to a maximum of two minutes (ruthlessly enforced, even against public officials) and by limiting the total number of those allowed to sign up to speak to 60. This is unprecedented and is done no matter how big the issues or how many people might want to talk about them. Prior to the Vitale-Ruiz Board, the number of those allowed to sign up to participate in the democratic process was unlimited, so on some days there would be more than 100 people signed up and on others fewer than 30 or 40.

Ruiz, of course, constantly reminds people that he is a highly successful lawyer, but his policies undermine the right, under the First Amendment, of free speech and to "petition the government for redress of grievances." Under the Ruiz version, it's OK to "petition the Board of Education" -- as long as no more than 60 citizens want to exercise that right during any month. Democracy is not a priority with Jesse Ruiz, David Vitale, and the other members of the current school board of the nation's third largest public school system.

The speeches by the charter school supporters were generally according to the script that hasn't changed in a decade. Parents, students, or former students proclaim that they were trapped in "failing" public schools only to find salvation in the charter schools' choices. The Board members never demand to know which "failing" public schools the speaker has escaped from, and not effort is made to demand further information about why the local real public school was not the choice of the speaker. For the past five years, I have heard and reported on my than 100 speakers who came before the Board and basically sand the same tune.

This time it was slightly different in two major ways. The Board actually put the head of the "Illinois Network of Charter Schools", Andrew Broy, out front along with the Board's "Chief of Incubation and innovation", Jack Elsey, during Elsey's Power Point presentation on charters 2015. And near the end of the meeting, a group from Urban Prep charter high school chanted its mantra as the Board members smiled approvingly.

Only four members of the Board were present for the meeting, with Andrea Zopp and Henry Bienen both missing in action.

With Jesse Ruiz, the Board's Vice President, currently doing double duty as "Interim CEO," it was questionable whether the Board actually had a viable quorum, but undaunted the Board members there (David Vitale, Mahalia Hines, Carlos Azcoitia, and Deborah Quazzo) forged ahead with their meeting and with the nearly 300 pages on the public agenda.

Protesters at an early morning (6:30) demonstration called by the Chicago Teachers Union were virtually invisible during the actual meeting, which began at 10:30.

Power Point was again the dominant form of narrative, and the Board members as usual sat mesmerized by the presentations and refused to ask any critical questions no matter how vague or ridiculous the claims on the stacks were.

The May 27, 2015 meeting featured an almost endless stream of Power Point presentations by bureaucrats from the CPS executive staff. The one on charter schools featured a Power Point in favor of charter expansion by the Board's "Chief Officer for Innovation and Incubation", Jack Elsey. "Chief Administrative Officer" Tim Cawley was still around and still giving Power Point, despite recent press reports that he cost the Board at least $10 million by not knowing all of the schools in Chicago before he arranged a re-privatization contract with Aramark for custodial services in February 2014. Cawley, a favorite of Chicago's business elite, can do now wrong and serves in his $215,000 per year job despite the fact (which was once again evident in the "missing schools" scandal) that he had no experience in Chicago's public schools and has apparently surrounded himself with staff who are equally ignorant of the city and its schools.

The only speaker from the union was Vice President Jesse Sharkey. Sharkey reminded the Board that the Board had promised not to give away schools that had been closed two years earlier, during the massive school closings of May 2013, to charter schools. Nevertheless, the Board did so through what amounted to a "bait and switch." Earlier, the Board had voted to sell the Peabody school to a private firm. On May 27, 2015, the Board voted to allow a charter school to use the Peabody building.

One of the most obvious things on display during the Board meeting was the massive segregation of Chicago's charter schools. Although Board member Andrea Zopp routinely chides in public around the notion that CPS business should be allocated to "minority" firms (she also does the same on the Pension Board), she never mentions the fact that her votes to expand charter schools are expanding segregation. She was absent on May 27, but the evidence was again on display in front of the Board members, who seemed to miss it.

When the "scholars" (all the charters refer to their students as "scholars", one of the many affectations of the narrative) moved to the front during the defenses of the various charter "schools" and "campuses", the segregation (all-black) of Urban Prep was obvious. Later, when the parents of UNO charter schools, all wearing green tee shirts, assembled in front of the Board, is was clear that Black people were not welcome at the UNO schools (as Substance has reported for years).

Alderman Pewar of the 47th Ward told the Board that nobody on the city's northeast side wanted a "campus" of Noble charter schools in the area that is served by Uplift, Amundsen, Lakeview, Senn and Sullivan high schools. Four aldermen had joined with school leaders from schools in those communities to demand that the Board not approve the propose relocation of one of the so-called "campuses" of Noble Network to a site on Irving Park Road near the lake in that part of town. During his remarks, Pewar talked about how divisive and discriminatory education policies in India had prompted his family's move to the United States, and he compared the divisions being created by CPS's charter and selective enrollment policies with those of the former colonial system.Board member Andrea Zopp, CEO of the Chicago Urban League, was not at the meeting. Board member Mahalia Hines was. Despite the fact that Hines often proclaims about her "community" (i.e. Black Chicago), she didn't make any comments about the obvious anti-black segregation in front of her when UNO assembled, of the all-black segregation of Urban Prep.


Following public outcry, Chicago Public Schools yanked from Wednesdays Board of Education vote a proposal to move a charter school to Uptown amid neighborhood high schools with room for more students.

And before sending dozens of other charter school changes to the board, CPS also announced a plan to codify how charters will be judged going forward.

CPS charter chief Jack Elsey said the district will meet this summer with New Schools for Chicago, the Illinois Network of Charter Schools and other charter leaders to codify a definition of high-performing as well as a warning list for low performers going forward.

A foundational commitment of the charter school idea was an inherent agreement that if a school does not perform, it should be closed, Elsey said.

Board member Carlos Azcoitia pushed CPS further to consider a citywide plan for all schools amid declining enrollment and tight budgets. He wanted to make sure other issues such as special education and expulsion rates were also part of charter renewals.

We need here an equal playing field with quality models. Thats why we need to take a look at a system-wide strategy, Azcoitia said.

All four board members at the meeting had to vote to pass items Wednesday, and the entire agenda did pass 4-0 save proposals to move The Noble Academy to 640 W. Irving Park, and two other renewals.

CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said the abrupt postponement of the controversial Noble vote stemmed from the consideration of community perspectives when making decisions.

Given the amount of community feedback, the board will not consider actions for . . . Noble . . . today and will take more time to review the proposals and recommendations.

The Noble Academy sought to move to an empty private school building at 640 W. Irving Park, saying it outgrew its temporary downtown space where the lease is ending.

North Side politicians, principals and parents had testified at a CPS public hearing and delivered letters to the mayor Tuesday to fight Nobles relocation, saying CPS cant afford another school when nearby schools have space, and that 900 new seats at Noble would skim money from Amundsen, Lake View, Sullivan, Uplift and Senn, which theyve worked hard to support. The district faces a $1.1 billion deficit.

Noble principal Pablo Sierra implored the board to let his students move to Uptown, contrary to the notion that Nobles entrance would affect its neighbors enrollment, saying, Our students deserve a permanent location just like those at Lake View, Amundsen and Senn.

But Amundsens Local School Council member Michael Cohen said Noble should have to prove its need in the area first.

Any notion that this wont affect enrollment in the area doesnt add up, he said. Theyre already recruiting in our feeder schools.

All in all, 21 more charters were approved to move, add students or make other changes.

Despite past CPS and Board promises, Rowe Elementary Charter School will now move into the former Peabody Elementary School, which was shuttered during the mass 2013 closings.

Two Perspectives Charter School campuses will move from the old Calumet High School building into the new facility of a politically connected pastor at 8522 S. Lafayette, slated for a new Concept Charter School until that chain fell under federal investigation.

Thirteen more schools had operating charters renewed, though not all for five years.

Urban Preps Bronzeville campus was OKd for five years, but its other two were shortened to just three years, according to CPS, for academic reasons. The entire charter chain also must meet certain financial conditions, though McCaffrey couldnt explain them.

The United Neighborhood Organization Charter Schools voluntarily postponed opening new schools for another year, saying theyll focus first on transitioning to new management. Intrinsic Charter School also asked for another year to open a second school. Catalyst Howland Charter School is voluntarily closing down next month.


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