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BUDGET HEARINGS, OLIVE-HARVEY: CPS officials cynically answer questions at sparsely attended budget hearing at Oliver Harvey College during annual budget hearings August 18, 2015...

Retired Chicago teacher Debby Pope was one of fewer than 20 people who testified at the CPS budget hearings at Oliver-Harvey College on August 18, 2015. Pope now works for the Chicago Teachers Union. Substance photo by David Vance.Protesters from Dyett High School were doing a hunger strike five miles away, and none of them showed up at the budget hearings held at Olive-Harvey College on Chicago's far South Side on the evening of August 18, 2015. Fewer than 20 people spoke, and unlike other hearings, CPS officials tried to answer questions. There were only 13 speakers and a total of 30 people in the audience at the budget hearings at Olive Harvey College. No elected officials were there, nor were any members of the Chicago Board of Education. (Jesse Ruiz was the only Board member at the hearings; he attended the hearing at Malcolm X College, according to news reports).

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) held budget proposal hearings at three locations on Tuesday, August 18, 2015 to consider the "Proposed Budget" for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016: South Side hearing at Olive-Harvey College; Central hearing at Malcolm X College; and North Side hearing at Schurz High School.

This reporter attended the South Side hearing held in the gymnasium of Olive-Harvey College located at 10001 S. Woodlawn Avenue (aka 103rd and Stony Island Blvd.). Sign-up for speaking was from 5:00-6:00 PM; after that, participation would take place following a scheduled 5-minute "welcome" and 15-minute "presentation" until 8:00.

Waiting for the 6:00 start, it was a bit surreal to listen to, among other jazzy selections, a version of Aint No Stoppin Us Now given the doom-and-gloom surrounding the CPS media introduction of this FY 2016 budget. Given the number of security guards (at least 5) and additional chairs set-up in front of the gyms lengthwise bleachers, its safe to surmise that CPS was probably expecting a greater and more troublesome turn-out. In fact, there were more CPS employees (~30-35) than members of the public (~20-25) in attendance at the South Side hearing.

CPS officials who were at the budget hearing at Olive-Harvey College included the newly appointed "Chief Education Officer" Janice Jackson (right), whose annual salary is $195,000. Prior to this budget, CPS had not had a "Chief Education Officer" for more than two years. Left to right, above, Michael Moss, Budget Officer, Budget and Management Office; Jerrold Washington, Chief of Schools for Network 9; Donell Underdue, Chief of Schools for Network 10; Janice Jackson, Chief Education Officer. Substance photo by David Vance.Seated at the table in front of the large screen set up in the center of the basketball court, from audiences left to right, were: Elvis, the timekeeper; Michael Moss, Budget Officer, Budget and Management Office; Jerrold Washington, Chief of Schools for Network 9; Donell Underdue, Chief of Schools for Network 10; Janice Jackson, Chief Education Officer; Chuck Bassett, CPS Facilities Senior Manager Planning and Design, Facility Operations and Maintenance; Eboney Lofton, Senior Manager, Office of Diverse Learner Supports and Services (ODLSS); and Martin Ellinger, Transportation Manager, Student Transportation.

The stenographer was at the end of the table.

At the sign-in table, I was told that I could have a copy of the public participation sign-in sheet, but when I went back to get that before the 6:00 hour, I was told that I would need to FOIA the information by a CPS employee, Andrienne, who would not give me her last name. Traci Daniels, "Communications Strategist," was called for; she questioned why I would need the list, since everyone would state their names aloud. I said that it was a public meeting, so I did not understand why I could not even just copy the names; they had snatched the sheet when I tried to do this, claiming an issue of confidentiality. Michael Passman, Deputy Press Secretary, repeated the same things, but then told me to see him if I did not have all the names at the end of the hearing. (I did not get all of the names, and I was unable to see him.)

CPS PRESENTATION

At 6:05 Kimberly Shannon, Director of Training and Quality, School Support Center, welcomed everyone. This was an opportunity for CPS to hear ideas, priorities, and concerns. Spanish (utilized for one woman) and sign language translation were available. She reviewed the rules which were listed on a one-sided handout sheet which also included the schedule: two minutes per speaker; timekeeper warning signs would be held up; only one member per organization or school would be allowed to speak on the same issue... There would be answers to questions or follow-up questions posted on CPSs website: http://cps.edu/budget. [Note: The timekeeper held up the warning sheets, and the handout stated in bold letter NO ONE WILL BE ABLE TO SIGN UP TO SPEAK AFTER 6 P.M.; however, no one was held to any of that, as there were only 13 speakers who signed-up.

Ms. Shannon actually asked the audience at the end if anyone else wanted to speak. Given the low attendance, but higher than at this hearing, at a recent budget informational hearing for local school councils on the South Side, this region is apparently either disengaged and/or collectively holding up some sort of a silent middle finger to such CPS hearings at this time and/or asking whats the point? A hunger strike on the South Side for Dyett High School continued, running parallel to the time of this hearing, following those concerns not being heard over a course of years at more meetings and hearings than one might be able to count.]

The audience members were also given a two-sided budget handout with the following titles for a pie chart, two bar graphs, and a listing: Key Numbers; The Core Challenge: While Pension Costs Climb, State Revenues are Falling; Meanwhile, CPS Doesnt Get Its Fair Share of Pension Funding; and How CPS Closed The $1.1 Billion Budget Deficit.

Ms. Shannon briefly introduced those seated at the table. Janice Jackson said that she would speak on behalf of CPS leadership for the first time on this side of the table. The budget was not what they wanted; no one was pleased, but they had a responsibility to open school in the next weeks. She said that those who already knew her knew that she was sincere and especially committed to the South Side where she came from. CPS staff worked hard to prepare this budget. Audience concerns would be heard.

Michael Moss, Budget Officer, gave the scheduled 15-minute PowerPoint presentation. They began by listing what they say are the positive "accomplishments" of CPS under the current adminitration: great strides were being made re students standardized test scores, attendance rates, and college enrollment.

The "negatives" were all the fault of the State of Illinois, according to CPS officials: declining state funding, with one chart showing a decline of $500 million from FY10 to FY15. CPS paid $1700 per student toward pensions, receiving $31 per student from the state while other districts received $2,266 per student. Encouraging: the Governor, Senate Speaker, Speaker of the House, and other involved partners, agreed things were not equitable for Chicago. However, if there was no relief from the state, as the CPS budget was betting on, the future would see very painful cuts or more unsustainable funding or both. Again, this was not the budget that anyone in CPS wanted; it was the budget that reflected fiscal reality.

Mr. Moss said that 97% of school funding was going to the schools, not Central Office.

PUBLIC PARTICIPATION SPEAKERS

Note: The audience clapped politely and supportively for each speaker, more loudly for criticisms to the budget, the Networks, and charter schools in particular.

#1: The first speaker called did not step up, so this reporter spoke first.

Substance reporter and elementary school teacher Susan Zupan sepaking during the August 18, 2015 budget hearing at Olive-Harvey College. Substance photo by David Vance.#2: I introduced myself as a teacher, union member, reporter for Substance, and unhappy taxpayer. I asked since charter schools represented privatization, would they be asked to pay CPS rent at a market rate? I asked why in looking at the budget tab for Find Your School CPS had listings such as: Accountability; Assessment; Business Diversity; Chief Administrative Office which gained $1 million and 120 positions; and something called Consolidated Pointer Line Unit which gained $9 million but had no positions listed. Accountability had a gain of $7.4 million and 19.2 positions under Find Your School; yes, the $7.4 million was accounted for with Accountability Total under Budget By Unit but only 13 positions were listed there. The Law Office added $5 million and 17 lawyers. Wow. More lawyers and employees in accountability.

Other budgets under Find Your School listed financial gains but losses in positions as well as financial losses but gains in positions. At a minimum, this was not transparency. Charter schools appeared to be even or losing students, so would we be hearing about closing or consolidations there? This reporter returned to her bleacher seat, not used to any responses from the tables/panels at CPS hearings. At prior hearings, audience members were literally told the panel members were there only to listen. However, Michael Moss began to speak.

CPS Response from Michael Moss: They would need to look at that; hell put out a detailed Q & A on the website. There was a lot of movement from one place to another. Then, as the next speaker was expected to be called, Kimberly Shannon turned her mic toward the panel and asked if there were any answers to the questions that were asked. There was a moment of silence before Janice Jackson said that charter schools were not charged rent because they were public schools; there was no distinction because all schools were serving students. #3: Sharon Baker, literally wearing a cool, Bogart-looking hat, said she wore many hats re her interests in public education, but her heart was broken. Give the kids what they need. How does CPS expect teachers to handle students with social-emotional issues with less staff?

CPS Response from Janice Jackson: Social-emotional supports were not cut. Each Network had such positions. In every case we are ensuring class sizes stay true to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. She was sorry that hold harmless funds would no longer be able to remain in schools as prior.

#4: Martin Hester, new principal of Julian High School as of July 2015, was there as an advocate. Julian had one of the largest deficits with $1.7 million. He said that there were many challenges, but those of safety and security concerned him most. Julian had three buildings: academic; fine arts; and PE. They needed security for those buildings. And they did not just lose teaching positions, they lost programs, particularly in science. They had many challenges, but safety and security was a focus.

#5: Debbie Pope thanked the panel for the opportunity to address the issues and hopefully be heard. She was a retired teacher from Gage Park, a former parent - meaning that her child was no longer in CPS. She was especially concerned for the disproportionate cuts being made for special education students. When she worked at Gage Park and compared the resources lacking there to what her daughters school had, the differences were shocking. She questioned if the pie chart on one of the sheets was deliberately misleading.

For one section of the pie, charter schools were listed together with early childhood programs, telecom, and other services. She did not see how these things were related to be lumped together like this. Why not break down the money for charter schools? Ms. Pope said that many teachers felt that money going to the Networks and personnel there was a waste and should be going to the schools. She asked if CPS would work with the union for more resources, that it was unfair to speak about pensions without even discussing revenue.

CPS Response from Jerrold Washington: Network 9 was hit too; they lost 2 positions. The work of the Network Chief was like that of a superintendent. With 30-plus schools, it was like a small city. The Networks worked with principals to support student achievement, to improve practice. They were there to help not hinder.

Janice Jackson agreed that Gage Park was suffering under this budget, but recent investments of grants from companies would go to our high schools. She wanted the audience to know that CPS recognized that neighborhood high schools needed support and was taking steps in the right direction.

Patricia Boughton asked pointed questions about the cuts at high schools on the far South Side. Substance photo by David Vance.#6: Patricia Boughton said that as a resident of the community her issue was with position cuts at Bowen, Julian, and Harper High Schools, and she was concerned with the high number of special education students at those schools. Her children had gone to Bowen, her grandchildren to Corliss. Her concern was that these cuts hurt all students, but even the least amount of cuts would very negatively affect the students with special needs. CPS spent $10 million on testing. Were there any plans to reduce that and put the money back into the classrooms instead of giving all that money to the testing companies?

CPS Response from Eboney Lofton: There would be no changes in any of CPSs obligations. All IEPs would continue. If anyone knew of a student not receiving IEP minutes, they could call 773-553-1800 or email ODLSS@cps.edu to report that. CPS would meet the needs of all students. Note: The audiences disbelief to this statement was palpable.

Janice Jackson said that CPS was committed to reduce testing; they were in transition because testing was needed for teacher evaluations. They were planning to phase out what they had in order to phase in to PARCC testing.

#7: Ray Horton (reporter is unsure about this name and spelling) said from his seat that he would pass; his question had been answered. After working for 35 years in CPS, now a retired principal, he was happy to see them pick from those who came through the system, being thankful for Janice Jackson. She thanked him.

#8: Upon introduction of his name - Larry Milkowski - Janice Jackson said that she thought he was her former teacher from Hyde Park High School. Mr. Milkowski said that was his brother, George. (Everyone shared a friendly laugh.)

Mr. Larry Milkowski said that over many years, CPS did not take steps to correct mistakes, continuing unsustainable spending. He referred to the name changes from Area Instructional Officers to Network Chiefs. No disrespect intended, but Network Chiefs and support staff were not critical for the function of our school system. He referred to the title changes from Forrest Claypool as CEO versus that of a superintendent, so a politician was running the school system instead of an expert in education. Mr. Milkowski said he was semi-retired, subbing. Out in the schools he saw the effects of overtesting days/weeks taken, set aside for standardized testing. He was not against a test, but this was too much. He held up and bet his lucky peso that no one at the table could say how many tests there were and the days lost for them. [Note: No one did.]

CPS Response from Janice Jackson: We already addressed the question of too much testing. Be assured [and I believe that she referred here to herself as being a member of the rank and file] that this is not a one-man show. Forrest Claypool is an attorney by trade. That is needed at this time. Ms. Jackson repeated twice that CPS was asking for the public to trust that this model was correct: co-leading. There were no superheroes to do this work. She was in the schools for 18 years. We are co-leading. #9: Norine Gutekanst said that she was a CPS teacher for 23 years, presently a CTU staffer. This was a time of contract negotiations. There were a number of questions re CTU proposals that she had questions about. Referring to the wrap-around services that the woman asked about for Dunbar, she did not know of any teacher in any classroom who would say that they had such services; schools were ill-equipped to deal with students in crisis with problems. The Board missed opportunities for increasing revenues for our schools. As to what was just said (by Eboney Lofton) about all students special needs being met, that statement was absolutely laughable. IEP needs were not being met. She asked if CPS would work with CTU to: sue banks for toxic swaps; refuse to pay termination fees to banks or insist on lower interest rates, to stop 100s of millions going to make the rich richer so our students got those dollars. Would the mayor declared war? He got $25 million over the next 5 years from TIFs; that sounded good but was really nothing. Would CPS go to Springfield for a tax on millionaires for students to get the education they deserved?

CPS Response from Michael Moss: That was a whole bunch of questions. We will answer them on our website. We are retiring the swaps this year.

Ms. Gutekanst walked back to the mic asking if she could follow-up on that. (No one stopped her.) She asked if by that he meant that CPS was paying $100s of millions to retire them. Mr. Moss responded that he understood her question, and CPSs answer would be on the website. Janice Jackson informed that the Boards agenda for the next meeting would be posted on Monday. Eboney Lofton reiterated that student IEPs would be implemented.

#10: Dave Vance said that he preferred to take photos as a reporter for Labor Beat, but he would speak. He referred to budget page 38, asking what was going on behind closed doors with the Office of Innovation and Incubation and charter school renewals. Were there really cuts? What about $12.8 million and a staff of 69? And money was still being used to promote charter schools.

Mr. Vance was on the LSC at Bowen High School. They were surrounded by 2 charter schools, Nobel [Baker branch] and Epic. South Chicago did not need three high schools. He said, Get Baker out of Bowen. Bowen was an historic school. If CPS did not slow these charters down, this will cause us to rebel, as was the case right now with Dyett High School supporters, including KOCO (Kenwood Oakland Community Organization), who were holding a hunger strike right now.

#11: Ms. Norwood [reporter missed full name] said that her question had already been asked; she would not need to repeat it.

#12: DeShawn McDuffy [reporter may be mistaken on spelling], a parent from Percy Julian High School, wanted to ask a couple questions. They lost $1.7 million based on enrollment at the beginning of the school year. Charter schools got money for enrollment at the start of the year as well. But during the year, when charter schools kicked kids out and with the kids running to Julian, Julian needed those additional funds. Could charter schools be taxed for what they were doing? You are holding us to a higher standard than charter schools. CPS Response from Janice Jackson: I cannot disclose too much, but we are working on charter accountability, school quality, discipline practices. Youll hear more. We will go public. Theres a shift. More to come. Youll see more supports for what is happening in all our schools.

#13: Debbie Smith was sign-up up as the last speaker. Kids were kicked out of charter schools. Please answer the question: Is there any way there could be special funding to accommodate that [for the receiving schools]? She said that she heard the young lady, referring to Janice Jackson, referring to process, were in the process, but we, the parents, students, teachers were the ones paying that superhero price with the cutbacks in this budget and money for neighborhood schools. What was that she heard about Children First?

Kimberly Shannon asked at this point if there was anyone else who wanted to speak. Ms. Norwood (#11 above who declined to speak) said that she was looking forward to Janice Jacksons help. A woman named Sarah Grays, a teacher and parent in CPS, said that they had made mention of wrap-around services. Her question was that if CPS was cutting PARAs [paraprofessionals], how was that supportive?

Eboney Lofton replied something metaphorical about many arms of support and pushing those into the schools. She reiterated again that whatever supports were in student IEPs would remain. There were no cuts for special education programs, including that class sizes would not be increased. Janice Jackson said that CPS was trying to right size. She said that members of the audience knew this: PARAs in schools were not supporting paid special education services; they were being used to cover recess and lunch duty, etc. She said that there were adjustments made in the budget after they had heard otherwise from 42 schools. At the end of the day, their goal was not to subsidize special education services for recess and lunch duty. The meeting ended at 7:35. Post the meeting, I had a conversation with Gregory Volan, Senior Budget Manager. He had approached me about my questions after I spoke; I requested that he wait until the meeting ended. He said that under Accountability, the position numbers as I described did not make sense. The Consolidated Pointer Line Unit was there for school positions that were funded by Central Office, but that it should have $0 instead of the $9 million I asked about. He said that many positions moved from one unit to another. I asked if it would be possible to put a little notation for that, not just expect the public to trust it. He replied about the budget being huge, but that deep-diving, for example, into schools budgets would show other funding sources for positions as well.

We then and throughout the conversation debated charter schools as being public versus private, with him stating that they were public schools. I asked about the numbers of charter positions, not available in the budget as for public schools, with most posted as 0. In comparison to a charity, people who give money are able to see if their money is going to the cause as opposed to administrative overhead; taxpayers should be able to see all salaries for charter schools to know if money was going into classrooms instead of administrative salaries.

He said that CPS wanted to and was moving toward greater charter school accountability re the budget.

Retired Chicago teacher Lawrence Milkowski spoke forcefully at the Olive-Harvey hearing on the budget cuts on August 18, 2015, and had to remind "Chief Education Officer" Janice Jackson that he was not the "Mr. Milkowski" who had taught her at Hyde Park High School. Substance photo by David Vance.I asked if charters kicked out students, how could they be considered a public school. He said that he had not really seen this happening, but if any school could show that their enrollment numbers significantly increase from students being kicked out of charter schools after the 20th Day, and the school was taking a hit over this, then their principal should contact the Network who would contact him, and they would find a way to get further funding to the school.

The highest ranking CPS official present at the South Side hearing was the newly appointed "Chief Education Officer," Janice Jackson. Unlike what has been reported from other hearings over the years, Jackson actually answered questions and spoke with people after the session was over.



Comments:

August 20, 2015 at 1:04 PM

By: Theresa D. Daniels

Heroes speak at cps budget hearings

Congrats to those who attended the cps budget hearing and spoke on behalf of the public abused by the education malpractices of the cps. You did very important work and deserve our gratitude and acknowledgement. Thank you, Susan, for writing about the hearing in such a detailed way and for being such a fighter against this planned destruction of our public schools.

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