BOARDWATCH: Chicago Board of Education meeting of December 16, 2015... Board ignores most criticisms of privatization and approves a massive security camera contract that will prove a waste of money....

The December 16, 2015 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education was the final meeting for Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz (above left). Ruiz has left the school board and gone to the Chicago Park District. Above, Ruiz and Board President Frank Clark at the November 2015 Board meeting. Substance photo by David Vance.The Chicago Board of Education met for its final meeting of 2015 on December 16, 2015, at the Board's downtown Chicago offices, at one North Dearborn. The meetings was preceded by a great deal of "good news" materials. The public participation included a large number of people critical of Board policies and proposals, most of which were ignored by the Board members when they spoke or voted on the items on the Board's public agenda.

There was a festive holiday air at the Chicago Board of Education's regular monthly meeting on Wednesday, December 16, 2015, at the Chicago Public Schools' Loop Office at 42 West Madison Street, Garden Level, in the "Board Room." As reporters, participants, observers, and Board members entered the meeting room, a choir sang a medley of holiday songs.

Roll call indicated all seven Board members were present: Mark Furlong, Dominique Jordan Turner, Vice-President Jesse Ruiz, President Frank Clark, Dr. Mahalia Hines, Gail D. Ward, and Rev. Michael G. Garanzini, S. J. Also present were Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Forrest Claypool, Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson, and Ronald L. Marmer, Chief Counsel, Cynthia Rodriguez, Honorary Board Student, and Ariel Gomez, the "shadow student" of the month.

At the beginning of the meeting, CPS Chief Safety and Security Officer Jadine Chou made a safety announcement. Following this, another announcement was made that the Phillips High School football team was being hosted today.

Board President Clark said that this would be the last meeting for Board Vice-President Jesse Ruiz who will now be head of the Park District. Board Vice-President Ruiz responded by telling about his background: a dad who was a migrant farmer who completed third grade and a mother who finished high school, his own acquisition of a law degree, where one of his law teachers was President Barack Obama and another was Judge Richard Posner. Various Board members commented, including Board Member Rev. Garanzini who called Jesse Ruiz a "tenacious fighter." Claypool talked about the importance of the Park District's parks for immigrants like Ruiz's family (without discussing how as Park District chief Claypool had undermined many of the park programs through privatization and austerity cuts).

Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson welcomed the Wildcats football team of Phillips High School. She noted that Phillips has an Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) "turnaround" school since 2010, and how much Principal Sullivan had done to improve the school. She called them "champions and history makers." She said that they were the first to win the Illinois football championship in Chicago history.

Principal Sullivan told the Board that the team was undefeated in fourteen games in the entire season. He said that the team out-scored their opponents 600-90. Approximately thirty-three football players in blue sweatshirts, including nineteen seniors and Coach Troy McAllister were present at the Board meeting.

Two students spoke for all the players. Board President Frank Clark said, "You make us all very proud. Board member Gail Ward added, "Thank you for bringing a new meaning to the word turnaround." Board Vice-President Ruiz pointed out that the team was featured in the Illinois High School Association Annual Report. Chief Education Officer Jackson remarked, "My mom and dad went to Wendell Phillips." Board Member Mahalia Hines responded, "I'm not surprised."

Next, musicians and the chamber singers from Lincoln Park High School, led by Tim Cooper, the Choir Director, performed "I Will" by the Beatles and "My Soul's Been Anchored in the Lord."

CEO Claypool announced that two chief officers were leaving the Board: Ginger Ostro, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Information Officer (CIO) Laflin Tidmark.

Claypool then went on to talk about the $480 million "budget hole" he has been saying the Board faces and the Board's $1 billion "deficit." Claypool said that Chicago needs Springfield to act. He repeated the often challenged claim that CPS needed to be reimbursed "at the same rate as the rest of Illinois" claiming that CPS receives $3 for every $4 the rest of the state receives.

After this, Ronald DeNard, "Senior Vice-President of Finance", spoke about the Bond Financing Update using a Power Point for part of his discussion. A major increase in bonding authority was on the public agenda. DeNard said that the CEO was asking for Board approval of $120 million additional long-term bonds and $130 million of additional "cash flow" borrowing. Comments by Board Members Furlong and Ruiz followed. Board President Clark then said that the Fed will raise the interest rate today. He added that when we do a bond issue it's junk bonds, and how will the increase in the interest rate affect bonds? DeNard never answered questions with precise figures about how much more CPS was going to pay in bond interest, at one point simply noting that the situation was favorable to those who would lend money to CPS.

Chief Education Officer Jackson then announced other pending staff departures: Karen Van Osdell and Beth Mascati-Miller. She told the Board that both had made significant contributions to CPS during their time in administrative positions.

Jackson then said that a new district calendar will be released, the earliest ever. She then went into a long narrative about how she had visited CPS Montessori schools and how well they were doing.

She told the Board that a more detailed report about English Language support will follow in future Board meetings, and that grants for the Arts are being provided.

Chicago's head of bilingual education then detailed her family background of her dad who was a CPS student who then became a steelworker on the South side and later went into business. She went on to say that Chicago was a global city with students speaking 16 languages in CPS that require the district to provide bilingual classes, including Nepali among other languages. She said that a revised bilingual policy is planned for this Spring.

Following her comments, Hal Woods, "Portfolio Planning and Strategy Director", spoke about the charter schools that would be closed. He said that according to the Charter School Quality Plan, the state has directed that failure to meet standards means that the charter school "shall" face revocation.

At schools that will be closed, during the week of November 30, family found out about high quality options, which will enable students to attend Longwood, Bowen, Carver Military, and Noble Hansberry, Butler and Baker campuses. Woods said that transportation will be provided whenever there are ten or more students to the same campus.

Next, Board Secretary Estela Beltran announced that the next Board meeting will take place on Wednesday, January 27, 2016. Sign up will begin at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, January 19 (due to the Martin Luther King holiday), and end at 5 p.m. on Friday, January 22, or "when all slots are filled." She also announced the public participation rules.

At 11:50 a.m., public participation began with Alderman Anthony Napolitano of the 41st ward, addressing the overcrowding at Ebinger and Dirksen schools. He said that Ebinger needs an annex, is in crisis mode, and Ebinger parents believe in the power of neighborhood schools. He asked, "Can we accommodate these two schools before they bust at the seams?"

Next, Michael Brunson, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Recording Secretary, responded to the Board's "We are broke" claim, Special Ed issues, and retirement pensions. He told the Board, "You are broke on purpose because you choose to ease the tax burden on the wealthy." He added that the toxic swaps equaled tens of millions of dollars. He remarked that the Board was threatening to lay off teachers. He said the Board should launch a full investigation into toxic swaps and join CTU in pursuing progressive financial options. He then addressed Board President Clark and said "I haven't seen you, Frank, since you shut down those fifty schools."

The first public participant to speak was Christopher Ball, of "More Than a Score." He talked about the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), which he stated punishes those with more than a 5% failure rate. He said that the PARCC was boycotted by 20 percent of families in New York -- and ten percent in Chicago -- and that the system focuses more on scores than students. He added that PARCC is really a measure of family income and that CPS should not use PARCC as a high stakes test.

Jelon McEwen, of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS), spoke of finding a better school. He said the hurdles of transportation, finances, safety, and applications mean that many cannot activate choice even if they want to. He said that his group will be releasing a study on school choice in Chicago.

Chirag Mehta, who lives in Albany Park, said he is the parent of a second-grader at Agassiz School. He said that the teachers and staff are the reason his daughter is thriving. He said that management was cutting teacher pay and conditions and this constitutes an attack on his daughter's learning conditions. He added that teachers are asking for what's right for all students, a world class education for all students.

Augustine Maron, of Suder Montessori Magnet School at Washington and Damen, said that Chief Education Officer Jackson had just visited the school. He noted that he loves Montessori education and that it was superior to the education one of his children received at the prestigious LaSalle Language Academy. He added that many children are on the waiting list for Suder.

Orwin Mayers, a student a Gary Comer College Prep, which opened in 2008, said that "Champs" mentoring had helped him to be accepted at Iowa State, Illinois State and other colleges.

Vondale Singleton, assistant principal of Gary Comer College Prep, said that he created "Champs" to empower young men. "Champs" was started to encourage former students to return to mentor current students.

Rev. Janette Wilson, of Operation PUSH, spoke of her background. She said she was not an immigrant but her heritage included indigenous and enslaved people who migrated from the South to the North. She then spoke in favor of charter schools slated to be closed. She said that Betty Shabazz School had not received a visit from administration before the recommendation to close schools. She added that rumor had it that test scores were tampered with and that the Board needs to look at how schools are closed. She added that the policies on charter closing are not open and fair.

Marilyn Grace, a parent of a student in Amandla Charter School in Englewood, said she was disappointed at the closing of the One Goal College Prep Program. She asked, "What are we going to do now?" She said that you are closing charters after closing fifty traditional schools. She remarked that Level 1 or Level 2 charters are hard to find now. She added that our students are not being accepted now and the neighborhood school, Harper, is significantly lower.

Sherry Watson, a parent of a ninth-grader at Amandla Charter School, said her son was learning a lot. She mentioned that he went to Washington, D.C. with his high school class. She said leaving Amandla was like losing family and that it was hard to find another school like Amandla. She added that no school was willing to accept her son yet.

Melissa Hughes, of TEAM Englewood, affirmed that Restorative Justice practices were needed in every school. At TEAM Englewood, she said that a "PEACE" room was available to students who experience conflicts and drama. She added that support was needed from the Board.

Erica Clark, of Parents For Teachers (P4T), said that parents stood behind teachers and the union. She remarked that the teacher proposals are reasonable and sound, yet the CPS response was pay cuts and layoffs. She called it "blackmail," and said the schools were broke because of CPS policies. She added that the parents will be with the teachers in the streets, as in 2012.

Timothy Heneghan, a Local School Council (LSC) community representative at Ebinger School in Edison Park, said that the school needs an annex. He thanked the mayor for meeting with the community and said that money was needed for school construction. He said that the original enrollment at the K-8 school was 594, is now 742 to 768, and is projected to be 892. He said that this last figure would mean 45 and above students were projected to be in each class. He added that the school needs an addition and asked the Board to plan now to act.

Latoya Ellis, of New Life, spoke about homeless children. She said that she was homeless in 2014 and had to borrow to have bus money. She added that her daughter liked the culinary program in her school and said that there was a misunderstanding about programs across CPS. She was told she would receive an answer.

John Casey, of Cameron Elementary School, a member of the CTU's Big Bargaining Team and a former Peace Corps member, said that first he was a teacher and now he is a case manager. He spoke of Amari Brown, a student who was shot and killed last summer. He added that he joined the CTU Big Bargaining Team which was told there was no money. He remarked that the price we pay is high.

Sara Lofton, of Duke Ellington Elementary School spoke of the nurses and the $30 million contract. She said that many schools started without a nurse and privatizers, such as RCN, charge more for nurse services. CEO Claypool responded that we have asked for a review of this.

William Iacullo, a Local 143 School Engineer with 42 years of experience, spoke of the possible termination of School Engineer Patrick Kelly. He called the decision to possibly fire Patrick Kelly of Prussing School a hasty decision. He said that Patrick Kelly had helped the students to get out safely. He added that two CPS schools were named for school engineers: Manley, who saved students at Moos, and Waters.

Susan Hickey, spoke of the termination of Dan Coyne at the end of the school year. A Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) ruling on October 9, said he should stay. She said that former CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett told Dan Coyne he must follow the (residency) rules. Dan Coyne lives in Evanston and a new hire, Ron DeNard, Senior Vice-President of Finance, lives in Flossmoor. Daniel Coyne was a social worker in 2002. He donated a kidney and then CPS discovered he was not in the city. She said that former CPS CEO Ron Huberman told Coyne he could stay, but not Barbara Byrd-Bennett though.

Wendy Katten, of Raise Your Hand (RYH), spoke of Special Education Restoration of Positions. She said that some schools didn't win appeals and some schools didn't make appeals. She added that temporary agencies are staffing schools with nurses. She remarked that $29 million for surveillance cameras for schools was questionable.

Tammie Vinson, a Special Ed teachers at Oscar DePriest Elementary School. She said she was at previous schools that were closed or turned around with the result that many Black teachers were fired. She spoke of unfair evaluations for African-American teachers and said that CPS policies were causing a decline in African-American teachers.

Michael Bower, of Chicago International Charter School (CICS), spoke of Derrion Albert of Fenger School who started school in Altgeld Gardens and was slain outside the school. He also spoke in favor of CICS Larry Hawkins. He said that traditional schools are not high quality.

Fenger High School Alumni Association member Harry A. William III, who graduated from Fenger in 1975, spoke of the last graduation class and the new principal, Principal Smith, who values the partnership with the Alumni Association.

Tiphany Henderson, of Educare, said that CPS was careless with the lives of our children in Bronzeville. She remarked that children were not guaranteed spots at better schools. She mentioned that the Bronzeville school was not the type of school you would close. She added that others also were saying that the Bronzeville school was not a Level 3 school.

Tierra Washington, of Bronzeville Lighthouse Charter School, asked that someone be sent out to speak to students to explain why the school is being closed. She remarked, "It's politics at work."

Robert Lamont, of Vets for Peace, spoke of one third of those taking part in Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC)

ending up in the Marines. He said 50% of those in the Air Force ROTC go into military services. He remarked that the military says the ROTC is the "best recruitment we have." He concluded that the public school are the main source of recruitment since the draft ended.

Robert Jewell, President and Founder of Ad-ucation Media, told how the program raised money for schools. He said he wants to meet with Board President Clark in the future.

Huu Nguyen read a poem in support of teachers. He ended by saying that teachers need a just and fair contract.

Matthew Luskin, of LaSalle Language Academy, said that his son's teacher was being laid off this week. He said this meant that his son must do a difficult thing and say good-bye to his teacher. He added that the Board must speak out against difficult things, too. He continued to speak after the mic was removed from him.

Patrick Kelly, Jr., spoke of the October 30 evacuation of Prussing School because of carbon monoxide. He said others have asked, "Is Prussing or any school safe?" He talked about the suspension and possible termination of the engineer, his father. He said that Prussing parents at a meeting expressed anger that his father was being made a scapegoat and fall guy He remarked that opinions were given from those with no school experience. He mentioned that the boilers needed repairs and that what happened was not one person's fault. He added that since this incident, two more CPS schools had been evacuated.

Cody Rogers, of Noble School, asked for college education funding for undocumented students who qualify.

Beatriz Sahagun, of a Noble Charter School, said her daughter was offered structure and discipline. She added that options means a lot to my family.

Abbie Illenberger, of Grassroots Collaborative, told the Board that we have come here with suggestions for new revenue options. He said that this Board has dismissed all of these options. He said that Grassroots has won money back to the school district. He added that others say the Board is not asking for the financial solutions that Grassroots is asking for.

Lina Fritz, of Friends of Bronzeville and the Hyde Park Community, remarked that Lincoln Park School got a million dollar annex and yet CPS voted to closed schools. She said her school was one point away from Level 2, yet it was closed.

Benjamin Coyle, at Hubbard High School for the last ten years and a member of the CTU Big Bargaining Team, said that teacher stress was a result of financial lack of responsibility. He remarked that we need Tax Increment Financing (TIF) transparency. He remarked that the city was on the brink of a meltdown. He asked the Board to do the right thing for the right reason for the right people.

Tiffany Washington said that Bronzeville school students were pitted against each other to get into the best schools. She said that her child at Bronzeville had made tremendous strides and will be put in a lower performing school. She asked that CPS stop by Bronzeville.

LauraJane Hyde, CEO of Gilda's Club Chicago, said that the club helps students understand cancer. She mentioned that the program is not one size fits all and that it is free. She added that they will work with anyone who needs their support.

Comments from Board members followed. In response to questions by Board members about the issues raised by speakers from the charter schools, Hal Woods said that the Board will hold information sessions with parents at all four charter schools that will be closed. When called upon to explain some of the criticisms raised by the charter parents, he noted that some of the charters had refused to allow CPS representatives to schedule meetings with their parents, making the transition more difficult.

Board member Dr. Hines said that we should have visited all charter schools before being closed, just as we did when 50 neighborhood schools were closed.

Board Vice-President Ruiz spoke of the safety and security of students in L.A. and NYC.

In response to questions raised during public participation about a proposal that the Board spend more than $30 million over the next four years on security cameras, Chief Safety and Security Officer Jadine Chou said that surveillance cameras would be installed in 60% of schools starting with schools with no cameras first and then schools with old and outdated cameras next.

In response to the continuing criticism by schools' staff, parents and students about the dangers being created by the failure of the Board of place certified CPS nurses in all schools, CEO Claypool claimed that "a national shortage of nurses" was the reason why CPS had privatized nursing services.

The Board meeting concluded at 1:25 p.m. and board members went into closed session. The Board members came out of executive session at around 3:00 and voted in favor of most items on the public agenda, and some of the items that had been controversial both in the public and in the executive session agenda. Although the Board voted to fire the social worker who violated the residency rule, instead of firing the Prussing engineer the Board substitutes a motion to suspend him for 30 days without pay. The Board also voted in favor of the closing of the charter schools that had been on the public agenda.


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