BOARDWATCH: Chicago Board of Education meeting of January 27, 2016...

Five of the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education during the January 27, 2016 board meeting. Six of the Board members were present for the meeting. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The Chicago Board of Education held its monthly meeting on January 27, 2016, and by the time the meeting had ended, there were a number of pleasant surprises for parents, teachers and community leaders who had become used to protesting Board actions without positive results. At the same time, when the Board returned from its closed session and voted on both the public and secret items on the agenda, it was clear that most of the Board's direction remained the same: privatization, charter schools, and a constant attack on those who work in the schools.

[img=8942]The Chicago Board of Education met on Wednesday, January 27, 2016, at the Board's downtown Chicago offices, at One North Dearborn, lower level. Of the 60 individuals who pre-registered to speak, approximately half did not show up to speak. In addition, some individuals who signed up to speak instead took part in a group protest -- a "Mic Check" type event that was used years ago during the "Occupy Movement" -- of Board policies which seemed to take the Board and some others by surprise.

Roll call indicated the following Board members were present: Mark Furlong, Dominique Jordan Turner, Jaime Guzman, Board President Frank Clark, 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. Absent was Dr. Mahalia Hines.

The Board then voted 7-0 to install new Board member Jaime Guzman as Vice-President to replace Jesse Ruiz, former Board Vice-President. Ruiz is now head of the Chicago Park District. Jaime Guzman stated that he had been a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) public school teacher during his career.

During the "Honoring Excellence" portion of the meeting six members of the Urban Debaters of Chicago from Lindblom High School and Northside College Prep High School were honored. One of the debaters will go to California to represent CPS. Two of the debaters spoke, explaining the merits of debating.

Next, eighth-graders from Dixon Elementary read their winning essays from the Martin Luther King essay contest. The themes of the contest were "Why is Dr. King my hero?" and "Why wouldn't he be my hero?" The second student to read her essay sang at the end. The principal of Dixon then gave presents to Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson and CEO Forrest Claypool, who expressed appreciation.

After that, CEO Claypool talked about the Board's financial situation, which he said includes a $400 million dollar "gap." He claimed that 433 central office and administrative "positions" had been closed in a move that he claimed was keeping cuts as far away from the "classroom" as possible. He didn't describe where the cuts were made nor was he asked by the Board members to describe them in detail. Press reports and a Substance analysis have shown that once again the claim that CPS has been cutting bureaucracy ("administration," "central office", etc.) are mostly false.

Claypool then spoke about the proposed multi-year contract with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). He also told the Board members of communications with the state legislature about what he called "equal treatment with the rest of the state" for Chicago children. Claypool's version of "equal treatment" has never been challenged by Board members of in the press. He said that Chicago receives 15 percent of state funds after contributing 20 percent in state income taxes.

Then the questions, which seemed to be carefully rehearsed, began. Board President Frank Clark said wanted to know what would that "5 percent" (the extra dollars Chicago would supposedly get if Chicago received 20 percent of state revenues) do for CPS. Claypool then said the 5 percent would eliminate the budget deficit and help CPS to balance the budget.

There were no further questions about Claypool's reports, and the administrative reports then went to the "Chief Education Officer."

Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson reported that CPS has the "largest network of International Baccalaureate (IB) Schools" in the United States. She added that 75 percent of Chicago IB "persisters" go to college, but, she said, college finances are a problem for many of our students. She told of Juarez High School, which has a very diverse student population. She said that the counsellor had helped students go to college and to afford it.

Next, she spoke about other things: -- the Local School Council (LSC) elections kick-off will be held at the "Garfield location" at 2651 West Washington Boulevard.

Jackson then made a stunning announcement:

-- CPS is postponing the "co-location" of the Spry/Saucedo Academy at the request of the community. She added that there was a planned meeting of the Board with the community members from Spry and Saucedo Academy. Loud protests had been organized at the school during the previous weeks, and a sit in had been held. Suddenly, the issue had been resolved (or at least postponed).

The next report was to promote the extension of the contract with Aramark to provide CPS with food.

Leslie Fowler, "Director of Nutritional Support Services" at Chicago Public Schools, gave a Power Point presentation to the Board on "Nutrition Support Services." The presentation stated that thousands of meals were served to CPS students at different times throughout the school day with preparation done by various listed methods. The meals are free and student participation is voluntary, she said.

She continued, stating that food service encompasses 685 sites, which means CPS is the "largest food service operator in Illinois"-- larger than McDonald's, for example. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reimburses CPS completely. She said that 86 percent of CPS students meet low-income eligibility. guidelines. Aramark is the provider of meals and has just had its contract renewed for two years.

Board Vice-President Jaime Guzman wanted to know about student feedback. Fowler explained the Board's version of the Roosevelt High School student food boycott. It turns out, she claimed, that the students felt the food "lacked flavor..." According to the CPS official, the Federal Government requirement for lower sodium content is the culprit. CPS is barred by law from using more salt in the food it serves, according to Fowler. Fowler then repeated the alleged negative health consequences of too much sodium and explained that students often eat foods with higher sodium content at home. Other low-sodium flavor enhancers are being considered and tried out.

After Fowler finished, Board President Frank Clark then explained that comments and questions from parents and community members can often be resolved by going to the Board's website or by calling the Board.

Next, Board Secretary Estela Beltran said that the next Board meeting would be on Wednesday, February 24, 2016. Because of the Presidents' Day holiday, she said, advanced registration to attend or to speak would begin at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, February 16 (and end at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, February 22, or when all slots are filled). She then stated the rules for public participation, which began at 11:11 a.m.

The first to speak was Alderman Ramirez-Rosa of the 35th Ward on the northwest side. He gave an update on City Council efforts to help CPS. He talked of the $1.3 billion in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) in the city, noting that instead of expensive borrowing CPS could demand the use of surplus TIF dollars for the latest "crisis" in CPS. Ramirez Rosa objected to the facts that in many TIFs, the money often goes to "deep-pockets people" and not to the average person in the community. He stated that CPS is in desperate need of funds and that Springfield should require the city to use the surplus TIF funds for schools. He said that Springfield has said we'll make you do it and wants the Board of Education (BOE) to join this.

Rhetorically, he asked, "Who has the power?" and replied, "It is no secret who has it." He added that the fees, fines and interest paid to banks should have gone to schools. He insisted that the moral argument is, "What is a more just use of our money?" He stated that the money needs to go the the schools and that other municipalities do this. He concluded by saying that the BOE should sit down with experts, that there's another way, and that members of the City Council will work and pray that you do the right thing for our children.

Chicago Teachers Union Recording Secretary Michael Brunson walks away from the podium after delivering the union's critique of the Board's policies during the January 27, 2016 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. Substance photo by David Vance.Michael Brunson, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Recording Secretary, spoke next. He noted that CPS is still facing a budget crisis and that mass layoffs have been threatened. He added that this is not the only choice and that other alternatives are available. He said that Board of Education must make good faith efforts by 1) joining the majority of the City Council in the TIF act introduced in the House, 2) revisit options, that toxic interest rate swaps have been done by other cities, and 3) close CPS accounts at toxic swap banks until they renegotiate payment. Brunson noted that because of the infamous variable rate bond deals, $500 million had been lost to the banks during the past few years by the Chicago Board of Education -- and a $500 million budget deficit was now claimed.

Board President Clark said he concurred. Brunson then remarked that he felt this was a much more congenial Board and added, "I like working with you."

Fannie Diego Alvarez (white sweater, glasses) of Saucedo school thanked the Board for postponing the "co-location" of the school, but noted that the Board should provide Saucedo with a "community school" according to a plan she said had been developed. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The first public participant was to be Sarah Chambers, of Saucedo Academy, but it was announced that she would not be speaking at this meeting. Thus, the first to speak was Fannie Diego Alvarez, who spoke of the community-based organization that was against the co-location proposal for Saucedo Academy. She said she supports the community plan that recognizes that the four schools involved should not co-locate. She added that Little Village was not notified about tonight's meeting that was canceled and that communication was in English, not Spanish.

Board President Clark agreed and Chief Education Officer Jackson apologized for not providing information in Spanish. She added that the information should have been posted yesterday, and that the process must be a community-driven process and not imposed from above.

Jorge Mojarro, of Telpochcalli School, thanked the Board for listening to the community. He suggested that robocalls be sent to all parents in both languages and that the Board continue to fund Spry which is now leasing space at the Boys and Girls Club. He said that we want one solution that supports all schools in the community.

Princella Lee of Kenwood talked of the need for librarians. She said all our children deserve the services that the northside schools receive. She stated banks can change and millions are being paid to the banks. She also asked for an elected school board.

Zerlina Smith, a parent at Saucedo, held up a picture of her daughter and thanked the Board for the chance to present a plan. She said to the BOE, "Show you want parents involved," and 'Thanks for your postponement of the BOE plan." She added that the lights and heat were cut off in the school during the meeting. Jadine Chou, head of security, remarked that they got them back on.

Corey Scott of Saucedo spoke in support of the Montessori program and said, "It's a success."

Rakeeksha Malone of Oglesby spoke in support of her son. She said he does not have a teacher. She said that other teachers are also needed in the school and that there is no administration. She added that a primary teacher has left Chicago. She thanked the Board for its support.

Jennifer Biggs of Raise Your Hand speaks to the Board of Education on January 27, 2016. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Jennifer Biggs of Raise Your Hand (RYH) said that CPS should not be forced into bankruptcy. She said it needs to spend responsibly. She advocated for no charter schools. She said that there is no mandate for the Request for Proposal (RFP). She added that existing charters are affected badly, too. She concluded by telling the Board that you are diminishing the quality of schools.

Chris Raguso Bohan told about the overcrowding at Ebinger School which, she said, has a 152 percent utilization rate and expects to have 800 + students next year. She said that last year Mayor Emanuel and CEO Claypool came out to the school. She told the Board that we need a permanent long-term solution and we need the help of the BOE to fund resources.

Jahmal Cole, of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS) began to speak.

Chicago Teachers Union Organizing Coordinator Norine Gutekanst begins the "Mic Check" that lasted more than ten minutes during the public participation at the January 27, 2016 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. Chanting "Make the bankers pay" and other class struggle agitprop slogans, Gutekanst and a dozen others read and chanted from scripts. But instead of dragging out the disruptors, CPS security stood by and allowed it to wear itself out. Above, CPS security chief Jadine Chou (standing left) can be seen waiting while Gutekanst chants and security stands stolidly without doing anything. Substance photo by David Vance.Just then Norine Gutekanst, a CTU organizer, began a shout-out about the CPS slush fund and the 5,000 in layoffs. She called out, "Who does an unelected school board represent?" She repeatedly shouted that we should protect the students, not the bankers. At first, security appeared to try to remove her aggressively, but then she was allowed to finish and walked to the west side of the Board chambers.

Another teacher then picked up the shout-out and asked, "Who does this unelected school board answer to?" She also shouted, "Protect the students, not the bankers or developers." She added, "CPS has paid over $5 million to the banks, ripping off our schools with toxic swap funds." She joined Norine Gutekanst and Jadine Chou from Security on the west side of the Board chambers. Security guards no longer aggressively surrounded the protesters.

Three other participants in the shout-out were allowed to finish peacefully. They added that TIF Funds have hundreds millions of dollars in slush funds and 5000 layoffs have been threatened by the BOE. They repeatedly asked the Board to protect the students, not the bankers.

Among the parent and community leaders who joined the Mic Check "Make The Bankers Pay!" was Marc Kaplan, from Uptown. Substance photo by David Vance.When they finished, Jahmal Cole, from Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS) finished thanking the Board.

Martin Enciso, a Noble School graduate, is now at Pritzker College Prep near Pulaski and North Avenue. He lives near 45th and Cicero and sang the praises of the schools.

Cassie Cresswell, of More Than a Score, stated that retention equals more drop-outs. She asked the Board to end the test-score based promotion policy and end retentions.

Ashley Allen, program director of Horizons for Youth and a doctoral student at Loyola University, said she was homeless 20 years ago and almost dropped out of high school. She wants students to be given transportation money and other support. She asked that the Board not cut expenditures for homeless students.

Board President Clark asked her to give examples of denial. He spoke of black-market transportation cards sold at gas stations. He said the Board has no intent to deny transportation, but wanted those protesting today to give a current example.

A parent at Melody School told of pre-K program cuts which meant the school was no longer allowed to give transportation. A Hefferan School parent told that participants were required to show proof of need. Gabrielle Ellis told of a classmate who was denied transportation and subsequently had to walk an hour. She added that this issue was now resolved. The parents then expressed the need for a system to get the transportation cards. But as far as anyone could tell, none of those present was able to answer Clark's precise question.

Christina Lopez said her Little Village community had fought back against co-location and thanked the Board for dropping the co-location resolution.

Evan Smith, a fourth-grade teacher at a K-8 charter school, Chicago International Charter Schools (CICS) Washington Park, said that parents were grateful for choice.

Pavlyn Jankov, of the CTU, said that $500 million has been lost to date due to toxic interest rate deals. He added that David Vitale (former CPS Board President) refused to file a lawsuit. He remarked that other cities have won lawsuits and that the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund (CTPF) has also filed suit. He added that penalty fees already paid by CPS are causing a loss of funds.

Martha Arriaga, a kindergarten teacher and an LSC teacher representative expressed thanks for the co-location postponement. She said that we want to stop co-location and that all the schools involved deserve their own education. She added that co-location was causing the children to feel like sardines. She concluded, "Stop co-location."

Rebecca Martinez, on the staff at CTU and a Little Village Community Member, spoke of the outrage shown by the gathering on Wednesday, January 21. She said that there was not a lot of trust between CPS and the community and also not a lot of trust in the alderman. She added that there was no response on the Spry lease at the Boys and Girls Club.

George Schmidt told the Board of Education during his two minutes that he had discarded his prepared remarks after watching the Board's handling of the "Mic Check" that had taken place earlier. Schmidt was positive, noting that the Board was acting in the tradition of the Rev. Kenneth Smith, who took over after years of tumult during the late 1970s and early 1980s and ordered Chicago police out of Board meetings while simultaneously asking protesters to respect the rights of everyone during Board meetings. It worked, and during the time Kenneth Smith was Board President there were few violent confrontations during Board meetings. Substance photo January 27, 2016 by David Vance. George Schmidt, a parent and a reporter for forty years, congratulated the Board on two things, noting that some history was in order. He said that in the 1970s there were tumultuous protests at the Board and the police were sent in to remove protesters on several occasions. That changed, Schmidt said, 1979-1980, when the new Board President, Rev. Kenneth Smith, ordered the police out of the Board. Instead of having police escort out protesters, Schmidt said, protests were asked to be civil. He added, talking about the earlier protest: "This is wisdom what you did today." Then he returned to what he said were his prepared remarks (reported now elsewhere here at Substance. He joked that the current Board members were like the people in the parade who had to carry the shovels after the horses, elephants and camels had passed. He told the Board that they have to not only have to "clean up the mess" of predecessors but should bring criminal charters because of the toxic swaps engineered by David Vitale and Arne Duncan (former Board Chief Administrative Officer and Chief Executive Officer). He asked the Board to please think about asking for the indictment these men as well as the announced plan to try and recoup money paid to Barbara Byrd Bennett.

David Robbins told the Board he taught high school math until his recent retirement. He then told of how to improve the schools [see complete statement elsewhere here]. He said that students need to feel supported. He said students see 1) a mayor who provides a good education for his own children, 2) murder cover-ups, and 3) David Vitale (previous Board President) accepting a $1 salary and then negotiating toxic swaps and bad deals for CPS. He said the Board must end this corruption and fight for the retention of TIF funds.

Paula Akinbote, of the "Dewey School of Excellence", expressed appreciation for Principal Rogers who, she said, "motivates the students", knows all the children by their names, and keeps the parents informed. She also named four teachers she appreciates who send homework packets home.

Daniel Jean, of Englewood, asked the Board to reconsider the closing of Amandla Charter School.

Karen Convery Lee, of Audubon Elementary in Roscoe Village, said she stands behind public school education. She said that in December, people expressed frustration about the future of public education in Chicago. She presented a letter to the Board signed by 2,200 individuals.

Tanya Coleman, an advisor at Noble Network, told of the impact of Noble on students. She said that the staff advisor was the same for a group of students for all four years. She explained how this works and expressed thanks for the Board's support.

Cathy Shanley, a CPS teacher who retired after teaching 16 years and who was experienced in early childhood education, said she was good in the classroom, but stated that no one is good enough to be alone with 35 early childhood students. She asked that TIF money be used correctly and that the Board get the money back from toxic swaps. She asked the Board, "Which side are you on, quality public schools or cheerleaders for bankers?"

Arny Stieber, said that the military teaches violence. He added that the military model to follow orders without question is violent and destructive to children of every city and nation. He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on spiritual death. He added that $17 million a year goes to military programs. He remarked that our youth are not commodities for the military model. Rachel Azzarello, of Suder Elementary, talked about the Aramark contracts. She said that additional money had to be spent. She talked about Aramark deficits and the negligence of Aramark. She said the money had not been well spent and asked that the contracts be canceled.

Michelle Burgess sounded the alarm about the cleanliness problems at Suder Elementary. She spoke of bathrooms in disarray and feces and urine on the bathroom floors and in the nap room. She said that the children, including her son, Michael, cannot deal with this. She talked of children ending up at Lurie Children's Hospital after incidents.

Joshua Radinsky, a professor at University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) and a father, told the Board President, "Mayor Rahm appointed you and now you are responsible to the people of Chicago." He stated that Rahm doesn't know how to run the school system. He added that the Board must make decisions not based on the mayor. He asked the Board, "Who is not helping case managers and making destabilizing decisions?" He concluded, "Please stand up to Rahm Emanuel and each other."

Alderman Napolitano of the 41st Ward was allowed to speak next. He said he was delayed because he was at a City Council meeting on airport noise. He spoke of the high scores and attendance at two schools, Dirksen and Ebinger. He mentioned the over-crowding at Ebinger.

The final speaker was Rosa Alvarez, who spoke in Spanish which was then translated. She said her daughter is a sophomore at Noble Academy and that her daughter is happy and has positive results. She also thanked the Board for the southside Noble campus.

At 12:39 p.m., public participation ended. There were no comments other than one brief comment by Board Member Ward that everyone is welcome to sign up for office hour appointments with Board members.

After that, the Board went into closed session.


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