Chicago Board of Education votes to destroy another 16 public schools in near-secret 'public' voting

When the public 'vote' -- such as it was -- came at roughly 4:15 p.m. on February 25, 2009, at the chambers of the Chicago Board of Education at 125 S. Clark St. in Chicago's Loop, there were no more than five or six people in the room (out of more than 60) who realized that the vote had been taken, and no more than two who knew precisely what had just been voted on.

Above: Five of the six members of the Chicago Board of Education who voted at 4:15 on February 25, 2009, to close, phase out, turnaround, or consolidate 16 Chicago public schools that they had not visited after hearings the full reports of which they had not read. The five above, along with a sixth (Norman Bobins, formerly CEO of LaSalle Bank in Chicago before it was sold to Bank of America last year) voted unanimously and without debate or discussion to approve the radical changes at the 16 schools. Above (back row, left to right): Roxanne Ward, Clara Muñana, Tariq Butt, Alberto Carrero, Peggy Davis. In the foreground are the three most powerful executive officers of the nation's third largest public schools system (left to right): Patrick Rocks (general counsel), Barbara Eason-Watkins (Chief Education Officer), and Ron Huberman (Chief Executive Officer). To the far right is Estela Beltran, secretary to the Board, reading the script from her color coded agenda. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt."...and I will apply the last favorable roll call vote," millionaire heiress Clara Muñana intoned from under the Great Seal of the Chicago Board of Education.

Muñana's words came after the Board's diminutive secretary, Estela Beltran, had carefully read through a nearly incomprehensible script that she had enhanced in four colors for her use during the meeting.

Muñana was serving as President of the Board of Education of the City of Chicago and chairing the meeting because the Board was between two presidents. For three years, the scrappy Rufus Williams, a graduate of the city's public schools, had served as president. Then, for reasons that are still unexplained to the general public, Rufus Williams was forced out of office by Mayor Richard M. Daley, and Daley returned to a previous Board President, West Side Real Estate Developer Michael Scott, to return to the Board and become president again. (Scott had served as President of the Chicago Board of Education from July 2001 until 2006, working hand-and-hand with Arne Duncan to establish the powers of the Board to do what it was doing on February 25, 2009. For some reason, however, Scott was not chairing the meeting on February 25, Williams was nowhere to be seen, and Muñana wound up chairing.

The script consisted of the "Board Reports" which had been included in the 246-page agenda that the Board had released to the public at 10:00 a.m. on February 23, 2009. But the agenda had been revised so much that Beltran used color cues to try and keep up with what she was reading, rapidly. The part of the script Beltran had just completed when the key vote took place consisted of a series of letters and number, such as "EX3". For the previous five minutes before the 'vote,' Beltran had been reading that series of obscure numbers ("EX32 appeared in DRAFT form in your agenda, but will be in final form in the Action Agenda..." Etc. Basically, Beltran was annotating out loud for the legal record, sometimes explaining how something to do with one of the numbers was different from something else. Only a handful of the dozens of citizens in the audience had a copy of the agenda for the meeting as Beltran rushed through her numbers and letters. Despite having one of the largest "communications" staff of any governmental agency in the State of Illinois, the Chicago Board of Education did not provide copies of the agenda to those members of the public who waited until the actual business portion of the meeting took place.

Nor did the Board utilize the eight overhead television monitors that had broadcast a Power Point summary explanation about one part of the agenda to provide any clue to the public as to what Beltran was talking about. Although the Chicago Board of Education routinely broadcasts a version of its monthly public meetings and maintains a large video center at the back of the Board's "chambers", no effort had been made to provide the public with any information about what Beltran was talking about.

"EX 33..." "EX34..."

The diversity of corporate wealth decides the fate of the working class and the poor

The seven members of the Chicago Board of Education -- every one of them a millionaire corporate person (at least until recently, when some of their portfolios dropped with the collapse of the Global Economy they had been praising for more than a decade and which most of them had had a small hand in designing) -- were there to rubber stamp decisions that they could only explain in talking points. Most of them hadn't read through the 246 pages in the agenda they were all given, and none of them had read the eloquent testimony of hundreds of parents, teachers and children who had told the Board during the previous month that they wanted the "Choice" to choose their present public school. The reason that didn't happen is that the Board members were not provided with most of the record that was assembled at each of the expensive and time-consuming public hearings.

What the Board members did have to vote on was a "Board Report" on each of 16 schools that were being destroyed that afternoon, along with a few odds and ends. The decisions about how much information the Board members had had been made by other people like themselves.

The decisions would immediately affect more than 3,000 public school students from three-year-olds who were barely out of diapers to 20-year-olds who had spent more time during their teenage years in jail (er, in Chicago, "juvenile detention") than in classrooms over the previous five years.

Their power had just been enhanced at the moment their wealth and much of their global narrative was collapsing. Because of the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States, the carefully scripted narratives and plans were about to be utilized as a blueprint for the rest of the public school districts across the USA. The members of the Chicago Board of Education -- the same people who had promoted Arne Duncan as an urban education leader and cheered as Duncan became U.S. Secretary of Education -- had 'voted' by 4:15 p.m. and were preparing to leave the Board chambers. None stopped to speak with the media or the public, and all made sure they were within a few feet of the more than 25 Board of Education security personnel who were also present at the time of that 'vote'. None spoke to the press. Angry jeers and tears from more than a dozen parents and children were ignored by all of them.

A Tale of Two Cities: The Members of the Chicago Board of Education and South Chicago from several points of view

What had happened?

Two parents and a child from South Chicago Elementary School, immediately after the Chicago Board of Education had voted to close the school because it was supposedly "underutilized." Immediately after this photograph was taken, the child in the foreground began crying about losing her school. Despite the fact that the Chicago Board of Education allows public charter schools to exist with fewer than 50 students, the same board has been ruthlessly shutting down regular public schools supposedly for "underutilization" for the past five years. South Chicago and three other schools were voted to be close for "underutilization" by vote of the six members of the Chicago Board of Education on February 25, 2009, despite the fact that the Board supposedly has a policy promoting what are called "Small Schools" and parents had vehemently protested, arguing that for the first time their children were flourishing in a school where the classes were 15 or 18 -- instead of the 35 to 40 seen in many Chicago elementary schools. Not one Board of Education member visited the school prior to the February 25 vote, and none read the complete report from the hearing officer (including the transcript of the hearings and all attachments the people of South Chicago had so painstakingly assembled for "The Board") because the materials were not ready by the time the Board members rushed through their February 25 vote. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Perhaps from watching too much carefully scripted television, many of the more than 60 persons who had remained behind at the Board chambers to witness the vote thought that the Board members were going to be presented with a Board Report (the official title for each agenda item) and then would each vote on each item. After all, the fate of thousands of children was being decided. But the children were mostly poor and black or other minorities, and despite the fact that Chicago has one of the most diverse Boards of Education in the USA, the members of the Board of Education of the City of Chicago have two things in common with one another -- wealth and power. And they rarely bother to view the results of their decisions in the lives of the people they vote to destroy. Had they bothered to visit South Chicago Elementary School, the millionaire doctors, lawyers, and bankers who were voting to destroy South Chicago Elementary School on February 25, 2009, could have walked a few blocks to the site of a massacre of three public school students. The previous Friday, February 20, three students, one from Mireles Elementary School and two from Bowen High School, were gunned down in broad daylight by gang members, at least one of whom was utilizing an automatic rifle like those used by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If what the people from South Chicago believed about democracy and the USA had been true in Chicago in 2009, what would have taken place is this:

The Secretary of the Chicago Board of Education, Ms. Beltran, would have been slowly working her way through the 200-page agenda that had been published two days prior to the meeting (as required by Illinois law, the Open Meetings Act).

"Next, Board Report 098-0225-EX29, Close South Chicago Elementary School. The motion from the Chief Executive Officer to close South Chicago Elementary School is now before this Board. Is there a second to the motion?"

While the six members of the Chicago Board of Education were upstairs on the 5th Floor at 125 S. Clark St. in Chicago were voting to destroy 16 schools, more than 1,000 people were marching in protest against the plan. One of the many signs carried on the march read: "Chicago Board of Education? NO! It's Daley's monthly puppet show." Nothing that was happening upstairs in the official Board vote would contradict what was written on the sign or displease Chicago's imperial mayor. Substance photo by George Schmidt.And someone from the Board would have had to say "Second."

At that point, in a democracy, the six members of the Chicago Board of Education, like their counterparts across the United States of America, and like their little sisters and brothers on the Local School Councils across Chicago, might have had some discussion, asked some questions, or even expressed dissent. After all, South Chicago Elementary School -- one of 16 public schools whose fate was before the Board that afternoon -- was supposedly what the Board members wanted. It was a small school. It had small class sizes. It served a student population that was composed of working class and poor children, not one of whom is white.

But that's not what happened, because "EX29" was one of more than 40 code words that Ms. Beltran was reading quickly and somewhat nervously at that point.

When Beltran completed her list, there was no discussion. There wasn't even a vote.

Instead, the Board's Vice President simply asked whether there were any objections to following the "last favorable" roll call vote and the job was done. It may have left a bit to be desired for those who have a different version of democracy in their minds, but it was certainly "efficient" in the way these six Board of Education members like to use the term. When they speak at all at Board meetings, they speak glibly of "efficient use of resources." And when they are in the privacy of their own circles of wealth and privilege, they are surrounded by like-minded people, all of whom were (until recently) True Believers in a theory called the "Efficient Markets Theory".


February 28, 2009 at 9:53 PM

By: Laura-May Mason

Social Worker, school board employee, parent

It is obvious to me that Democracy is the last word to describe what has happened to the public school community of South Chicago.

March 1, 2009 at 11:05 AM

By: Margaret Wilson

Retired teacher/parent

I agree--CPS has given up on democracy for many years. Most decisions are reached behind closed doors with little or no public input. People protest, testify, etc. but few if any of the Board members really listen to what is said. We need our public school system and the Board needs to put the money into improving the schools instead of creating new ones.

March 1, 2009 at 12:06 PM

By: John Kugler

Backroom Deals

It would be nice now since george keeps meticulous records to go through and match all the closed open enrollment facilities(schools) that have been closed and see what has been put in their place.

Building by building. Expenditures on infrastructure and learning support. In this way we can document the illegal transfer of public funds to private organizations for profit. Again remember a school is a government facility for it to be transferred into private ownership and control is illegal and constitutes fraud, especially in the case of the Board of Ed which makes up excuses and lies to close schools and then all of a sudden there is someone using the facility next year. It is called disclosure.

Backroom deals are illegal when talking about government money.

March 1, 2009 at 12:23 PM

By: Margaret Wilson

Retired teacher/parent

Spalding was closed over five years ago. Originally it was supposed to reopen and the teachers with their whole class were supposed to be moved to other buildings while repairs were made. Then we were told that no one had enough space for us. Then we were told that there were too many special education students so we would not reopen as Spalding but that a new school would exist. Although some work was done on the building, to my knowledge it still sits empty. It's a waste of tax-payer money because the property itself is extremely valuable since it is so close to the United Center. I would love to know what backdoor deal was made and why it is still empty.

March 2, 2009 at 5:15 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

Editor, Substance

The closing of Spalding is an example of how Arne Duncan lied through the years in order to privatize as much as possible. After Spalding was closed, supposedly to renovate the building, Duncan froze the money for renovation. He claimed there was no money, but at the same time he was spending millions of dollars to renovate other buildings that were either being privatized (Calumet and Austin) or militarized (Grant).

Once the Spalding teachers and students had been forced out of the Spalding building and became refugees (probably in violation of the IDEA and other federal laws protecting people with disabilities), Duncan kept the Spalding building un-repaired until he was ready to privatize it.

Go to the building now and see what's going on there. No longer a fully public school, Spalding, for all its history, is now heading back into operation.

As to the question of what is "illegal" -- better think twice about that. Unless a person has a team of lawyers and five years to litigate something, the current powers that be will continue to manipulate every law and policy in the interest of their power. Chicago's Board of Education is in the business of sabotaging the regular public schools and privatizing as much as possible, and last week's vote of the Board to destroy 16 more public schools is just the latest example. Of course most of what they just voted to do is "illegal." Now show me where the power exists to stop them until we are better organized.

Marilyn Stewart spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on Chicago Teachers Union lawyers against Ted Dallas and me. She wasted, probably, a half million union dollars (or more) on those two litigations. She had not authorized one legal challenge to all of these sabotages and destructions because she is a partner with CPS in this entire project. If she cares so much about special education, why hasn't she litigated on Spalding, LeMoyne, and a dozen other special education programs that have been closed and privatized since she became CTU President in 2004. She was willing to waste the money sending lawyers (that's plural) against me for four years (and it wound up costing the CTU more than $160,000 to finally pay me and my lawyers; we don't know how much she wasted on the union's lawyers).

Now she's wasting hundreds of thousands of more dollars against her elected vice president (who is currently a substitute teacher working on the West Side; and a 'former' union member). Has anybody even asked how she can rattle on and on and on about how much she cares about special education while refusing to spend on legal dollar to actually defend special education programs, teachers, and other staff?

Talk about "illegality" without having the resources to enforce the law and you are being naive. When someone forces the Chicago Teachers Union (which is currently getting nearly $1,000 per year in union dues from its active duty teacher members) the litigate on behalf of, say, special education teachers and services (and against the privatization) and the union doesn't take a dive in court (another specialty of theirs), I'll believe that "legality" has something to do with what we're all discussing now.

For the present, poor children (especially those with disabilities) and working class people (including teachers) only have those rights they can afford to enforce. Given the price of lawyers and the state of most courts, we all know what that means.

What has to be done is organizing, and then power.

March 2, 2009 at 3:21 PM

By: John Kugler

Misusing Resources

as the House of delegates of the Chicago Teachers Union is the supreme governing body it should be our responsibility to audit the union finances in regards to legal action and costs. Thereby establishing if the current union administration is misusing union legal resources for political activities rather than union advocacy for the membership.

March 2, 2009 at 4:27 PM

By: Margaret Wilson

Retired teacher

I agree with John. The House of Delegates should audit all of the Union\'s financial records but the current president will never let that happen. Maybe someone could suggest a motion to make it happen and if enough members are fed up, maybe it would pass.

March 3, 2009 at 1:52 PM

By: Anonymous

Retired teacher

I think that schools should be able to be more flexible in working with parents. I had my child tested and the recommendation was for extended time and a quiet environment for the ISAT esp. the reading comprehension. I have been trying to get her tested for over two years. Now, the only way that I can get the quieter environment is to keep her out of school all week so that she takes the make-up test. It seems backwards to me.

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