Editorial: Is CTU President Marilyn Stewart's opposition to Renaissance 2010 real? It's still an open question

During the recent hearings and Board of Education meetings confronting the attempt by Chicago to add another 22 public schools to its destruction list under "Renaissance 2010," the President of the Chicago Teachers Union, Marilyn Stewart, repeated a number of things that were either dubious or simply not true.

After ignoring the hearings in 2008 and allowing six schools to be put into "turnaround" without a fight, Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart devoted a great deal of time and energy to speaking against the closings, phase outs, consolidations, and turnarounds in 2009. In addition to attending several of the hearings on individual schools (not all of them, as she claimed once or twice), Stewart spoke forcefully at the February 25, 2009 Board of Education meeting (above). She drew smiles from many in the audience when she demanded to know which members of the Chicago Board of Education had bothered to go to more than one of the hearings. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Stewart, who didn't attend any of the vicious Renaissance 2010 Hit List hearings in January and February 2008 — one year ago — was talking in 2009 as if she had been leading the opposition to Renaissance 2010 from the day she took over the CTU leadership from her predecessor, Deborah Lynch, in August 2004. Not true. Worse, Stewart negotiated a union contract during the summer of 2007 that left the door open to all of the closings, consolidations, phase outs and turnrounds that CPS and the Daley administration has been utilizing since.

Had Stewart gotten a union contract that protected teachers and other union members from these arbitrary attacks, hundreds of jobs and thousands of students' educational lives would have been saved between September 2007, when the contract was approved at Stewart's urging, and June 2009, when the latest round of destruction will become officials with the closing, phase out, consolidation, and turnaround of 16 schools.

Yet there she was, standing at the Board of Education meeting on February 25, 2009, acting as if the whole idea of opposing Renaissance 2010 was Marilyn Stewart's from the beginning.

Whether Marilyn Stewart was delusional or simply lying we'll leave to others to decide.

Stewart told various audiences, for example, that she was always opposed to Renaissance 2010. Chicago Board of Education members actually raised their hands when former teacher Marilyn Stewart demanded to know which of them had attended the hearings on the school closings, turnarounds, phase outs, and consolidations in January and February 2009. Above, Board member Alberto Carrero (right) raises his hand while Board member Tariq Butt (left) doesn't. Carrero attended one or two of the more than 25 different hearings on the 22 schools on the Board's hit list. Butt attended none. Most of the Board members made a show of attending one or two, although former Board member Rufus Williams not only attended a number of the hearings but took the time to visit Holmes Elementary School after being challenged to see for himself the programs at the supposedly "failing" school. For his troubles, Williams was abruptly replaced on the Board by Mayor Richard M. Daley, who is the power behind Renaissance 2010 and is forcing the Board to privatize as many public schools as possible. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.But last year her "opposition" (if it existed at all) was so narrow that it was a cruel joke. The joke was against those teachers who lost their jobs during the teacher bashing attacks of 2008. Not only did Stewart herself ignore the 2008 hearings, but she even played hooky the day of the Board of Education meeting that voted to "turnaround" six schools. On February 27, 2008, when the Board voted on last year's round of cuts, Stewart missed the meeting, sending the union's recording secretary, Mary McGuire, instead. McGuire's script had her asking the Board of Education to put a "moratorium" on the 2008 closings. "Will you put a moratorium on these closings?" McGuire asked Board of Education President Rufus Williams that morning. "No," Williams proclaimed. "Thank you," McGuire said, and walked away. Stewart was nowhere to be found.

Marilyn Stewart did attend about half the hearings in January and February 2009, and someone from the union staff went to most of the others. Often, however, those people did nothing and said nothing. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Stewart's own staff was telling many teachers there was nothing they could do. When this was brought to Stewart's attention during a coalition meeting, she first denied that the union's field reps were saying the opposite of what Stewart was saying, then said she'd look into it.

As late as the union's February House of Delegates meeting, Stewart was speaking, as used to be said, with "forked tongue."

On the one hand, Stewart was proclaiming that the union was "against" the Renaissance 2010 attacks on the schools.

On the other hand, Stewart was firmly on the side of doing nothing but talk. She had the union's lawyers distribute a memo warning teachers not to use personal business days to attend the meetings of the Board of Education. She personally warned of dire consequences for teachers and others who might use personal business days to speak out against the injustices of the closings, consolidations, phase outs, and reconstitutions (called "turnarounds" in Chicago). Yet during January, February and March 2009, she continued to use the union's lawyers not against the Board of Education and Renaissance 2010, but against union members who disagree with her.

Now that the evidence is clear. The closings, consolidations, phase outs and turnarounds of 2009 — approved by the Chicago Board of Education on February 25, 2009 — were all done illegally or at least in a questionable manner. Two of the hearing officers — Respicio Vazquez and Michael Hernandez — were not "independent". The independence of the other two was questionable. The data used by CPS was often proved to be false or deliberately misleading. Some of the CPS witnesses lied. Every one of the schools on the 2009 Hit List was done an incredible injustice, a railroad of pseudo-legality. The question is what Marilyn Stewart will do, not what she says.

Given the massive conflicts of interest (the "independent" hearing officers are not independent; every point of fact needs to be subjected to cross examination; the credibility of CPS officials is as low as that of Wall Street investment bankers) and discrepancies in every one of the records of the schools that now face destruction, it's time for the president of the largest union in Illinois to stop sending her lawyers against other union members. Instead, Stewart should make those lawyers earn their hundreds of thousands of dollars per year by going to court and stopping Renaissance 2010 once and for all. 


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