BOARDWATCH: Tumult during December 7 2016 Chicago Board of Education meeting as special education cuts are denounced and the Board is challenged about corruption by parents and its own Inspector General... Major issues outlined despite charter schools' attempts to pack the meeting...

Special Education teachers, parents and students protested before the Board of Education's December 7 meeting and then took their protest inside during the public participation speaking portion. Above, special education teacher Sarah Chambers (at microphone) criticized the Board for the cutbacks in special education services. Substance photo by David Vance.At the Wednesday, December 7, 2017, meeting of the Chicago (BOE) Board of Education (replacing the previous regularly scheduled November and December meetings) at the Board's Loop office at Madison near Dearborn, many topics dominated the agenda: the budget, Special Education, Charter School Renewals, and the Inspector General's report, which included a criticism of the Board for hindering an investigation into the Board's attorney and CEO.

Roll call indicated the following Board members were present: Mark Furlong, Jaime Guzman, Gail Ward, Dr. Mahalia Hines, Rev. Michael Garanzini, S.J., plus Board President Frank Clark. Board Member Dominique Jordan Turner was absent. Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Forrest Claypool, Chief Education Officer (CEdO) Janice Jackson, and Ronald L. Marmer, Chief Counsel were also present.

The Board's 'Chief Education Officer" (CEdO) Janice Jackson introduced students who received perfect ACT scores and named the schools they attended. Board members then asked various questions: Gail Ward wantedto know "What led to your successes?" Rev. Garanzini asked, "Where do you hope to end up?" Dr. Mahalia Hines offered congratulations to the parents and teachers, followed by congratulatory wishes from Jaime Guzman who also wished all the students a bright future.

Next, a jazz band from Pritzker Academy performed. The school has a regular band for grades 5-8 and a jazz band for grades 7-8.

After their performance, Board President Clark commented on the FY 2016-2017 budget, which was to be voted on later in this meeting. He mentioned that Governor Rauner had vetoed the $215 million in funds that were to go to CPS (Chicago Public Schools). He said that there was another month to go in the Illinois 99th General Assembly and he expected funding to be provided. He added that the next Board meeting on Wednesday, January 25, 2017, will deal with this. He asserted that CPS children are to be treated equitably with the rest of the state.

CEO Forrest Claypool then stated that we are expecting to have the budget that was promised and that CPS students will not be held hostage by the governor. He said the promised money was part of state bipartisan funding and that the $250 million property tax increase was to go hand in hand with the $215 million from the state. He remarked that in the rest of the state, the state pays into the teacher pensions, "but not in Chicago." He added that we will work hard to "hold the governor's feet to the fire." He encouraged all to call the governor.

Then the latest CPS Budget Director, Matt Walter, spoke about the amended FY (Fiscal Year) 2016-2017 Operating Budget. The displayed pie graph indicated that 70% of the funds go to personnel costs including teachers. He noted that $721 million goes to pension costs, repeating Claypool's statement, CPS pays it all. He then explained the impact on the CTU (Chicago Teachers Union) contract regarding steps and lanes and fewer health care provider options. If the $215 million is not supplied by the state, a vote on this will take place in January. He added that bonds for the budget may only be used for capital improvements.

After this, CPS lawyer Joseph Moriarity, introduced as the Board's "Labor Relations Officer," gave an overview of the CTU Tentative Agreement that had been approved by the CTU House of Delegates and members. Moriatrity explained the economic provisions: steps and lanes, what he called (inaccurately) COLA (Cost of Living) raises, the continuation of the pension pick-up after January 1, 2017, healthcare (fewer provider options and increased premiums), voluntary retirement, layoffs reassigned to a pool, 20% of schools to be "community schools," case management, testing, grading, teacher evaluation, scheduling, school funding, and charter school cap and legislation. It was a lengthy presentation.

After Moriarity, Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson spoke about the "High School Bound" program.

Board members did not ask why the presentation on special education services was delivered by a subordinate, the 'Deputy Director of Special Education Services', or how the speaker, who was just hired from Minnesota, could have been so certain about the realities of Chicago. She claimed that special education paperwork had been "reduced". A few minutes later, Sarah Chambers and others unrolled a sheet of papers that stretched across the Board chambers, showing all the paperwork required of PSRPs doing special education work. Substance photo by David Vance.After Jackson explained the details, the Deputy Chief of ODLSS (Officer of Diverse Learner Supports and Services) told about the changes in Special Education. Desite protests showing that CPS has been hurting special education services, the statement was made by CPS officials that CPS takes the Special Education responsibility quite seriously. Again, the statement was made that if anyone is aware of an IEP (Individualized Education Program) not fully funded, they are asked to inform CPS. For more than a year, CPS officials have been utilizing the IEP statement while cutting back on the people who are doing the IEPs in the schools, as protesters pointed out before the meeting and during public participation.

Elizabeth Keenan, whose title was give as "Deputy Chief and Director of Special Education," told the Board that since 1975, public schools have been required by federal law to educate students with special needs. Prior to 1975, she said, sometimes students with disabilities were kept at home. In 1975, the IDEIA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act) required education be provided for special needs students from birth to age 22. [A very helpful website regarding this is].

Keegan put up a Power Point graph displaying the 14 Special Education categories and the percentage of students in each category. The largest category being 51% in Special Education Learning Disabilities in CPS. Nationally, 37% are in this category, she said, implying that CPS may have too many children classified in this area.

Next, she tried to explain racial and gender disparities. The racial categories displayed were African-American, Hispanic, and White. In general, in all categories, there were approximately twice as many males as females, she noted. She added that Special Education is not fully funded. The funds come from a state block grant, federal funds, local property taxes, and Medicaid. The IEP drives the funding with Special Education being funded first. Board Member Galil Ward asked for clarification of the term (LRE) -- "least restrictive environment."

Four per cent of funds are held back in each school to assure money is there for future diagnosed students and students that transfer in and to deal with any appeal process. The CPS high mobility rate must also be taken into account.

Board Member Ward asked about the appeal process.

Board Member Hines wanted to know what is being done about racial disparities and the possible classification of a males as needing Special Education by an inexperienced teacher because of the student's behavior rather than the academic needs and why don't students ever come out of the Special Education classification.

Board President Clark questioned the disparity of early labeling and the fact that the general population is decreasing while the Special Education population is increasing. CEO Claypool remarked that the purpose of Special Education was to help kids develop skills to overcome disabilities for life. He repeated his claim that CPS must schedule ALL Special Education students FIRST and that funds that are available go to Special Education FIRST. Board President Clark then reminded everyone that there is no legitimate statement that we are spending less on Special Education -- in fact, we are spending more, he said.

Next, Mary Bradley, the Board's latest "Director of Innovation and Incubation", spoke about Charter School renewals. She said nine schools were to open and one was to expand, but all have been withdrawn at this time, thus she has no recommendations to the Board. She also said that charter school renewals of up to ten years were being considered.

After this, Board President Clark asked that the public go to to communicate with the Board; he said there is a 24-hour turnaround to questions and requests. Board Secretary Estela Beltran announced that the next Board meeting will take place Wednesday, January 25, 2017, with sign up beginning Monday, January 23 at 10:30 a.m. and ending Tuesday, January 24, at 5 p.m. or when all 60 slots are filled. She also explained the rules for public participation today. Public participation began at 12:17.

Alderman John Arena (45th Ward, at mic in the photo above) criticized the Board's privatization policies while Bill Iacullo (President of the Operating Engineers union) looked on. Substance photo by David Vance.The first to speak during public participation was Alderman John Arena of the 45th Ward. He congratulated CEO Claypool for arriving at an equitable contract and asked Governor Rauner to come to the table. He mentioned items he has dealt with: the problem with the furnace at Prussing School, providing a full-time nurse at Beard Elementary, the diversion and reduction of Special Education funds, and other Special Education needs, including the need for transparency, principal liability, the need for equitable and fair funding, and the explanation of the appeal process.

Next to speak was Bill Iacullo, President of IUOE (International Union of Operating Engineers) Local 143, said his local will ask for an override of the $215 million dollar veto. He spoke about the unsafe conditions in some schools and of buildings which are more than 100 years old. He stated that Aramark is not familiar with steam boilers and CPS engineers face immense challenges. He added that privatizing engineers will cost millions each year and that on Monday, Crain's Chicago Business had an article that supported this. He asked the Board to please abandon the costly IFM (Integrated Facilities Management) program and reminded the Board that "for 115 years we've been providing services in schools.

Maria Moreno, CTU Financial Secretary, reminded the Board that she was previously here in August. She mentioned the budget, the contract, Special Education, Governor Rauner's veto, cluster programs that were decimated, the implementation of student-based budgeting and asked why Special Education and General Education funds were commingled. She said a CTU member survey indicated that 23% were pressured to reduce IEP minutes. She asked the Board to stand with the CTU for progressive revenue tax and to defend Special Education.

Nick Schuler, the CPS Inspector General (temporarily on crutches), spoke of a serious negative development between CPS and his office regarding ethics violations and Ronald Marmer, Chief Counsel, and work that had been performed by Marmer's former law firm. Schuler revealed to the public that the Board has been making an assertion of "attorney- client privilege," to refuse to provide the Inspector General with information about possible conflicts of interest and ethics violations by Forrest Claypool and Ronald Marmer. Schuler said that attorney-client privilege cannot be asserted by the Board. He said that he would meet with the Board later but was giving information now. He also said that a waiver was not strictly required and a closed session was next.

After all these public officials, the next to speak was Sarah Chambers, Special Education teacher at Saucedo Elementary School. She told the Board that three students with disabilities were not allowed in here. They were then brought in. Sarah Chambers and others who stood with her were bound in red tape, she said, to illustrate obstacles they faced: denied services, denied busing services, and paperwork for students to receive assistance.

She noted that Penn Elementary had severely disabled students who can't get out in case of fire and an Edison Park student who was left in an elevator alone for one hour one day because there was no assistant. She said that there was money for two new charters opening this fall and that Chicago was one of the richest cities in the country. She concluded, "Fund your schools!"

Next came the charter school advocates.

Elizabeth Shaw, CICS (Chicago International Charter Schools), talked about the 8,600 students in K-12 being served by CICS for 20 years. Nineteen individuals lined up with her. When she exceeded the two-minute cut-off point, Board President Clark said "Let her continue," while previous speaker Sarah Chambers was not allowed the same privilege. Shaw asked that the charter school contract be renewed. She was asked how many Special Education students are served by Board President Clark and she replied "13%, but we need more."

Other CICS charter school advocates followed, all asking for renewal of their charters: Carmela Pointer said what she loves about her charter school is the small class size which is perfect for her daughter's learning style. Mary Cooper, of Wrightwood Charter, sang the praises of the school. Michelle Handy, also of Wrightwood Charter, thanked the staff and parents. Julie Long, of NorthTown, thought the neighborhood school was not the best fit for her daughter. Roxanna Ortega, of West Belden, also asked for the Board to visit. Michael Garski, of Irving Park and new to the city, spoke of the many choices in Chicago. He told of his daughter who has an IEP and of the caring staff.

Next were speakers from KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) charter schools: Tomika Baymon, a volunteer at KIPP, said her child was regularly bullied at CPS because she was a straight-A student. She has graduated and moved on. Candice Barnett, with a daughter at KIPP, said KIPP swooped in and saved me. Denise Brown, of KIPP Bloom, sent her two granddaughters from Florida to a KIPP school. She said they were one year behind when they arrived from Florida and now have 3.0 GPAs (Grade Point Averages) and their Level One School in Englewood. She asked for equitable funding. All asked for renewal of their charters.

Finally, it was back, briefly, to the city's real public schools and the real problems faced by Special Education teachers and children with disabilities. Catherine Henchek, of Jacqueline Vaughn Occupational High School, asked the Board to use their clout to get money. She added, "You must have clout because you are an appointed school board." She asked, "Don't all students deserve to be fully funded?"

Then it was charter schools again. Cesar Dominguez of INCS (Illinois Network of Charter Schools) remarked that half of all students choose other than neighborhood schools.

Frank Chapman of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression stated that public education was created after the Civil War. He said there is a need to address racism in CPS. He said he wants progressive revenue sources instead of cutting more in Special Education. He then named negative results of cutting funds.

Next more charter school advocates spoke. Myisha Shields of Catalyst Maria/New Noble said that charters need funding. She wants fair funding and a renewal of their contract. Tamara Draper, of "DRW College Prep", where robotics is taught, wants equal funding for all schools. Gloria Silmon of "Butler College Prep" said that previously her children lacked confidence and are now showing more confidence. She wants CPS to fairly fund charter schools. She said she can call staff at the charter school at night and up to 9 p.m on weekends.

Chris Baehrend said that 25% of charter schools are represented by ChiACTS, a teachers union. He added that "union teachers and staff at charters demand appropriate funding." He asked the Board, "What if they cut your salary?" Board President Clark replied, "Ours is zero."

Bess Kuchenbecker, of UNO ChiActs, said CPS has not provided funding needed to fulfill mandates. She went on to tell about the lack of funds.

Kate O"Rourke requested a moment of silence for the ll,000 students who left CPS, students with day-to-day subs, and 600 Special Education vacancies that disappeared. She asked, "What is morally correct?" She mentioned that rising threat of facism taking over this nation. She asked the Board to "show us you care, not just facts and figures. You are better than this."

Sam Finkelstein, of "Legal Prep Charter School", said his school wants a five year term so they can continue in West Garfield Park. He mentioned safety is a concern and thanked the Board for its support. Rhonda Hopps, CEO of "Perspectives Charters Schools" wants approval for five years. She said the schools serve a diverse population. She added that peace is a big issue.

Caroline Bilicki, of Disney II, a real public school, asked, "What happens when a school is not funding adequately?" She told about 35 students in a language class at Disney, one fifth of whom have IEPs, one half of whom are disruptive, and not enough teachers to go around. She said that a SECA (Special Education Classroom Assistant) was not hired until the end of the first marking period. She said that the middle school language students are floundering.

Terri Smith, on the Special Education Task Force, said that investigation of policy may be warranted.

Special Education teacher Katie Osgood added to the powerful presentations exposing the hypocrisy of the Board. Osgood noted that a kindergarten at her school had 41 children in the class! Substance photo by David Vance.Katie Osgood, of Langston Hughes Elementary, said that their students come from high poverty backgrounds, there have been multiple lockdowns, 30% of all students are Special Education, and the principal is a good leader who has funded Special Education first and filed appeals when necessary. She added that there are 41 in Kindergarten and that cuts are badly affecting the school. She asked the Board to find money.

Jasmine Lopez, of Curie High School, said we just need help in all of our classes. We struggle in world studies. Counsellors say we can't get help and we are struggling in Special Education.

Emily Fong spoke of the LSC (Local School Council) connection. She said she is the original author of the LSC letter. She remarked that the commingling of funds fails to meet the needs of Chicago students. She said that mixing General Education and Special Education dollars is not good. She added that taking from General Education or Special Education affects others.

Annie-Gill Bloyer asked that the New Fields School and Eugene Field School, both Level One schools, be reunited. She asked the Board, "What will you do to strengthen our two schools?"

Then it was again back to the litany of violations of special education rights. Vanessa Fawkey, whose daughter at Burley School has special needs, said her daughter's IEP was taken away by Kindergarten. She mentioned that now her daughter scratches and bites herself. She talked about unnecessary paperwork. She said that putting Special Education funds with General Education funds has caused a need for sacrifices. She named the numbers of staff members, nurses, and psychologists. She concluded, "My daughter needs an IEP."

Dawn Sandoval, founding principal of Catalyst Maria Charter School, wants a renewal of the contract for five years. She said that the K-12 school of 1104 students is the only one in the state to offer an "Engineering" curriculum.

Isaac Krantz Perlman, a SECA at Hanson Park Elementary, said that a lot of children will never transition out of Special Education; they will have needs for the rest of their lives. He said that understaffing and absences with no money for subs cause problems. He noted that at Rahm Emanuel's children's school (the University of Chicago Lab school), there are many more staff members. He finished by saying, "We need more resources."

Wendy Katten of Raise Your Hand challenged the Board for violating family privacy by giving home information about students to the Noble Network of Charter Schools. Katten and her colleagues showed the Board a copy of the mailing that they had received, soliciting their families to abandon the city's real public schools and attend the charter schools. Substance photo by David Vance.Wendy Katten, of Raise Your Hand (RYH), talked about the student data privacy policy. She told Board President Clark that Jenny Biggs had spoken at a budget hearing last week and was told by him, "Just because you say it, doesn't make it true." She added that his predecessor had said it all the time. Continuing with the privacy policy, she said that Noble New Schools claimed that directory information was not harmful if released; the parents disagree. She said there was an easy fix for this and the parents deserve this protection. When told to conclude her remarks, she said, "You let the charters go over. I will finish." She then said, "My group will be in Winnetka canvassing for fair funding - please join us."

Kinsella Jackie, of Montessori School of Englewood, told of children who will have to eat lunch in the classroom. If milk is spilled, those with dairy allergies will be affected by exposure to the spilled milk. She said that the parents want an annex because the school is overcrowded; our children deserve better.

Rita Nolan, Founder and Executive Director for Montessori School, asked for a renewal for the next five years. A yoga teacher at the Montessori School also spoke and asked for 5 X 5 years of renewal. He said his son attended the school.

Jan Hooks, of South Shore International College Prep, mentioned a personal vendetta of some sort against the principal.

Leon Barley, of South Shore High School, asked, "How can you operate a school without a budget?" He said that the principal does not cooperate with the LSC, refused to give information, and doesn't show up in meetings or sends a representative. Parents voted no confidence in the principal. Board President Clark replied, "Dr. Jackson is aware of this."

Susan Hickey, a retired school Social Worker, was at Pritzker at one time. She did anger management programs. She said that since she left Pritzker, violence in Chicago had dramatically increased, which has caused a chain reaction in the classroom. She also mentioned that the 2015 Workload Committee had not met all last year.

Arne Stieber, a Veteran for Peace, said that the Veterans for Peace can speak to the students at the seven CPS military schools and tell about the promotion of war, military video games, the presence of military uniforms on the street, the connection of the military to street violence, military suicides, and the military bases in over 100 countries. He concluded that we want education, not militarization in the schools.

Melissa Holmes, told of happenings at Oscar DePriest School, with a student population of 1100, where there were six lockdowns and a student who was shot down outside the school after school. She spoke of how cuts are affecting the school and added that the principal was an amazing woman.

Following public participation, there were comments by Board members.

Mark Furlong had several concerns. He said we need to know more about vacancies and we need paperwork before and after changes. He mentioned the Special Education appeal process, the English language learner issues, and incomplete IEPSs or backlogs. He affirmed, "We've been given good information today." He said he was not in disagreement with the information, we just need more information.

Jaime Guzman said he was worried when he hears that students are not receiving services.

Dr. Mahalia Hines said one of the problems was one she already mentioned, that there are not enough qualified people, social workers and Special Education teachers.

Gail Ward remarked about the passionate people coming to talk. She said that the more we hear from constituents, the better we can do.

Dr. Mahalia Hines said she thinks office hours work better.

Rev. Garanzini remarked that the level of frustration is pretty significant. He added that there are not enough people in the schools to deal with problems today, such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Mark Furlong added comments about the fact that not all conversations can be divulged, we are trying to drive more revenue, and we agree with most points regarding revenue.

Board President Clark then mentioned the Public Meetings Act. He said we have to look at other ways of communicating and sharing information with the public.

At 2:33 p.m., Dr. Mahalia Hines read the motion allowing the Board to go into closed session.


December 9, 2016 at 11:08 AM

By: Susan Hickey, LCSW

special Education cuts and lack of clinicians to handle trauma

The bulk of the CEO’s report was a presentation from the Office of Diverse Learners Support and Services. It appears this was done given the amount of anger about how schools were given budgets that co-mingled special education funds with general education ones and principals being told to fund special education students first. The problem is that neither group is getting the funding needed to adequately staff the schools. There was much stress on the fact that Learning Disabilities at 51% of the total special education population are more than the national average of 37%. The other point made over and over that African-American and Latino children make up a large portion of Chicago’s special education numbers. During the presentation by Elizabeth Keenan, newly hired over the summer from St. Paul, Minnesota, who is the Deputy Chief of ODLSS, the Board members had many questions for her. At one point, Forrest Claypool, showed his ignorance by stating that children can outgrow their disabilities! The pressure on clinicians to ensure fewer children are going to be given special education services was evident in this presentation. It was interesting to note that after many years that I as the Chair of the Clinicians’’ Steering Committee requesting how much money clinicians make for CPS that I finally it in one of the power point slides. That slide showed how much special education costs CPS and how there is a shortfall.

Ms. Keenan said that paperwork was being reduced in special education but this was visually disputed in Sarah Chambers’ two minute discussion. The form to request a paraprofessional for a child receiving special education was taper together and was unfurled which stretched almost the length of the Board Room. There were many speakers after her that talked about how there was no truth in what was said about how special education was being fully funded. Speaker after speaker brought up what is going on in the schools.

At the end of the public participation, Melissa Holmes and I were able to talk about the impact of violence on Chicago students. Melissa was very persuasive in her describing how she does not have the time to address the needs of the students at the school. Instead of having only three days at the school in the Austin neighborhood, according to the National Association of Social Workers there should be 17 with a ratio of one social worker per 50 students. I talked about the increase in violence since I retired in June 2015 and how the staffing levels of social workers and psychologists are unable to handle this. Melissa got at least one Board member, Fr. Garanzini, to comment about the PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is pervasive in Chicago. At the end of the public participation, it was evident that the Board members were concerned of the disconnect of ODLSS and what they heard at the meeting.

December 10, 2016 at 8:11 AM

By: Jean Schwab

What a mess

The meeting did not solve any problems and sounds chaotic. What is the purpose of these meetings if nothing is solved? Does anything positive come from them?

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