BOARDWATCH: Chicago Board of Education meeting of January 25, 2017 faces challenges about facilities plans and privatization schemes...

Troy LaRaviere, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association (CPAA) told the Board that the overwhelming majority of public school principals said the privatization of custodial work had hurt the schools. Nevertheless, the Board voted later in the meeting to expand the privatization program. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.Despite attempts by leaders of the Chicago Public Schools to continue to shift responsibility for Chicago's public school funding to the State of Illinois, a large number of people challenged the Board at its January 25, 2017 meeting to stop expensive privatization schemes and to review upcoming facilities expenses.

The Chicago Board of Education (BOE) held its monthly meeting at Chicago Public School (CPS) headquarters on Madison Street between State and Dearborn Streets on Wednesday, January 25, 2017. Board member Dominique Jordan Turner has been replaced by new Board member Amie Rivera. Other Board members present were Mark Furlong, Jaime Guzman, Gail Ward, and Rev. Michael Garanzini, S.J., plus Board President Frank Clark. Board Member Dr. Mahalia Hines was absent. Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Forrest Claypool, Chief Education Officer (CEdO) Janice Jackson, and Ronald L. Marmer, Chief Counsel were also announced as present.

A staff member spoke about the cleanliness of the schools. In response, Board President Clark claimed that CPS had "already captured $30 million in savings..." He spoke of his expectation that efficiency, accountability, and cleaner schools should increase.

CEdO Jackson spoke about the application for selective enrollment schools and magnet schools. She said families who understand the process are at an advantage when applying. She would like to level the playing field. She went on to announce that instead of taking the ACT, this spring, beginning Wednesday, April 5, students will take the SAT. Scores will then be factored into school quality ratings. She expressed appreciation for the remarkable role of Northwestern University's commitment to helping neighborhood high school students.

Next, an announcement was made that budget hearings will be on February 13 from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 6 to 8 p.m. A presentation will then be held after public hearings. Additional information stated that revenues are below expenses, there is a $500 million dollar deficit and short term borrowing will take place. The state's failure to pay on time and Governor Rauner's veto on the pension funding agreement were mentioned as reasons for the money shortage.

Board Member Furlong mentioned that the budget deficit had been brought down by $280 million dollars and the next huge step is to balance the budget. Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Ronald Denard said cash flow is always the risk. He added that when the state gets behind in its bills, it affects us. He added that we have to be vigilant about short term financing which is "at capacity."

Board President Clark said this is a cash problem that goes back many years and we have to stop the bleeding so the problem doesn't get worse. He remarked that we need to spend less than we take in, create a surplus, and find new sources of revenue, primarily from the state. He added that all these will take time.

CEO Claypool mentioned that he had heard on WGN radio that Governor Rauner was committed to equal funding for Chicago and schools outside Chicago, but his statement is at odds with his actions, judging by his $250 million dollar cut for Chicago paired with increased funding for outside Chicago.

Board Secretary Estela Beltran then announced that the next Board meeting will take place Wednesday, February 22, 2017 with sign-up for participation beginning on Friday, February 17, at 10:30 a.m. (because of the President's Day holiday on Monday, February 20) and closing on Tuesday, February 21, at 5 p.m.

Public participation then began. Three elected and union officials spoke first.

Michael Brunson, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Recording Secretary, quoted President Trump: "If Chicago doesn't fix the carnage that's going on, we'll send in the Feds." Secretary Brunson went on to explain how a teacher feels when the name of a victim is recognized as a former student. He remarked that a police state was unnecessary and that schoolrooms can be safe havens and sanctuaries. He decried the furlough days as an outrage and a violation of the recent Board/Union Agreement on which the ink is barely dry. He spoke of the Board's refusal to ask for progressive taxes and other revenue sources.

He continued by stating that positions were being eliminated and African-American women were being affected. He went on to request that the school clerks not be eliminated by the new use of the Kronos machines which requires teachers to keep track of their own attendance. He asked that the four furlough days be restored immediately and that critical attendance training be provided to teachers.

Next, an exchange between Board President Clark and CTU Secretary Brunson took place. Board President Clark said that the budget is 70% people. CTU Secretary Brunson agreed that it is labor intensive. Board President Clark said that he did not take issue with that and added that his wife was a teacher. CTU Secretary Brunson concluded, "We are in this together."

After that, Bill Iacullo, President of Local 143 Operating Engineers, said that, since 1902, we were the one point contact for schools. He told the Board that now schools are not as clean as before and there are other problems because engineers are now assigned more than one building to supervise. He said that there was a temporary problem at Lake View High School on the first day back because of this. He affirmed that he opposes the "Integrated Facilities Management Program" (IFMP) and said the Engineers have saved the Board money over 115 years. He complained about a green sheet that he was supposed to review but which was not even sent to him.

Iacullo went on to explain that there used to be 14 custodians at Lincoln Park High School, but now there are eight. He added, "We can't clean the school with eight." He asked the Board to table the motion or don't vote for the motion during the closed session. He was aware that principals are upset by the present state of affairs. When President Iacullo talked about loss of many jobs, he was told by CPS officials that no engineer will lose their job. President Iacullo replied that engineer will have to apply with the vendor and there is no guarantee of a job; the vendor can not be required to hire. He also noted that engineers who work for vendors will have to report to them and not to the Board, and in the future may not be subject to the residency rules they now follow, since they will be working for vendors, not the Board.

Next, Troy LaRaviere, President of the Chicago Principals' and Administrators Association, talked about the facilities contract and about charter school data. He said the facilities contract with Aramark/Sodexo has changed the relationship engineers have with principals. Now, engineers no longer report to principals. He told of $340 million dollars that goes to management organizations so that they can manage custodians.

Reviewing the history of the privatization deal, LaRaviere said that (former official) Tim Cawley sold Aramark/Sodexo to this body and now the schools are filthy. He added that the contract rewards incompetence and poor performance and is a waste of public money. Principals now have to justify the spending of money and lots of paperwork is needed for just one Special Education Classroom Aide (SECA). He said his biggest concern was the understaffing of custodians that left our buildings filthy. He said sending one engineer to supervise several schools, not just one, was reckless. He mentioned the recent carbon monoxide episode. He said an absent engineer is a major issue. He added that CEO Barbara Byrd Bennet pushed this body to sign a SUPES contract and he asked the Board to think about the consequences of their votes. He concluded the principal survey shows that the principals want engineers back.

LaRaviere continued, talking about charter schools, the disciplinary policy, and expulsion data. He said was concerned that charters were "overexpelling" students -- in particular Noble Street Charter Schools, which expels 251 times the CPS average. He expressed concern that they were able to do this because of double standards of expulsion. He talked about what he called "the 20th day purge." In that, students are expelled from charters but the funding stays at the charter school, leading to a great loss of funds at the schools to which the expelled students are sent.

The first public participant to speak was Andrew Broy of Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS). Broy said he was putting aside his prepared remarks. Taking issue with the previous speaker, Broy said it was not true that charter schools keep funding after a student leaves. He claimed that charter schools get quarterly funding but that he could not tell the whole story in two minutes. Board President Clark replied that the Board was used to conflicting comments.

Charter school advocates spoke next. Tamika Meeks, of Catalyst Maria, said her son was not given Individualized Education Program (IEP) services in CPS. Now that he has been at Catalyst from second to fifth grade, he has come out of his shell. Aracely Gonzalez, a mother of three Noble Street graduates, said that charter schools are being blamed for the budget crisis. She remarked,"We are all public schools. All our schools should be funded equally." Shirley Henderson, of Gary Comer College Prep Middle School, said it took a while, but her son is adjusting to the curriculum. She wanted Comer teachers to be given resources and expressed concern about fair funding for charter schools.

The next speakers asked for a neighborhood high school.

Debbie Lu, a graduate of Peyton High School, advocated for a new high school for the Chinese-American community. She said the elementary neighborhood schools are among the best in the area. David Wu also asked for a neighborhood high school. He said neighborhood children now attend 47 different high schools. He added that the long commute from 29th and Canal, taking 30-49 minutes or more, limits extracurricular activities. Raquel Don, a mother of three CPS students in the Bridgeport neighborhood said there was a need for a high school there 40 years ago and that Kelly High School is currently the only option. Mingchu Chiu, a student at Kennedy High School, also asked for a new neighborhood high school in the Bridgeport neighborhood.

Next, Dr. Leon Finney, who has had a long career here, spoke in favor of a new high school in the South Side. Finney said that he has worked with five governors, and was the chairman for school desegregation monitoring commission. He said that the challenge is not new, but expressed concern about the budget shortfall. He said that since this body cannot raise taxes, the $250 million must be restored. He claimed that he came out of "the labor movement" and said he asked for a compromise to make this work and to find the money. He added, "Don't worry about losing face... We have a chance to make a difference. Let's push for restoration of the $250 million."

A number of speakers from Englewood were next. Dori Collins, a parent surrogate, wants a new high school in Englewood. Perry Gunn, of Team Englewood also expressed his wish for a new high school in Englewood. Darlene O"Banner-Suttle, said, "We should have been in Springfield today. We will support CPS." She mentioned that she went to CPS and has five grandkids in CPS. She said she was the first black graduate at Gage Park. Minister Johnny Banks wants a high school in Englewood and said they will do all in their power to get the finances. Tyson Everett, also a product of CPS, remarked he was a victim of a gunshot in 1979 and a Gage Park graduate. He, too, asked that a new high school be built in Englewood. He said, "We are ready to partner to make this new school a reality." After each of the above speakers spoke, the group chanted "We are Englewood strong" and other chants.

Andrea Tolzman, a parent on the Local School Council (LSC) at Pulaski International School, is appealing to Governor Rauner that LSCs are a part of a movement to strengthen schools. She provided a letter to the Board that she would like distributed to others. She remarked, "All our students need fair and equitable education."

Brenda Daley, chair of the LSC at Lenart, informed the Board that capital construction is needed at Lenart. Several concerns were mentioned: the front door stopped closing, dead trees need to be removed, a new roof is needed, the third grade room leaks, the playlot is flooded, the school has not been painted for years, and other needs and structural challenges. Board President Clark replied, "We have a capital program to address this, but there are not enough funds."

Sharon Schmidt, CTU Delegate of Steinmetz High School stood with some of her students. She told the Board that she also serves as advisor for the school newspaper, which was distributed to Board members and senior staff. "We are an excellent school," she said, "We serve a variety of students and special needs." She said that former students and college grads return to Steinmetz because they feel a connection to the school. She told the Board that the student body is made up of 10% Black students, 10% White students, and the rest are Hispanic or Asian -- a very diverse mix. She noted that a plan to take three feeder schools (White students) and send the students to Taft High School. She remarked that we don't need a new high school in the area; Steinmetz is underenrolled. She asked Board President to meet with Steinmetz and he agreed. He also spoke of the compassion of the teachers.

After this, Ronato Rodun of Steinmetz explained many things about the Steinmetz community, He said that summer school was out, night school is not available, Arabic and Japanese are available languages, elementary basketball is offered on Saturday mornings, and there is a freeze on all grant money. CEO Claypool remarked, "Steinmetz is very cohesive. We need more of that."

Sharon Schmidt replied, "Keep us integrated."

Then Jenny Biggs, of Raise Your Hand (RYH), spoke of how the $250 million dollar budget hole was damaging to the students, that engineers had to supervise multiple buildings which was very dangerous, principals are working with Aramark but nothing gets done, and privatization may lead to engineers leaving the city.

Rebecca Martinez of the CTU, talked about the furlough days. She said there is a lack of trust that the Board will lift a finger to protect students. She spoke of a sanctuary district. She asked that excessive police presence be eliminated. She said there is a deportation danger if Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is repealed. She asked the Board to take an aggressive stand against Trump attacks.

Board President Clark remarked that Mayor Rahm Emanuel had reaffirmed that Chicago is a sanctuary city. Rebecca Martinez went on to say there is no protection for students and asked if the Chicago Police Department (CPD) is collecting information and adding that to a data base. She repeated, "What will CPS do to protect students?" Board President Clark told her, "We will look into this."

Next, charter school advocates from Horizon Science Academy spoke. Ashley Merola thanked the Board for opening the charter school. She said there are 600+ students and 600+ on a waiting list. She remarked that the scores grow each year. Passion Jackson, a tenth-grader at the charter school, said she is involved in many activities. Amanda Velasquez said she is in a middle school program.

Joyce Chapman, of the Far South Community Action Council (CAC), told the Board, "You can count on us. It's a shame what Governor Rauner is doing." She went on to say how concerned their group was about the proposed Secretary of Education (Betsy DeVos). She invited the Board to Black History Month, their third annual one.

The next several speakers were from Seward Elementary School. Greg Michie, of Seward School in Back of the Yards, spoke about gun violence. He mentioned five former students who had been killed. He remarked about the new president's threat of mass deportations. He said that the school branch building was being closed and the school needs more support. He asked the Board to keep Seward's branch open.

Consuelo Martinez Lome spoke in Spanish, which was translated. She said she has two students in CPS, one is a daughter with autism. She is worried that the branch at Seward will be closed and Special Education will be most affected. She remarked that Special Education needs a safe and comfortable atmosphere to learn well. She asked CPS to be aware that the community needs special consideration. She asked for a written statement form CPS that the annex will not be closed.

Leticia Reyes also in translated Spanish, said she has a daughter at Seward. She is worried about the closing of the annex, which may lead to overcrowding and split classes. She also asked the Board to provide a written statement that the branch will not be closed.

Yareli Belman, in translated Spanish, said the children will lose space for the arts and technology. She mentioned that the children don't have books at home and need a library with a lot of books. She added that not everyone has computers at home, so they need to use a computer at school.

Maria Leon, an alum of Seward, said her parents came from Mexico. She urged the Board to keep the branch open. She also spoke of President Trump's plan for undocumented immigrants.

Jose Alonso, a graduate of Seward, said he felt supported at Seward. He went on to Northwestern and Loyola Law School. He told the Board that Seward was a vital pillar in the area and a beacon for safety. He remarked that the closing will destabilize the community. He asked the Board to confirm in writing that the branch will not be closed.

Linda Coronado, of Back of the Yards, and a former CPS trustee (a Board of Education member), said a long term lease was needed for the branch at Seward or the school will be overcrowded. She asked the Board to look carefully at the decision they will make.

Next, Jennifer Jones, of J. N. Thorp, said her son's Special Education needs were not being met. She noted that the voice mailbox of the Special Education Department at the Board was full for almost a week. She added that her son began to be bullied. She has an IEP meeting scheduled for February 2, her son is struggling. She charged that CPS Special Education is understaffed.

Without explaining how the mailbox could be full for days, Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson informed the speaker that the calls are now being logged, her son's IEP and others will be monitored, and Dr. Keenan can support her.

Catherine Frances Blaine wanted to know which tests will be used for selective enrollment. She talked about admission criteria that were unfair and stressful. She asked the Board to tell which standards will be used. CEdO Jackson replied that the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) test will be used. She added that if there are changes, the students will be notified in time to prepare.

Christine Palmieri, of Blaine Elementary, said her child is in third grade Special Education. She told the Board about the lack of funds. She said that Special Education and General Education funds should not be commingled.

Vaeshan Hudson Pitts, of Chicago International Charter Schools (CICS) Wrightwood, gave her sister's written testimony.

The next individuals spoke about Hancock College Prep High School, which is on the Southwest Side. Emily Ramos explained the many poor building conditions: leaks in the ceiling, floor problems, and smells that needed to be masked. Yaletza Reynoso also spoke about the poor conditions in the building, and Amal Salem, a junior at Hancock, talked about the limited resources at the selective enrollment school where in general the school needs CPS help because of inferior facilities, but was thankful for the new movable stage. Angel Alvarez spoke of the limited resources and said that other selective enrollment schools have abundant resources. Fernanda Ortiz said there was a lack of space for art and for sports. She said the school was at a disadvantage compared to other selective enrollment schools. Aliyah Gonzaga said the gym had to be shared, Art took place on the balcony, and the toilets were condemned. Ray Salazar, a teacher at Hancock, told the Board that $75 million was needed for a new school, yet there was no money for a new building. He said the present building had inadequate facilities and they deserved a building comparable to other selective enrollment high schools.

Board President replied, "All of you are incredibly articulate. You won't be ignored."

Nora Gallagher, a "Parents 4 Teachers" representative, noted that the four unpaid furlough days amount to a 2 percent pay cut for staff. She added that if teachers are not paid, children are not valued. She also said that parents fear our teachers will leave our schools. She affirmed that this city is not broke, there are many professional revenue sources.

Louis Pyster, a retired CPS teacher, talked about the furlough days and the 2 percent pay cut. He said there was no raise for this year. He asked the Board to delay the furlough and put it on hold while seeking help from Springfield. He remarked that the privatization plan for cleaning the schools was irresponsible and also should be put on hold. He asked the Board to sit down with Bill Iacullo and Troy LaRaviere for discussion and not to destroy their lives. He added that waiting five months for Special Education services was inexcusable and a mechanism is needed in CPS so that when students are not getting services, an immediate investigation will take place. He repeated that a quick response is needed so the problem can be solved quickly. Lastly, he said that when a dirty building occurs, there should be an immediate call from CTU, this building is filthy, you need to clean it up.

Jovanna Alvarez of Uno Charter School Network (UCSN) charter school, said that is the budget doesn't support charter schools, children will suffer. She added that parents send children to charters instead of private schools because of finances.

Theresa Jefferson said she was disappointed with Governor Rauner's veto action. She remarked that Governor Rauner needs to treat CPS students as fairly as the rest of the students in the state. She said that cuts should not come on the backs of students.

Tennille Evans of CTU spoke of the impending harm to clerks, 80 percent of whom, she said, are Black and Hispanic, if teachers are required to monitor their own payrolls. She said this would have a devastating impact. She named the numerous responsibilities clerks fulfill in each school. She asked the Board to keep the school clerks and stop giving teachers clerk duties.

This concluded public participation. Board Member Ward then read the motion that allowed the Board to go into closed session.


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