BOARDWATCH: The February 22, 2017 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education saw major criticisms of the leadership of Forrest Claypool...
Controversies were clear as the Chicago Board of Eduction met on February 22, 2017, for its monthly public meeting. As a result of the latest round of school-level cuts, the Board was criticized for making the cuts in a way that hit Latino and African American schools serving the poorest children the most harshly. Immigration problems, Special Education, and the impact of budget cuts were some of the concerns expressed at the regular monthly Board meeting on Wednesday, February 22. 2017, at Chicago Public School (CPS) headquarters on Madison Street between State and Dearborn Streets.
Board members who were present were Mark Furlong, Arnie Rivera, Jaime Guzman, Gail Ward, Rev. Michael Garanzini, S. J., and 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 present.
The meeting began with an "Honors and Excellence" presentation.
A male and a female student from Harper High School performed monologues from an August Wilson competition. Finalists in the competition will perform with Goodman Theater.
Board President Clark remarked that the quality of the performance was excellent and it presented a life message, as well.
The world-renowned choir from Kenwood High School performed next. Dr. Gregory Jones, the principal at Kenwood was present and the choir director accompanied the choir. The award winning champion choir performed "Unity." A standing ovation followed.
The business portion of the meeting began with Chief Executive Officer (CEO) reports.
Board President Clark announced that the budget will be approved today. He mentioned that there was concern about the impact of some of the budget cuts on the Hispanic community. He affirmed that we will try to right inequities.
Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool added that Governor Rauner did not "keep his word" about the CPS finances and forced CPS to accept a $215 million cut from the bipartisan budget deal. Claypool said it really was a "Sophie's Choice." As a result, he said, he had to order additional budget cuts to the schools. He said that good teachers would have been lost all across the city had he not taken the steps he did. Low income schools are supposed to get more and last year, extra dollars were put into the budget. He added that the Board went to court "last week" with parents because, according to CPS attorneys, this state action is unlawful under the Illinois Civil Rights Act. Claypool added that finally, "the Urban League lawsuit" had been settled, but that this settlement does not affect the CPS case. He said that the CPS case is based on race/inequality.
[img=9786]Immigration was the next topic. CEO Claypool stated forcefully that the "safest place for children" is in the classroom. He added that we will take a fierce stand -- No U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will be allowed unless a criminal warrant is presented and no information about students will be turned over.
CEdO Jackson then stated that "we are proud of our diversity" and the complexities from the lawsuit show that we are responsive to disparities in funding. She also said that the safety of the children in school is paramount and principals have been informed that students will be safe and welcome in the schools.
After that, discussion switched to the update of the Amended Fiscal Year (FY) 17 Budget.
Ronald Denard, Finance Head of CPS (his official title has been Vice President for Finances), supplied information about the latest amended CPS budget. Denard said that 1/6 of the CPS dollars go to pensions. He stressed that CPS pays our pensions and that CPS is the "only district in the state that has to take money out of the operating budget for this". Denard said that the $215 million cut taken from CPS mid-year would have gone for the pension payment. This, he said, led to the four furlough days for all CPS employees, and it led to a look at across-the-board budget cuts. It meant that 100 schools would possibly have had to lay off teachers and non-personnel costs would disproportionately impact schools. An appeals process is being put in place. He stated that a $104 million reduction will affect Central Office. He added that there are no good solutions and that $111 million is still owed from the state. There was also talk about increasing taxes. He repeated his claim that Chicago pays "twice" for pensions, by way of state income taxes and also by way of sales tax which pays for other school districts. The same benefit from these taxes does not come back to CPS. He also said that state revenue has been declining for years and that pension costs are increasing each year, leading to school money going for pensions. He added that it was unfair that CPS is the only district that has to pay so much for our pension costs. He said that pension costs are up and the money we get from the state is declining each year, except for last year. He stressed more than once that our teachers and staff deserve the pensions they receive. He remarked that we need fairness in funding, which is separate and unequal now.
Board President Clark added that Hispanic schools are disproportionately affected and that we have to correct that. He then went on to explain the meaning behind CEO Claypool's remark about "Sophie's Choice" for younger audience members who might not be aware of its meaning. He mentioned that the phrase "Sophie's Choice" came from a Meryl Streep movie in which she faced a matter of life or death, even though we are not in a life or death situation.
Ronald Denard replied, "There really are no good choices."
Board Member Rev. Garanzini wanted to know how this affected Special Education.
Ronald Denard responded, "We have instructed schools to always fund Special Education first."
Board Member Ward then spoke at length about taking Special Education funding seriously. She mentioned that she had been a principal at Agassiz School where 40% of the students had severe and profound Special Education disabilities and later at Payton High School. She said that putting Special Education students first is the key. She added that the paperwork was troubling and challenging.
Next, Board President Clark, as usual, encouraged parents and others to go on the website cpsboe.org to have their questions addressed.
Then, Board Secretary Estela Beltran announced that the next Board meeting would take place Wednesday, March 22, 2017, here at the Board headquarters. Public participation sign-up begins, Monday, March 20, at 10:30 a.m. and ends on Tuesday, March 21, 2017, at 5:00 p.m. She also gave directions for taking part in today's public participation.
Three public officials spoke next.
Jesse Ruiz, former CPS Board Vice-President (VP) and now head of the Chicago Park District, told of a lawsuit for fair and equitable education similar to the Urban League's, that was settled recently. He said the Illinois funding system violates the Civil Rights Act. He added that Hispanics are the largest constituency in CPS schools. He quoted the late Holocaust Survivor Elie Weisel: "The opposite of love is not hate, the opposite of love is indifference" and asked the Board to "Please reassess your decision about cuts."
Next, Jesse Sharkey, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Vice-President (VP), talked about three items: He said cuts hurt, the Board needs to be a clear voice for taxing the wealthy, and the ICE letter from CEdO Jackson is appreciated. He said that making cuts means that principals must make cuts that affect schools, parent volunteers are giving instruction, and the statement by the Board staff member regarding Special Education cuts lacks veracity. Sharkey noted that 300 Special Education positions have been eliminated, the Board is in a box in a way, and people need clear instructions about what to do.
CEdO Jackson replied, "More ICE guidelines are coming."
CTU VP Sharkey mentioned to Board Member Ward, "My son goes to Agassiz."
Then Bill Iacullo, President of IUOE (International Union of Operating Engineers) Local 143, said that he seemed to be making a monthly appearance. He said that he felt his point was lost to everyone, but now he was here on a different issue. He proposed and the 214 Engineers remain CPS employees, the vendor contracts were not yet signed and this would provide continuity.
[img=9787]The first public participant was Pam Witmer of Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS) who spoke of the 6.4% cut to charter school budgets. She said if the fourth quarter payment is delayed, this would affect charters. She mentioned that six trips to Springfield are being planned.
Next, Tim McCaffrey, of Decatur Classical School, said that the school lacks many basic things and his two sons want to help. Mike McCaffrey, a fourth grader, said there is no gym, gym is held in the classroom or in the multi-purpose room, there is no cafeteria, the students eat at the desks in their classrooms, and they can't socialize with students from other classrooms.
McCaffrey invited Board President Clark to come to Decatur. Jacob Hansen, a fifth grader, said there was no seventh or eighth grade at Decatur. He said that this led sixth graders to worry because they have to go elsewhere for seventh and eighth grades. This leads them to study seventh grade materials in sixth grade and the result is they already have covered the seventh grade material when they arrive at their new neighborhood school for seventh grade. He mentioned that of the 480 CPS schools, only a handful do not go to seventh and eighth grade. He said Decatur should also go to seventh and eighth grade.
Other items mentioned were that the school is overcrowded so that there is no lunchroom or gym and there is a single adult bathroom. The school lacks the basic minimal conditions of schools.
Alyssa Ramos, of the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, said that under Title 9 law, pregnant and parenting schools are covered. Students do not have to move from their current schools. She mentioned bad examples at current schools and how shame keeps the students from learning. She remarked that actions in violation of the Title 9 law could lead to a loss of Title 9 funds. She asked that the staff be informed about Title 9 rights.
Board President Clark replied that the law requires us to be compliant with Title 9 and students are not forced out of schools.
Mary Hughes, of the19th Ward Parents for Special Education, spoke of a fourteen-year old autistic student who had been removed from his Individualized Education Program (IEP) and was drowned during swim class at Kennedy High School. She asked that the principal override of IEPs be eliminated. She said that there was a direct relation between per-pupil funding and class size and CPS policies.
Greg Harris wants equitable funding for charters. He son attended Gary Comer College Prep and is now in college at Brown University. He said his son is very self-motivated now. He said he loved the commitment from Comer and the care they show to students after graduation.
Antonio Velez, a chaplain and minister and parent of three Noble students, said Noble challenged them to be adults. One son is in the Marines, one son attends Trinity college, and one daughter is now at Noble.
Ana Salazar, of UNO Charter School Network (UCSN), is a parent of two who is satisfied with the UCSN schools. She added that charter schools are public schools, too, but they are getting short-changed in funding.
Michele Dreczynski is on the Jenner Ogden Steering Committee. She said that campus sharing could work throughout the district. She added that equitable access was needed and that there is a monetary cost to school segregation.
Randall K. Blakey is a pastor who is in support of the Jenner Ogden Steering Committee. He said an innovative approach to the
school is needed. He remarked, "Imagine what we can do together." He quoted Frederick Douglass who said "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults."
Jeff Young, of Darwin School, spoke of the cuts in the budget and delineated how cuts affect schools. He said the school wants to be Level One but cuts make it harder.
Lindy Mandel, a sixth grade teacher at Chicago International Charter School (CICS) Irving Park School, said she is a Milwaukee native. She said she supports equally-funded charter schools. She mentioned that the school is now doing things with technology and invited the Board to the school.
Jessica Carrillo, of Broader Urban Involvement and Leadership (BUILD) Chicago, spoke about violence prevention. She said that the application process to get in the school is difficult, deadlines also make it difficult, and not all students are aware of the process. She asked that a pathway for easy access be created.
Daniel Stinson talked about the marquee at Bowen High School, which is 106 years old. He said the name Bowen needs to be on the marquee and not the name of the co-located school, Baker. This item was referred to staff.
Miriam Castellanos also talked about the marquee at Bowen. She said that Baker had taken over the marquee and that Bowen deserved its own marquee. She added, "We need more than a banner."
Branson Hummons, a former CPS student, said that a common application for selective enrollment schools is a good decision. He remarked that there is a huge need for a common application and that it would help students to apply. He said that the different needs of different students equals complication. He added that we need to help our students find a better path.
Board President Clark remarked: "You're preaching to the choir."
Arne Stieber, a Vietnam veteran and a member of Veterans for Peace, gave out information packets and said that he had spoken to CEdO Jackson and others. He was given the chance to speak to Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC) students, but found out that principals and teachers may say no. He asked for a procedure.
CEoD Jackson told him to ask the principals directly if he and others can be guest speakers. She said speakers for classrooms is a school level/classroom level decision. She asked him to start with a principal letter or call.
Roberta Salas, of Murphy Elementary, Local School Council (LSC) representative and member of Raise Your Hand, who works full-time, said that the budget cuts were devastating. She compared the consequences of the cuts to a slash-and-burn impact. She said she cannot figure out CPS and asked the Board to please work with us to find solutions.
Sandra Santillon Osornio of Tarkington said the school had no science, no social studies, and there were many subs every day. She added that parents cannot volunteer or be involved. She said that the principal said there was no more room in summer school, so her daughter was left behind. She added that Tarkington was an Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) school.
Patricia Askia also expressed alarming concerns about the AUSL school. She said the school has an appointed LSC and should have switched to a regular LSC after votes. She said she wants CPS to disband the AUSC LSC. She added that the principal makes the majority of decisions. She said she fears for the safety of children at the school.
Yadira Navarro, of Tarkington, said that parents were worried about harassment and bullying. She said the sexual harassment was coming from other students, and insults, too. She asked the Board to help them to deal with this.
Ms. Alvarez, of Tarkington, said the parents don't know the staff, the parents are not given information in Spanish, no one speaks Spanish, personnel are lost because of budget problems, the principal is not allowing parents to be volunteers and there is no information about the school from the principal.
Board President Clark and CEdO Jackson referred them to staff who will conduct a formal complaint process.
Patricia Tejeda, of Scammon Elementary, also wants information about the bullying policy. Because of bullying, she said her daughter lost weight and her academic performance was affected. She was told that because she cannot give a name, she cannot be helped.
Andrew Kaplan, of Mitchell Elementary and Raise Your Hand, said he is proud of the teachers and staff. He said that because of the furlough days, the teachers lost pay and the Personal Development (PD) Days. He added that at Mitchell, a four-story structure, the bathrooms are "gross" and are in the basement.
Vanessa Fawley, of Burley School, spoke of her autistic Kindergarten child who was denied an IEP twice. Her daughter lost weight and harms herself. Fifteen minutes a week is not enough assistance. She also stated that the commingling of funds was not good. After being denied Special Education services, she asked, "What will it take to get your attention?"
Rebecca Blue, of Sutherland in the 19th Ward where Matt O'Shea is the alderman, said that a statement by Mayor Rahn Emanual puts the parents against each other. Naming other schools, she said Esmond does need help and Mount Greenwood is overcrowded. She stated that $40 million had gone to these two schools because the "alderman was nice to the Mayor, that's why." She added concerns about the coordination with the election cycle and trust issues with CPS.
The last speaker, Maria Anderson, has a daughter in Kindergarten at Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) school which shares space with Orr High School. She said there is a quality education at KIPP and she now has better options because of KIPP.
At the end of public participation, Board Member Rivera stated that we need to get a report out of the real impact of these cuts at the district level.
After this, Board Member Ward read the motion allowing the Board to go into closed session.