BOARDWATCH: Chicago Board of Education's March 22, 2017 meeting

The Chicago Board of Education (BOE) held its regular monthly meeting on March 22, 2017, at its Chicago Public School (CPS) headquarters on Madison between State and Dearborn. A number of concerns expressed during Public Participation were the CMSA ('Chicago Math and Science Academy") Rogers Park charter school, a new high school for the Chinatown community, the closing of the Seward School Branch, senior year prom fees, and what's going to happen with clerks.

Roll call showed that Board Members Mark Furlong, Arnie Rivera, Jaimie Guzman, Mahalia A. Hines, Rev. Michael J. Garanzini, S. J. and Board President Frank Clark were present. Absent was Board Member Gail D. Ward. Also present were Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Forrest Claypool, Chief Counsel Ronald Marmer, and Chief Education Officer (CEdO) Janice Jackson.

The meeting opened with a large Chicago Mariachi band performance of "La Bamba" from the state of Veracruz and the ballad "Adios, Amore." The band was introduced as being from the UNO Charter School Network (UCSN) and the elementary schools that feed into UCSN.

Next, "achieving schools" were honored and recognized: UCSN Soccer Academy, Richards Career Academy High School, winner of the 10th Annual Cooking-Up Challenge, and Basketball Team winners: Orr High School, Morgan Park High School, and Whitney Young High School. Later, during its closed session, the Board would be served the winning meal from "The Cooking-Up Challenge" -- Chicken Vesuvio with Spaghetti, Chopped Caesar Salad, and Carmelized Pear-Pone.

CEO Forrest Claypool then began the business portion of the meeting by stating that CPS is dealing with "a different kind of politics" where "facts don't matter anymore." He said we are constantly facing distractions from the truth. He said Governor Rauner stated an unchallenged lie regarding the Block Grant. He said Governor Rauner blamed the city for the financial crisis caused by his veto in the middle of the school year. Repeating claims that he has made for more than a year, he added that the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is facing separate and unequal treatment compared to the treatment of the rest of the state. He ended by saying we are fighting for equal funding for CPS.

CEdO Janice Jackson then cited CPS's claims of academic achievements and successes. She mentioned the March10, 2017 article by business reporter David Leonhardt in the Sunday New York Times. That story featured Kenwood Academy's principal and claimed that the principal is the key to the success of inner city schools.

Jackson then announced that CPS educators whose children are accepted to the University of Chicago will have a "full ride" scholarship. She added that more teachers are needed in CPS in the fields of Special Education, Math, and Science. She noted that the new SAT will be given for the first time on Wednesday, April 5.

As usual, Board President Frank Clark directed individuals to go to the Board website for answers to their questions or to schedule a meeting with a Board member.

Board Secretary Estela Beltran said the next Board meeting would be Wednesday, April 26, 2017, with sign-up beginning on Monday, April 24 at 10 a.m. and ending on Tuesday, April 25 at 5 p.m. She then explained the guidelines for public participation today.

The first to speak were two aldermen: Alderman Anthony Napolitano of the 41st Ward and Alderman George Cardenas of the 12th Ward. They were followed by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Recording Secretary, Michael Brunson.

Alderman Napolitano, the father of three at Ebinger School, spoke about the needs and wants of his ward. He thanked the Board for listening regarding the overcrowding at Dirksen School and the Ebinger annex, He said Dirksen should serve 540 students, but has 901. He went on to ask if the schools will be open in June, saying he would like that information sooner rather than later.

Alderman Cardenas accompanied by moms from the community told the Board that Farragut High School in Little Village has been there since 1898. He mentioned that the neighborhood school is great but it is "falling apart". He said a new roof was promised, but that fell through, the gym bleachers need repair, but that would not occur, and the public address (p.a.) system was in dire need. He said there are so many issues, "this is a school that beckons for help." One mom spoke about the needs of the school in Spanish that was then translated.

In response, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Jose Alfonso de Hoyos-Acosta said that a new p.a. system will be installed and agreed that the roof needs to be fixed. He said that the purchase order went out on the roof, the bleachers went out to bid, and the field lights were installed a little bit ago.

Board President Clark said none of these issues have been ignored. Then, CEO Claypool mentioned that CPS is in court suing the state regarding the Equal Rights Act and we hope for a commitment before May 1.

In reply, Alderman Cardenas stated that corporations are moving to Chicago and we need a work force to meet corporation needs.

CPS Recording Secretary Michael Brunson spoke next. He mentioned the 110-4 Illinois House support for an elected school board. He said that CPS and CTU must work together to find a solution to the financial crisis. He added that everyone must pay their fair share in taxes and then with a democratically elected school board, we can begin to do the serious work that needs to be done.

Brunson added that there are lots of creative ideas out there, beyond "the 20-20 thing" (the basis for Claypool's lawsuit is that CPS should get 20 percent of state funding since CPS has 20 percent of the state's school children). He also said that Chicago needs "progressive revenue options" to support all city needs. He concluded that an equitable revenue system is needed, that CTU should go to Springfield with CPS and lobby together for schools and pensions. Finally, Brunson returned to the proposal for a financial transaction tax that he has promoted for years. He said that a $2 tax paid on each financial transaction would result in $12 billion that would be brought in. He stated that borrowing is no good because of exorbitant interest rates. He asked if CPS will support the bills in Springfield, HB 3393 and SB 1719? He mentioned the joint CTU/CPS financial committee that is in the Board Union Agreement (Contract).

Board President Clark and CEO Claypool responded, Claypool alluding to racial discrimination against Chicago with the rest of the state predominantly white.

Brunson then talked about the pension problem, noting that CPS did not pay its full pension bill for a number of years, something that added to the current fiscal problems.

After this, Public Participation began with a group from the Armour Square/Bridgeport community. They were promoting a new high school for the Chinatown community.

Jiaqi Yu said a neighborhood high school that is closer than Kelly High School is needed for the Chinatown community.

David Wu, a parent of two CPS students, said that there is no high school in his community. He said his group has met with Board Member Ward and CEdO Jackson and CEdO Jackson asked them what kind of school do you want for the community? Subsequently, a survey was taken and 800 responded. 90% said better high school options were needed.

Simon Shiu, who is on the Local School Council (LSC) and is President of the Parent Action Committee (PAC). said that Chinatown doesn't have a neighborhood high school. He added that some students graduate from high school at 19 instead of 18 because of language difficulties.

Nicole Lee, a CPS graduate from Whitney Young, told the Board she was born and raised in Bridgeport and went to Haines School in Chinatown. She talked about the need for a dual-language school and a lack of high quality high schools. She wants a neighborhood high school where Chinese language instruction is a priority. She said she doesn't want to move away from Chinatown.

CEdO Jackson mentioned that she was impressed with the group and that this was a long term issue with no decisions today.

Joe Alter from new Field Elementary School, is on the LSC and has a son in first grade. He said the school was a model of diversity and stated that he had moved his son from a private school to this public school and regreted that he didn't do it sooner. He added that more charter schools won't help. He added that he was proud of Sullivan High School and that Chicago Math and Science Academy (CMSA), a charter school takes away students and money.

Annie Gill-Boyer, LSC chair of the new Field Elementary that feeds into Sullivan High School, is also against the CMSA expansion. She mentioned that CMSA is not a team player, that students are kicked out of CMSA, and that Sullivan welcomes refugees. She added that the expansion of charter schools leads to a loss of funds to public high schools.

Rebecca Weinberg, of the Eugene Field Community, mentioned that the community (Rogers Park) is vibrant and eclectic. She said that a referendum had been held to halt CMSA expansion, but CMSA was not listening. She said that Joe Moore had gone to Turkey twice and a cafeteria in CMSA was named after him. (For more information about CMSA, google "Gapers' Block"). She asked the Board to do the right thing for our students.

Esther Mendez, of Orozco, spoke in Spanish, which was then translated. She spoke of the abusive principal at her school with a high membership. She said she was accused of having a gun and had to go to court where the charges were dropped. She asked that the principal be removed and the principal's certificate be taken away. She said one hundred parents have signed a petition for the removal of the principal.

CEdO Jackson said that we are trying to settle this issue with removal of the principal and removal of the letter of restriction. She asked Pedro Soto to meet with Esther Mendez.

Magda Castaneda, of the Pilsen Alliance, first spoke in Spanish, but after being asked to conclude, finished in excellent English. She talked about a student complaining about not wanting to go to school because of conditions there. The student blames Governor Rauner and others. The student wants her mother to speak for her. She asked that the Board follow its true conscience and recognize that Tax Increment Financing (TIFs) belong to the poor people.

Rachel Robinson who said she was a graduate of Ray School, Kenwood High School, and Howard University, and was a King College Prep High School clerk spoke of how essential school clerks are. She enumerated the jobs clerks do and said they are passionate about their work. She affirmed that the payroll should be managed by clerks. She added that without clerks, Central Office must be called when corrections need to be made.

Meghan Schmidt, of Chicago International Charter Schools (CICS), named her position and said she is proud of our commitment to innovation. She mentioned that CICS hosted tours and thanked the Board and asked for renewal.

Donna Ford said she decided that her daughter had to go to a charter school and she, the parent, is pleased that she went to Gary Comer College Prep and also, Gary Comer Youth Center. She doesn't want cuts to the charter school budget.

Stephanie Arias of INCS said she is a CPS graduate. She mentioned that the Board will vote for next charters soon. She added that charter schools are fulfilling their promises and are competitive with selective enrollment schools.

Silvia Vendegna, of UCSN Soccer Academy, asked for equal funding for charter schools. She said that charters provide high quality and that she values choice.

Jorge Jaimes, also of UCSN, said many charter schools in Chicago give choice when private schools cannot be afforded. He spoke of the huge state/city budget shortfall and said that without action from Springfield, our children are at risk.

Scott Smith wanted to know what was up with the merger of Kelly High School, Keller School, and Sullivan Elementary Schools. He mentioned that the Board votes today on the annexes. He said public money should not be used for political reasons. He added that CPS should solicit public feedback for 19th Ward schools and that parents will fight any planned closures.

CEdO Jackson said she couldn't speak to the two projects you mentioned and there needs to be a more strategic plan. She said we are looking at the number of seats available.

Scott Smith responded that all members of the public should be invited to learn about the plans for annexes.

Lisa Pudalek, of Reinberg School, asked the Board to reconsider actions regarding clerks and to save our jobs. She remarked that the community depends on us.

Board Member Hines asked if positions are being cut or responsibilities?

Pudalek responded that positions were being cut.

Board President Clark told her, "Your voices are being heard. We hear your concerns."

Andrea Tolzmann, of Pulaski Internatiional School, spoke about the effect of privatization contracts at the school. She mentioned the bus driver who eats snacks on the bus, who smokes on the bus, and who changes routes for pick-ups. She also mentioned a building engineer who lives in Crystal Lake and told the principal, "Don't call if there is a problem after hours." She added that the AESOP system doesn't provide enough subs and the nurse is at the school only 1 1/2 days, so sick children are told to go the clerk because the nurse has too much paperwork to do in her time at the school. She asked the Board to "stop privatizing our schools."

Board President Clark said he assumed that these issues had been taken to the principal and that we need information today to be provided to staff.

Juan Flores, a representative of SOS Children Illinois in Back of the Yards, spoke about the lack of resources. He mentioned that the Seward Branch is being closed down because of budget cuts and that the Arts, Music, and Community Events are being taken away. He said he never had to go through that, as a CPs student.

Lorena Lopez Torres, in Spanish which was translated, said that that she had two children at Seward and is a working mom who is worried about how the closure of the annex will affect community programs with Music and Art being pushed to the side. She asked a Board member to investigate.

Maria Medina, in Spanish which was then translated, asked the Board not to close the Seward annex. She said she had found support for her son at Seward. She said that if the Seward annex were closed, the main building would be overcrowded, class sizes would increase, and other schools would be affected. She added, "Please don't play with our children's education." She asked the Board to meet with the group.

Jose Alonso, a CPS alum, asked the Board to reconsider and save the Branch because then Seward would be overcrowded. Speaking as a Back of the Yards (former Stockyards) resident, he asked that the children not be treated like herds of cattle packed into small spaces.

CEdO Jackson responded that CEO Claypool has already made the decision that the annex will be closed in 2018.

Sagar Gokhale spoke of Impact City Year Chicago which is a one-year partnership with schools in Chicago. Individuals give one year of service to many West and Southside schools. A partner, in a red jacket. was one of those who had contributed toward 1400 hours of support for 2300 students.

Carol Lauhon, a retired professor of English at the University of Iowa, said she had moved to the Rogers Park community in 2004. She said she believes in public schools and opposes the expansion of CMSA in Rogers Park. She remarked that charter schools lack transparency and perpetuate de facto segregation. She wants a freeze on the vote for charter expansion.

Zarte Pruitt, a clerk at Dunne for 18 1/2 years who will retire in 14 months, said that there are rumors that clerks will be terminated or privatized.

Board President Clark said that we don't have an answer. Denise Little said that we are not privatizing. CEO Claypool informed us that the budget process had not begun yet. Board President Clark said that you'll know what we're doing when we know what we're doing and added that Denise Little was accurate.

Deanna Myron, of Curie and a CPS alum, is also a clerk. She said that clerks will always be an asset to CPS. She added that clerks are the heart of the school. She mentioned that all who benefited can tell stories of how clerks helped them. She said that SSC slows down clerks work in pilot schools. She asked, "Why the Kronos roll out?"

Tennille Evans, another clerk, asked about the firing or outsourcing of clerks, who often work from 6:30 a.m to 7 p.m. She added that clerks are 85% Black or Latino. She asked the Board to stop cutting the clerks.

When CEdO Jackson mentioned that there are 1000 clerks across the city, a staff member said it was more like 1100.

Board Member Hines said that nothing yet had been said that clerks will be fired. She affirmed that she herself would never be in favor of firing clerks. She mentioned that she would not have made it as a principal without a clerk. She added that she would have taken a clerk over an assistant principal.

Board President Clark responded that regarding clerks, neither yes nor no is appropriate at this time. He said he was not aware of the elimination of 1100 clerks. He added that once we know, you're entitled to know right away. He also said that he can't do anything about the rumors.

Catherine Reidy, the principal of Mount Greenwood School, said that some students had died of cancer recently. She mentioned cell towers on the school building and that the skulls of children are thinner. She asked for studies of radio frequencies near cell towers.

Dawn Moon-Kilmer, a parent, member of the LSC, and a psychology professor at Marquette University, mentioned that she is against the CMSA expansion. She said that she did not support Alderman Joe Moore and asked that the Board not defer to him. She added that CMSA manipulates appearances and spends the senior year preparing for college applications instead of focusing on school studies that would help the students to succeed better in college.

Cheri Barley, parent of a senior at South Shore International College Prep, spoke of the issue of dealing with senior fees. She said parents were told that unless seniors had a zero balance as of April 30, they could not pay for the prom or the luncheon. She said that there were 130 seniors and four parents helping seniors. She said the fees are too much by April 30 and added that morale is down and we need help.

Leon Barley said that it was a sad day for seniors at South Shore. He said that the principal makes excuses and thumbs his/her nose at the LSC. He said that the principal asked for approval of transferred funds after the fact. He spoke of a gym teacher who was hired from Tennessee who did something and then was hired back. Another had sexual charges against him and called his daughter at midnight. He remarked that something wasn't right and two weeks later that person was charged. He added that the principal won't communicate with the LSC.

CEdO Jackson replied, "You gave us a lot. Fees, offsite prom complications that are not a mandatory activity. Staff will follow up."

She added that the prom could be at the school site to save on costs. She also mentioned that inappropriate hiring and student relationships haven't helped. She said she would talk to staff.

Mr. Barley said the cost for one student for the prom and luncheon would be $1500 and for his twins, $3000.

CEdO Jackson replied, "We'll get you the explanation you deserve."

Keith Kysel, a parent and a substitute teacher, remarked that there was not enough training for substitutes. He said that we are being fed to the wolves. He mentioned that the discipline at Murray Language Acacemy, a magnet school, was terrible - there was no discipline. He added that HB 3436 had been presented and that he could not get on the LSC, even at Richards, and he asked CPS to support the bill.

The last Public Participation speaker, Robert Lamont of Vets for Peace, said that if you want to teach maturity to students, don't wrap it in the military. He added that he joined the army at 18 1/2 and didn't comprehend that he was being taught to kill on command.

No further Board comments followed Public Participation which ended at 1:47 p.m.. Board Member Hines then read the motion that allowed the Board to go into closed session.