Substance 2003 article on budget 'deficit', bureaucracy expansion could have been written this week

Beginning this month, Substance will launch a feature called "Deja Vu All Over Again and Again and Again." On June 24, the Chicago Board of Education will vote with a straight face to put a dozen refugees from the Chicago Transit Authority and corporate Chicago into $100,000 per year executive jobs at CPS. Michael Scott will sit in the President's seat and coo about how important it is to make things "more efficient" while doing the opposite.

In Chicago, this is nothing new.

So here is an article we ran in the June 2003 issue of Substance. Back issues on this site only go back two years, but if you go to our old sites (at you can find articles going back to March 2002, when Paul Vallas was running for Governor of Illinois and Arne Duncan was just compiling the first Hit List of schools to be "Renaissanced" before there was a "Renaissance 2010."

The following article appeared in the print edition of Substance for June 2003 and can be found on line at

Massive bureaucracy expansion helps prime Board of Education ‘budget crisis’

By Tom Sharp

By late May [2003], the Chicago Board of Education was preparing to present the public with a tentative budget showing a large deficit in order to pressure the leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union to back down on demands presently on the bargaining table. Some informed sources even joked that the headlines had already been written — “‘Teachers deserve big raise, but the money isn’t there’ mayor tells press.“

[Photo caption from original publication: Above: Some of Chicago’s 24 AIOs (“Area Instructional Officers”) line up last October at Seward Elementary School while CEO Arne Duncan unveils his new plan for grading schools according to a color-coded chart (below) similar to the one used by the federal government’s Department of Homeland Security. During the year since Duncan replaced six “Region Education Officers” (who had cost $115,000 per person) with 24 “Area Instructional Officers” (each of whom was earning $117,000 per year by September 2002), Duncan has been trying to explain what the AIOs are supposed to be doing. Meanwhile, their activities in the schools has created chaos, in some cases, and bemusement, in others. In addition to their increasing staffs, the AIOs are also relying on outside consultants like the University of Chicago’s “Center for School Improvement” to push bizarre programs such as the “Five Minute Walk Through.” According to critics, the “Walk Through” purports to have a magic formula to enable administrators to evaluate a classroom teacher during what some teachers are now referring to as “The ultimate quickie...” As more and more complaints arise from the AIO program, the Duncan administration, while cutting other departments and tightening school budgets, pours more money into it, and into the consultants who promote it. (Substance photos by George Schmidt).]

Meanwhile, four simultaneous policy thrusts are taking place outside the public view.

One of the greatest upheavals in the school system’s history is being ignored, thanks in a large part to the failure of most of Chicago’s reporters to critically cover the increasingly corrupt politics of the leaders of the public schools and the Daley administration that commands every major move at 125 S. Clark St.

On the one hand, the Chicago Board of Education under president Michael Scott and CEO Arne Duncan continues to expand the largest bureaucracy in the history of the city’s public schools. On the other hand, Duncan and Scott are purging the ranks of the “Vallas people”, holdovers from the years between 1995 and 2001.

The complex story unfolding behind the scenes as Chicago begins a summer of labor negotiations — which may lead to the first strike of public school employees since 1987 — contains several different stories, some of which can now be told as a result of an ongoing Substance investigation.

• The instructional bureaucracy. The largest expansion of bureaucracy and patronage in history continues. This is taking place with the appointment of full-time employees who are being promoted as “instructional leaders” under the controversial AIO (Area Instructional Officers) program. The AIO was begun one year ago by CEO Duncan and Chief Instruction Officer Barbara Eason-Watkins. At the time, Duncan actually told the press and others that the expansion from six “regions” into 24 “areas” would not cost more money. For nine months, Duncan has refused to provide any facts — especially comparable budget data — to verify his claim that the AIO program would be “revenue neutral”.

• The political and corporate patronage bureaucracy. An equally large (and growing) part of the school board’s central and area bureaucracy now comes primarily from City Hall, other government agencies, and corporate patronage. These account for a steady stream of executive and administrative appointments at the school board at salaries of $100,000 and above. In most cases, these officials have absolutely no experience in public education. These individuals have never taught school. They have never been certified to teach, administer, or handle financial affairs in any school system in Illinois. Their presence in positions paying more than $100,000 per year would be viewed as a scandal of immense proportions were Chicago’s reporters investigating the central offices of the city’s school system with the same zeal still reserved for teacher bashing, privatization schemes, and union busting.

• The university and consultant bureaucracy. A third, almost hidden, source of patronage continues to be the massive expenditures the Board of Education is making on consultants. Many of these are being hired to replace teachers with teaching machines and supposedly fool-proof “programs” (often untested anywhere but in the minds of those who market them). In at least a few instances, consultants also serve as analysts promoting the claims of the Board of Education in a manner reminiscent of the scandalous conflicts of interest on Wall Street, where investment bankers and stock “analysts” were often promoting the same stocks their firms were selling.

• Purging the Vallas era while proclaiming its ‘miracle.’ On the other hand, the Duncan administration, encouraged by Chicago political leaders close to the mayor, continues to purge the ranks of holdovers from the Vallas administration, while attempting to maintain that the supposed “miracle” in Chicago proclaimed during the Vallas years actually took place. In fact, Board of Education insiders now joke that someone has a deck of cards, similar to the one used by Bush administration, to identify the top officials of the former regime at the Board of Education. “It’s not a question of whether the Vallas people will be purged,” one insider said, “but when.”

The AIO system in crisi


The ongoing attempt by the Duncan administrative team to impose a rigid top-down policing of the Board’s curriculum and state “standards implementation” in every classroom via the use of Area Instructional Officers (AIOs) continues to draw criticism, spark rumors, and defy rational analysis. Within the past month, Substance has heard from several sources that the four additional AIOs will soon be dismissed or reassigned, following the quiet removal of another controversial AIO (Lee Brown) two months ago. In each case, the reasons offered behind the scenes are internal politics and the often bizarre activities of the AIOs. Those on the supposed list include: Cynthia Baron (Area 24), Rebecca De Los Reyes (Area 11), Flavia Hernandez (Area 5), and Johnetta James (Area 11).

Their current status, however, is unclear. Domingo Trujillo, the current “Deputy Chief Instructional Officer”, told Substance in a phone interview that he could not verify the rumors of the layoffs and an additional rumor that Duncan and Eason-Watkins plan, once again, to change the roles and duties of the AIOs.

Trujillo, just having returned from vacation when he spoke with Substance on May 26 and May 27, denied that any changes had been made or had been contemplated. However, when asked, Trujillo did state: “It could possibly be that such a thing did happen and I haven’t yet told yet.”

No demotions or personnel actions of such magnitude were taken at the Board of Education’s May 27 meeting. However, in several past instances, the Board has been asked to approve such actions retroactively, so the public record is never a complete indication of what what is actually taking place.

Meanwhile, the six high school AIOs are planning an out-of-state party for people from what they refer to as “their” schools. In late May, hundreds of high school principals and teachers received invitations to dinner at Phil Smidts Restaurant in Whiting, Indiana, on June 19. The invitation was signed by all six high school AIOs (Cynthia Barron, Richard Gazda, Johnetta James, Donald Pittman, Norma Rodriguez, and Linda Pierzchalski). Substance will try to cover the gala event.

Were the six in or out? As school ended, there had been no major moves. In March, however, similar rumors preceded the dismissal of AIO Lee Brown. The Duncan administration tried to spin Brown’s removal as a simple administrative transfer. Brown herself, in a bulletin she put out, claimed she was leaving the job temporarily for health reasons. Numerous complaints about Brown’s conduct and lack of professionalism from teachers and principals made the change a necessity. In some cases reported to Substance, Brown personally berated teachers in front of students, and in one case brought to Substance’s attention, she warned a teacher not to be critical of her.

Substance has heard complaints about the four AIOs currently mentioned as facing removal. Additional complaints about several other AIOs from a variety of schools, some central office staff, and sources at the Chicago Teachers Union.

The Board of Education continues to deny Substance’s requests for the resumes or curriculum vitaes of the current AIOs. Several sources have reported that any comprehensive history of the 24 AIO “instructional leaders” — as would be required to be provided on a curriculum vitae — would show that the claim that they are the best qualified to be “instructional leaders” is false. While they are not as unqualified as CEO Arne Duncan, most have little experience and training to uphold the claim made that they are the best qualified for the duties now in their job descriptions.

‘Walkthroughs’ a waste?

Supposedly, the AIOs are providing a central administrative oversight for the curriculum initiatives currently being promoted by the Duncan administration. While these initiatives began with the controversial “Chicago Reading Initiative” (now undergoing additional revisions), they are currently being expanded to include the equally controversial “Math Science Initiative.”

One of the most unusual claims of the structure is that administrators can make valid judgments about a classroom or school during five minutes in the classroom, or one day in a school.

The practice of conducting ‘five-minute walkthroughs’ and using them as the key determinant as to whether or not teachers are ‘on-task’ related to the curriculum standards has continued unabated across the city.

At Lincoln Park High School on May 22nd, there were two separate walkthroughs.

“All teachers had been notified in advanced to have their daily objectives [related to the state standards] on the blackboard,” Bernie Eshoo, school librarian and union delegate told Substance. “Having that objective visible was the key criterion of the day, and all did it, big deal!”

At other schools, veteran teachers noted that the emphasis on scripts and charts reminded them of the “mastery learning” fiascoes of the 1970s and 1980s.

“One of the walkthrough teams here was comprised of the principal, two assistant principals and a technology teacher,” Eshoo continued. “That’s at least $400,000 in annual salary. Three of those four are already paid to observe and evaluate teachers. Why do we need an AIO?

“I also was asked to participate in the walkthroughs. When I found out that I was to be available for doing this from 8 to 10: 30 in the morning, I asked if I could have coverage [basically, a substitute to cover the empty classroom/library] for the library. The principal seemed puzzled that I had asked, but as far as I’m concerned this becomes an unfunded mandate by the Board. It turned out it didn’t matter if he gave the coverage or not because I had forgotten that I already committed to a meeting at Juarez High School during the time of the walkthroughs. This AIO stuff may look good in theory, but in practice it’s a drain on everybody.”

Bill Placzek, a math teacher, and union delegate at Lincoln Park High School, had a more neutral appraisal of the AIOs. “The teachers here basically do their own thing,” Placzek said. “A few are belligerent toward the AIO [Richard Garzda]; most are indifferent. One teacher told me ‘if the AIO comes in my room, I’m just going to hand him the chalk and let him teach for five minutes to show me how he wants it done.’ But most teachers just don’t care.”

Other teachers noted that Garzda, a former teacher who served a lengthy tour as principal of Von Stueben High School, is more qualified and less arrogant to classroom teachers than many of the AIOs and their staffs.

Elementary school 'walk throughs' just as silly

A central office staff member who asked to remain anonymous told Substance about a complaint she received from an elementary school teacher.

“According to current policy, every student is expected to know what goal he/she is working on,” the source said. “The AIO can walk in and ask any student the goal currently being covered. Let’s say it’s multiplication tables. If the student answers: ‘multiplication tables’ all is well. There is no attempt to see if the student knows the multiplication tables — or if any one else in the class knows them, or if they know the meaning of the goal they’re reciting-it can just be simple rote learning. Since almost everybody seems to know when he or she will be observed, just a quick memory assignment will do the trick. Just the know the damned objective! Repeat it! That’s all they care about.”

As of last September, each AIO was being paid $117,000 per year. Since September, each has slowly expanded staff with additional people being paid between $90,000 and $115,000 per year. Yet as the time draws near for hearing on the budget for the 2003-2004 school year, the Duncan administration continues to claim that its AIO program costs no more than the six “region education officers” did.

Substance has pointed out in earlier AIO stories that many AIOs seem to have much more political clout than the have educational background in standards based curriculum. We continue to ask for stories and information about AIOs that can be substantiated. In the coming months, both in print and on our Website, we will continue this story.


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