Subscript: Mark Ochoa — can we call him "Secretary Butter Knife"? — doesn't get it

On top of all its other problems the Chicago Teachers Union now needs to call out the "Metaphor Police." While some wags might argue that any sign of life at the Merchandise Mart headquarters of the Chicago Teachers Union is better than nothing, the recent response of the CTU to the report out of the University of Chicago that Chicago has a massive turnover of teachers was underwhelming. Having Mark Ochoa go on TV is risky business, and by the time the Fox News report featuring the CTU's Financial Secretary was over, we're sure many viewers were longing for Marilyn Stewart's babblings.

Chicago Teachers Union Financial Secretary Mark Ochoa at the hearing on the closing of Roque de Duprey Elementary School on February 7, 2008. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. A favorite moment in the Ochoa interview came when he said, appropos of nothing in particular, "You don't ask a doctor to operate with a butter knife..." Ochoa may have read the report from the Consortium on Chicago School Research about teacher turnover, but there was no evidence that he understood much that was in it, let alone what's been happening in the schools. A key finding of the report was that Chicago teachers indicate "low morale" 79 percent of the time. Could that be because (a) since Mayor Daley took over the schools 14 years ago, the administration has been devoted to teacher bashing and scapegoating, (b) many of the schools are unsafe (in part because CTU abandoned any pretense to confronting the gangs that operate with impunity in so many communities), (c) "data driven management" and a brain-dead reliance on standardized tests and test scores guarantees that in Chicago the majority of public schools will be "failing" at any time,

(d) CPS has a policy of driving out veteran teachers through purges that can only be compared to the great crimes of the dictators of the last century,

(e) CPS has been encouraging the placement of tyrants in the principal's offices at as many schools as possible, then ignoring the destruction of those schools (and the classical forms of corruption that follow) in the wake of these creeps and crooks, and

(f) about a dozen other problems, not the least of which are terrible medical and dental benefits (negotiated by Mark Ochoa and Marilyn Stewart), a payroll mess that gets messier (allowed by Mark Ochoa and Marilyn Stewart and the rest of the CTU leadership), pay that is falling behind the suburbs with each passing year, and a complete lack of job security across the city, as principals are given the power to cut teachers almost at will while the central office can do the same even over the objections of principals and LSCs based on lying claims about "deficits" in a budget that the CTU leadership has never read and probably wouldn't understand if they could read... Sorry. Ignorance is not bliss when the ignorance is the ignorance of the guy who handles finances for the still huge CTU.

By the end of the last week of July 2009, every member of the Chicago Teachers Union — except, perhaps, the handful of members who work for Marilyn Stewart at the union's expensive headquarters at the Merchandise Mart — was facing short paychecks because of the continuing mess created by the Chicago Board of Education's outsourcing of complex data management activities. The specific problem with the summer 2009 payroll was a combination of the Board's "People Soft" privatized payroll system (which has been in place and messed up since it was put on line by Arne Duncan in March 2007) and the latest Board change, initiated by Ron Huberman. In May 2009, Huberman ordered a massive change in the way in which the "Extended Pay" summer payroll was calculated. Like the "People Soft" debacle (which is now the subject of a multi-million dollar lawsuit filed by the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund, see related article at August 1 in this month's SubstanceNews), the Extended Pay mess was the result of the policies of CPS and the Daley administration. But no sooner had Chicago's new education CEO been in power (and declaring the he wanted to utilize something called "data driven management") than things went from worse to worst. Nevertheless, CTU President Marilyn Stewart (above, at the February 2009 Chicago Board of Education meeting) was not only publicly silent on the problems, she was outsourcing her own public statements, ignoring the massive problems faced by the union's dwindling number of members. Instead of appearing herself at the Board of Education's July 22 meeting, she sent Recording Secretary Mary McGuire, who is retiring. Instead of speaking out herself on Fox News about the report on low teacher morale, Stewart's administration had the tongue-tied Mark Ochoa try to read the talking points prepared by Stewart's media team. The result was that by August 1, when every teacher began noticing serious problems with their paychecks, Stewart's silence — again — demonstrated how completely the CTU leadership is under the thumb of the Daley administration. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. The one thing that was clear as crystal by the time Ochoa was finished at Fox was that he is even more limited in his gifts than we had always thought. Ochoa had many chances to speak the truth about what's happening to teachers, and at every chance he blew it, his repertoire ranging from trite and shallow ("butter knife") to mendacious. When Fox served up the latest mindless technobabble from CPS spokesman Monique Bond, Ochoa had a real opportunity.

When Bond's babble was flashed across the screen, a blind baby with both hands tied behind her back could have scored a knockout. The official statement of the Huberman administration was nonsense. Moreover, anyone with the facts about the recent purges of the Huberman administration, combined with the executive appointments by Huberman, shows that the teacher bashing is going to escalate. Right now, a "CTA" (i.e., experience at the city's bus and subway system and being a crony of Huberman) is more valuable at Chicago's public schools than a doctorate from a real university and twenty years in the classroom. Even administrators who kissed ass and spent the Duncan years on their knees were fired without mercy by Ron Huberman over the past four months so he could clear things out to spend a couple of million dollars on his bus and subway cronies.

That's teacher bashing on a breathtaking scale.

And Ochoa's response was a "Duhhhh" kind of thing. Worse than "butter knives." Ochoa had a golden opportunity to point out that the Huberman administration is part of the problem at that point. He might have even asked why Ron Huberman issues statements but spends little time discussing the problems in the schools outside of the hothouse environment he can create with certain media. Ochoa could have added that Huberman's predecessor, the teacher bashing master Arne Duncan, was — over his years of school closing, the mindless promotion of privatization and charterization, and phony proclamations of "failure" — the main reason why the morale of Chicago teachers has been getting worse and worse. But to admit that Arne Duncan is a major part of the problem would be to open the door to how big a sellout Marilyn Stewart, Ochoa's partner at the Merchandise Mart, really is. After all, if Stewart hadn't delivered the talking points about "cooperation" with the union to Barack Obama, Obama couldn't have appointed Duncan to the U.S. Secretary of Education post in the first place. That's one of the reasons why Ochoa, Stewart, and the rest of the CTU leadership are in the tank with Arne Duncan, no matter what he did to Chicago and its teachers — and no matter what he's about to do to public schools across the USA now that he has launched the "Race to the Top" thanks to the lies about what he accomplished in Chicago, bolstered by the support of Marilyn Stewart and a handful of other union leaders.

There is more than a bit of irony in this. Chicago's public schools today are more segregated than they were when Mayor Daley took over in 1995, thanks to the policies of the Daley administration implemented by Paul Vallas, then Arne Duncan, and now Ron Huberman.

Marilyn Stewart and the UPC were able to hold on to power at various times through some mindless playing of the "race card." Now it's haunting hundreds of teachers every year, because instead of fighting against segregation Stewart tried to accommodate to it.

When Mark Ochoa spent his four minutes on Fox News, he could have pushed a discussion of school closings and phase outs, especially of the massive discrimination against African American women who continued teaching in the ghetto until they were first slandered and then fired by Arne Duncan and now by Ron Huberman. What was their crime? Dedicating their professional lives to the poorest children in the USA in the most segregated city north of Cape Town. But only CORE, with its growing complaint to the EEOC, has mentioned these issues. For Marilyn Stewart, they are only important if she can use them as cheap shots against some of her opponents to get a few cheap votes now and then.

But in order to point out that Huberman and Duncan are part of the problem, you can't be part of the problem and covering up for it.

Ochoa would have to admit that all of the sellouts of the Stewart regime (from the 2007 contract to Fresh Start and TAP) are bankrupt and hurting the union's members. So Ochoa retreated into babble and bad metaphors. The current leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union are so deeply in the back pocket of Mayor Richard M. Daley that they probably rehearse telling the mayor that it smells like Chanel Number 5 every time he cuts a fart. Cringingly the members watch... 

Final edited version of this Subscript posted at August 2, 2009, 3:00 a.m. CDT. If you choose to reproduce this Subscript in whole or in part, or any of the graphical material included with it, please give full credit to SubstanceNews as follows: Copyright © 2009 Substance, Inc., Please provide Substance with a copy of any reproductions of this material and we will let you know our terms — or you can take out a subscription to Substance (see red button to the right) and make a donation. Please note also that "Subscript" combined with the Substance logo (the Apple with the fist inside) is a trademark of Substance, Inc. We are asking all of our readers to either subscribe to the print edition of Substance (a bargain at $16 per year) or make a donation. Both options are available on the right side of our Home Page. For further information, feel free to call us at our office at 773-725-7502.


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