Scott, Huberman bypassed powerful alderman Danny Solis in quickie move to put UNO charter school in De la Cruz building

Most people who opposed the quick move of UNO's Octavio Paz charter school from St. Roman's Catholic Church and School into the newly vacated De la Cruz elementary school building concluded that powerful 25th Ward Alderman Daniel Solis, who founded UNO, was behind the deal. But a September 1, 2009, letter from Solis to Board of Education President Michael Scott and Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman has revealed that Solis was not informed of the proposed move until after it was decided. One of the most powerful members of Chicago's City Council, Solis is not only alderman but "President Pro Tem" of the Council. In that capacity, Solis chairs meetings of the City Council when Mayor Daley is absent (which lately given the mayor's penchant for world travel, has been often). Above, Solis in the mayor's chair at a September 2007 meeting of the Chicago City Council at Chicago's City Hall. Seated beside Solis is Corporation Counsel Myra Georges. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Chicago Board of Education President Michael Scott and Schools Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman were in such a hurry to help the controversial UNO charter schools during the summer of 2009 that the two even ignored one of Chicago's most powerful aldermen, Danny Solis, is the process of cramming an UNO charter school down the throats of some of Solis's most outspoken constituents.

Contrary to what the majority of people who spoke against the quickie move of the UNO Octavio Paz charter school (2641 W. 23td St.) into the recently vacated De la Cruz school building (2317 W. 23rd Place) believed for the past month, Chicago Board of Education President Michael Scott and Schools CEO Ron Huberman ignored powerful 25th Ward Alderman Daniel Solis during the process of moving the controversial charter school into a CPS building. Despite Solis's long history with UNO (which he helped found more than a quarter century ago), Solis himself was not a part of the deal that turned the De La Cruz building over to UNO.

The entire UNO deal was quickly moved through both a community "hearing" and the agenda of the Board of Education in a period of less than ten days in the middle and end of August 2009. A hastily assembled "community hearing" on August 21, 2009, was held at St Augustine College. Despite the insufficient communication of the meeting (which was done under the auspices of the Chicago Board of Education's "Office of New Schools" and which did not even provide the public with notification at all local public schools), more than 200 people showed up at the August 21 meeting, and the majority who spoke spoke against the UNO move.

Nevertheless, at its August 26 meeting, the Board of Education voted without discussion or debate to award the De La Cruz building to UNO. De La Cruz, an award winning public middle school, had been closed as a public school in June 2009 over a large outpouring of community objections. At the time of the closing of De La Cruz, CPS officials stated that they were not planning to use the building to house a charter school, despite rumors to the contrary.

'I expect appropriate notification...' (Alderman Danny Solis (25th Ward) to Michael Scott and Ron Huberman, September 1, 2009)

The September 1, 2009, letter from Alderman Danny Solis (25th Ward) to Michael Scott and Ron Huberman indicated for the first time that even Solis had been excluded from the "quickie" by means of which the Chicago Board of Education voted at its August 26, 2009 meeting to turn the De La Cruz building over to UNO despite widespread opposition from educational and community leaders. The above letter has been confirmed by reliable sources as authentic.In a strongly worded letter to both President Michael Scott and CPS CEO Ron Huberman, Solis wrote on September 1, 2009: "As the Alderman of the 25th Ward, I expect appropriate notification to my office of any plans that involve CPS and any other institutions in the ward. Recently, there was an issue involving the UNO Octavio Paz Charter School, formerly located at 2641 W. 23td St., moving into the now-vacant CPS property of De La Cruz School at 2317 W. 23rd Place. The process that CPS executed to inform my office left a lot to be questioned and caused reasonable concern to me, the residents and key groups in the community, such as the Pilsen Education Task Force (PETF)."

On Friday, August 21, 2009, a heated hearing at St. Augustine College drew more than 200 people, mostly residents of the 25th Ward's Pilsen and Little Village communities, to a hearing on the matter. The hearing, which was scheduled by the CPS Renaissance Schools Office (officially, the "Office of New Schools") seemed to be officially sanctioning the UNO move. UNO executive director Juan Rangal was the primary speaker, and Rangal often stood during the meeting with CPS officials, including Jaime Guzman, the second ranking person in the CPS New Schools department.

Despite a crowded agenda that supposedly forced Chicago Board of Education President Michael Scott to deal harshly with potential speakers, one group — UNO charter schools — received special treatment from Scott and the Board. First, Scott allowed the UNO speaker (d'Escoto, above right) to "pass" when he was first called upon to speak. The reason, it turned out, was that the UNO group (which included several UNO charter school teachers, above) was waiting for the presence of UNO executive director Juan Rangal (above with beard at microphone. Once Rangal arrived for the meeting, UNO's speaker was called. Despite the fact that Rangal was not on the speaker's list, Scott allowed him to make remarks (above). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Substance has confirmed the authenticity of the September 1, 2009, Solis letter, but has been unable to learn whether Solis has yet met with Scott and Huberman. Requests for information from CPS officials from Substance are routinely blocked by Huberman's communications director, Monique Bond.

The full report of the August 21, 2009 St. Augustine hearing is at and can be located through "Back Issues" by going to August 2009. The main article on the hearing is at http://www.substance articles.php?page= 838§ion= Article.

Even Danny Solis snubbed by Office of New Schools, Huberman and Scott

At the time of the August controversies, everyone who participated in the opposition to the UNO move into De la Cruz believed that Alderman Solis was behind the quick decision by Board President Scott and CEO Huberman.

A number of speakers during both the August 21 community hearing and the August 26 Board of Education meeting blamed Solis for some of the problems UNO has been causing for neighborhood schools from Solis's 25th Ward across the Southwest Side. Unlike other parts of the city, the Southwest Side has been forced to accept UNO charter schools to "relieve overcrowding." Only one charter school on the northwest side (the controversial Aspira Haugan Middle School in the 39th Ward) has been approved by the Board of Education to supposedly "relieve overcrowding". On the Southwest Side, UNO has been given the power to expand into four new charters since they first became the Board's method of "relieving overcrowding" south of Roosevelt Road and west of Damen Ave. Chicago Board of Education President Michael Scott (above right) smiled on UNO executive director Juan Rangal as Rangal spoke during the heated August 26 Chicago Board of Education meeting. Earlier, Scott had berated Pilsen Alliance speaker Gema Gaete when she spoke in opposition to giving De La Cruz to UNO. Scott also ordered the Board of Education's video team to edit Gaete's criticisms of the move out of the official broadcast tape of the August 26, 2009 Board of Education meeting. As a result, Cable TV audiences who watched the "meeting" on TV had no idea of what Gaete had said, since her words were literally blacked out. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.But most of the impact of UNO charter schools is to make things worse for the remaining public schools in the area. The charter schools select their students (and kick out the ones they find undesirable). The result is that the problems of overcrowding have gotten worse, not better, in the area where UNO has gotten Board favors while regular public schools are left without resources.

It was clear to many observers at the August 26 Board meeting that Michael Scott was favoring UNO and going so far as to berate and disparage critics of UNO. Throughout the meeting CEO Ron Huberman sat in stony silence.

There are rules and there are Chicago rules. UNO gets favored treatment from Scott, Huberman, Quinn

Long time Pilsen community activist Teresa Fraga (above center, wearing black-rimmed glasses) was among the more than 100 people who were barred from the Board of Education's Fifth floor "chambers" during the August 26, 2009 meeting. The "overflow" of people was forced to sit on folding chairs in rooms on the 15th floor, where they watched the meeting they had traveled to attend on closed circuit TV. As early as three years prior to the August 2009 Board meeting, Fraga has been one of several Pilsen education activists who had spoken in opposition to CPS plans to "relieve overcrowding" by giving more charter school "campuses" to the controversial UNO charter schools. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.One of the distinctive features of the Auguest 26 Chicago Board of Education meeting was how readily the Board manipulated the "public participation" portion of the meeting. "Public Participation" is the one time during the month when regular citizens can speak to the Board. For the past several years, the Board has limited "public participation" to a total of two hours, with each person getting two minutes to speak. Since the Board also broadcasts a heavily censored version of the monthly meeting on Chicago Cable TV, what is said at each meeting is often the only time the average citizen gets to bring serious problems before the Board.

At the Board's August 26, 2009 meeting, President Scott manipulated every rule to provide as much favorable coverage of the UNO point of view — and to suppress the voices of the majority from the community who have been opposing the UNO moves. A procedural rule during the meeting requires an individual to sign up in person hours before the meeting in order to speak, and to be ready to speak when called upon by the Board's secretary. Scott allowed Francisco D'escoto, the speaker who signed up to speak on behalf of UNO, the privilege of "passing" (to be called upon later). Then Scott also allowed the executive director of UNO, Juan Rangal, the right to speak along with D'escoto, even though Rangal had not signed up. In contrast to the treatment Scott gave to those who criticized UNO, Scott was almost slavishly deferential to UNO. Earlier in the meeting, Scott had engaged in a heated exchange with Gema Gaete, who spoke against the UNO move for the Pilsen Alliance, a community organization that had opposed the closing of De La Cruz. Not only did Scott cut off the microphones while Gaete was speaking, but he also ordered that the televised version of the meeting be censored to cut out the entire exchange with Gaete, one of the more influential people in Chicago's Mexican American community. Despite the fact that Scott had the microphones turned off, Gaete's powerful voice had continued to present the community's side of events.

Public cut off before finishing

The attempt to suppress the words of Geme Gaete was only the beginning. At the beginning of the August 26 meeting, more than 70 people waited in line to speak to the Board about issues in the schools. Of those, 68 were still named on the list of those signed up for "public participation" when the meeting began.

Rather than listen to all the people who had taken the day to come downtown (often paying the most expensive parking rates in the United States to park in Chicago's Loop) to speak at a public meeting, Scott simply ordered the microphones shut off while a large number of people were still waiting to speak. After hearing fewer than three quarters of the people who signed up to speak at the meeting, Michael Scott announced that there would be no more speakers. He then moved the agenda to the main business of the meeting, a lengthy report on the CPS budget by CEO Ron Huberman. Although there were more than 80 items on the agenda for that meeting, the main item was the Budget for 2009 - 2010, which had been presented to the public by Huberman two weeks earlier. Despite the fact that CPS had heard from more than 70 people critical of the budget during three public hearings on August 17, 18, and 19 (see the August 2009 Substance Home Page for more than 20 of the critical remarks on the budget), Huberman presented the budget to the Board exactly as it had appeared in its proposed form. Huberman even ignored the fact that the budget's listing of schools — controversial in itself because it is incomplete — was in alphabetical order by first name. Huberman presented the budget in Power Point format, and the Board duly voted to approve it without any substantive discussion.

There were no serious questions from Board members about the budget or Huberman's presentation.

One question could have been why the Board was about to give away a school building that had just been rehabilitated to UNO at a rental of $1 per year! For more than six months, Huberman had been telling the public via Chicago's corporate media that CPS was facing a "deficit" of $475 million (against a budget of between $5 billion and $6.8 billion depending upon whether capital development is included or not) and that cuts had to be made. When it came time to approve the giveaway to UNO, not a word was said either by Huberman or by the six Board members present.

Many of those who wanted to speak at the public meeting were barred from speaking. Fifteen people — or more — were left sitting at 125 S. Clark St. when Scott abruptly ended public participation. It was difficult for anyone to tell how many speakers remained, since the speakers' list had been manipulated so much by the secretary of the board, Estela Beltran, that it was difficult to tell who remained from the public list. Like many things that take place at the rare once-a-month public meetings of the Chicago Board of Education, even what is in public is often shrouded in mystery.

One of those who was barred from speaking was Teresa Fraga, a long time activist in Chicago's Pilsen community. Frage serves on Danny Solis's "Pilsen Education Task Force," the group subsequently mentioned in the September 1 letter Solis sent to Scott and Huberman. Fraga had arrived at the lobby of CPS early in the afternoon and waited more than an hour in a long line to sign up for the public participation. Then she was forced to sit in a "holding room" ten floors from the actual meeting because the Board packs the available seats with its bureaucrats, staff, and supporters before each meeting begins.

Finally, Scott simply ruled that a number of people — Teresa Fraga among them — would simply be ignored.

Unlike many of the speakers, Fraga has been a community activist for years and years and knows the procedures. She was surprised when the Board terminated the public participation leaving at least 15 people — including Fraga — in the lurch.

When contacted by Substance on September 16, more than two weeks after the letter was sent, a spokesperson for Solis's office said she could not make any immediate comment on whether Scott and Huberman had met with the alderman. In response to a Substance request, Board of Education spokesman Monique Bond said that she knew of no meeting between Scott and Huberman, on the one hand, and Alderman Solis. For more than six months, Bond has ignored numerous requests from Substance to interview Scott and Huberman on major stories such as this one. A September 16 request to interview Scott and Huberman regarding the UNO move into De La Cruz is being ignored as well. 

Final edited version of this article posted at September 17, 2009, 2:00 a.m. CDT. If you choose to reproduce this article 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. 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.


September 16, 2009 at 8:05 PM

By: No One Is Watching

What Price Power?

Yeah, but so what? Michael Scott does whatever he wants, because Daley is backing his play. The city Aldermen and women should be so ashamed about what sellouts of their constituents they are.

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