Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates meeting shows cracks in Marilyn Stewart's United Progressive Caucus

The October 7, 2009, Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates meeting took an abrupt turn from the previous month’s meeting when the CTU leadership barred for the first time in its history the distribution of materials and selling of Substance newspaper near the entrance to the building. At the September meeting, the CTU leadership had called the police, who threatened to arrest Substance editor George Schmidt for "trespassing" if he continued selling the September Substance on the sidewalk in front of the meeting. The story was reported at length (including photographs of Schmidt being led away between two Chicago police officers, at the September Home Page of SubstanceNews (http://www.substance news. net/articles. php?page=885 §ion=Article).

One of the candidates running for teacher trustee on the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund (CTPF) is Jay Rehak (above, at Marshall High School for the August 18, 2009 budget hearing). During the summer of 2009, Rehak prepared for his candidacy by studying the CPS budget and by testifying against Ron Huberman's version of the budget both at Board of Education meetings and during the budget hearings, which took place from August 17 to August 19. On the first night of the hearings, at Amundsen High School on August 17, Rehak stunned the audience by asking the Board's budget people how much money CPS had lost in investments in derivatives through the bankrupt Lehman Brothers investment bank. Rehak was the first person in Chicago to expose the fact that CPS had been engaging in risky investment behavior by allowing investments in derivatives while CPS money is waiting to be spent. A month after Rehak's remarks in August, CPS lost a $1.2 million case in the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy because of the risky Board investments. Although the loss was reported in The Wall Street Journal (September 17, 2009), there has been no mention of the problems in Chicago outside of the pages of Substance, CORE, and the Web site. Rehak reminded the CTU delegates on October 7 that the incumbent UPC trustees had not spoken against the CPS budget lies either at Board meetings or during the public hearings in August. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Not only were delegates on October 7, 2009, greeted with friendly flyers from different teacher caucuses and fresh copies of this month’s Substance newspaper before they entered the building, but they also witnessed a surprise endorsement of all six candidates – several of whom are very critical of the current CTU leadership - for teacher trustees on the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund (CTPF). It happened because the union leadership under President Marilyn Stewart tried to force the House of Delegates to approve the endorsement of two incumbent trustees, both of whom are members of Stewart's United Progressive Caucus. On the agenda for the meeting, delegates found a motion, submitted by the CTU executive board, to endorse the two incumbents. Knowing that the executive board is currently dominated by Marilyn Stewart's UPC, the delegates were angry. A mailing done earlier in the month on behalf of the two candidates had added to the anger. instead of a rubber stamping of Marilyn Stewart's endorsements, the delegates listened to each of the candidate who had received the required signatures on the nominating petitions make a two-minute presentation and then answer two questions from members of the House.

Each candidate gave a two minute presentation followed by a couple of questions from their fellow delegates. The six candidates ultimately endorsed included the current leadership UPC Caucus members Nancy Williams and Reina Otero, who were listed on the House of Delegates agenda to be originally endorsed by a House vote. Williams and Otero touted their experience of having served as pension fund trustees, but many delegates simply noted that it was difficult for rank-and-file teachers to get 'experience' at pension trustees meetings when those meetings begin at 9:30 in the morning on a work day and often go all day. The other candidates included Jay Rehak and Lois Ashford, who were representing the CORE caucus. A CORE report on their candidacy is at the CORE Website [http://coreteachers. com/2009/ 10/08/ house-of- delegates-endorses-lois-ashford- and-jay-rehak/].

Rehak and Ashford stated that unlike the others, they have been vocal at the Board of Education meetings, where Chicago schools chief Ron Huberman has been blaming the teachers’ pension for the schools’ financial problems. Rehak and Ashford have also participated in analysis of the Board of Education's annual budget, which supposedly forms the basis for Ron Huberman's claims of a large 'deficit' and the claim that the costs of teacher pensions are to blame for the 'deficit.' Neither Williams nor Otero has spoken at any Chicago Board of Education meetings, and neither of them attended any of the three hearings on the proposed CPS 2009 - 2010 budget. Aspasia Demeros, who said that she is an independent candidate, also benefited from the endorsement of all six candidates. The sixth candidate was Rose Marie Finnigan, who had served on the pension board during the administration of Deborah Lynch (2001 - 2004) and was defeated for re-election in 2005 following a massive campaign against her by the UPC. Based on her experience with the pension trustees, Finnegan was questioned about the wisdom of relying on outsourced investment advise and said you need a ‘wide range of investments.’

Like Jay Rehak, CORE member Lois Ashford told the House of Delegates that she had been studying the CPS budget as well as pension issues in preparation for her candidacy to be elected pension trustee. Above, Ashford is speaking to the August 19, 2009, CPS budget hearing at Black Magnet elementary school on the South Side. Ashford also reminded the delegates that Marilyn Stewart and the United Progressive Caucus have not been supporting teachers who are ousted from so-called "turnaround" schools. Ashford taught at Copernicus Elementary School (where she also served as union delegate) for years. In June 2008, under "turnaround," she was one of dozens of veteran teachers who were terminated from Copernicus. In the photo above, Ashford is holding a copy of the Board of Education's Proposed 2009 - 2010 budget. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Lois Ashford arrived late in the presentations because she is not a delegate and because the union leadership had not informed her that the meeting would also include presentations. Ashford said after she lost her job when the Board of Education did a 'turnaround' at Copernicus elementary school, where she had long served as delegate. She now teachers at O'Keere school, but is not delegate. Ashfold said she felt her invested pension was her best option because she was not sure she would be able to get another job after being evicted from her school by 'turnaround' (many black veteran teachers have lost their jobs due to the privatization of the schools and CORE filed a lawsuit on their behalf.)

Rehak who teaches at Whitney Young High School noted that the pension fund was down 22 percent. He said it is necessary to look more closely at the 40 fund managers, many of whom have conflicting interests representing charter schools that are further depleting the teachers’ pension fund.

In response to John O’Brill, president of the Chicago Teachers' Penson Fund (CRPF), who said that the focus should be on contacting the legislators because the pension is state law, Rehak countered that it is not enough to wait for legislative relief, but you must “scream bloody murder in an articulate way” when legislators try to shorten the funding obligations.

Substance editor George N. Schmidt (above, walking towards camera) was ordered by two uniformed Chicago police officers (in background above) to leave the vicinity of the Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates meeting on September 9, 2009. Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart had called '911' to have Schmidt removed for 'trespassing' when he insisted he could sell Substance at the door of the union meeting, as he had for the past 30 years. Stewart had the meeting moved from Plumbers Hall at 1340 W. Washington St. to the offices of Local 399 of the Operating Engineers International Union, which is located on a dead-end street (Grove) adjacent to the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. Stewart had ordered most of those who traditionally leaflet union meetings to leave the 'private property' of Local 399 under penalty of arrest. The result was that most members of the union's many caucuses were forced to distribute literature in the street (left above). Schmidt and a handful of others defied Stewart's 'trespassing' order and were threatened with arrest. Substance photo by Judy Dever. Prior to the pension fund election debate, CTU President Marilyn Stewart told the delegates she made a speech to the City Club of Chicago arguing for more alternative schools to handle the disruptive kids. The delegate from Kinzie School, where Stewart taught for many years, said she was trying to get information from her union field representative, but was told by this person, “I don’t work for you, I work for the CTU.”

Tracy Cobb-Evans who heads the CTU’s legislative affairs, asked teachers to contact their legislators so that they vote to override Governor Pat Quinn’s amendatory veto of the Soto bill (House Bill 363), which would challenge the school closings under the Renaissance 2010 privatization plan. The governor changed the structure of the task force to give control to the Daley machine over the current taskforce makeup that gives community members a stronger say when deciding to close a school. After the close vote was passed in favor of endorsing all six candidates as teacher trustees for election to the Chicago Teacher Pension Fund, it seemed all hell broke lose, for a minute. The parliamentarian – who at one point shouted out ‘You’re in chaos!’ - noted after the vote that the House did not have a quorum based on the voting numbers.

Amidst booing, jeers and shouts – Stewart then made the announcement the vote counted, the six candidates were endorsed, but the meeting was adjourned with no quorum. 

Final edited version of this article posted at October 10, 2009, 3:00 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.


October 17, 2009 at 3:19 PM

By: Eli's Coming

The Wheels of the Gods Turn Slowly

It must be election time because the CTU finally came to life and published right on page 1 of its newsletter the Tale of the Tyrants. What a shock for those principals who have gotten all comfy, since no one in the city cares to ask them what the hell is the matter with them.

The Field School principal has been terrorizing below the radar. He will be unhappy this weekend.

Roche at Prescott, despite being visited over the summer by Barbara Eason-Watkins, Marilyn Stewart, Colleen Dykas, Rachel Resnick, Drew Bares, John Butterfield, Mark Ochoa, and Gregg Cox, all of whom prevailed on him to apologize to his faculty, continued on his Smash Mouth World Tour—first having caused mayhem at Ravenswood School and currently destroying the personnel and morale at Prescott. He’s feeling so Teflon that he chose not to advertise the October LSC meeting on the marquee. God forbid the public attend.

The Gunsaulus School principal, Amy Kotz, has had plenty of ink in Catalyst Chicago, but like these other clowns remains bulletproof.

The Washington High School principal sounds like a sweetheart.

The majority of the CTU membership is not aware of the nightmare that their colleagues have been enduring. While CTU is late to the table, and still has a long way to go in bringing justice to these teachers, kudos to them for publishing the story.

October 17, 2009 at 4:17 PM

By: Margaret Wilson

Retired teacher

If there was no quorum then the meeting should have been adjourned by the parliamentarian and no vote should have been taken. I'm sure that if it was an issue Stewart wanted voted down, that is exactly what would have happened!

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