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Legislature overrides Quinn veto in Rebuff of Mayor Daley... Soto Bill is now law

A slap in the face to the Mayor and his lackey Governor came the first week of November after the Illinois House and Senate overrode Governor Pat Quinn’s veto of the Soto Bill that would restructure the way the Chicago Public Schools decides how they close, consolidate, turnaround, construct or repair school buildings.

Parents, students and teachers from Carpenter Elementary School led a candlelight march from a public hearing back to the school on the evening of March 20, 2009 (above). They were opposing the placement of a new "Ogden High School" inside the Carpenter Elementary building, predicting the takeover of Carpenter and the elimination of its working class students when the Gold Coast school moved in. Despite assurances from Board of Education officials and several secret meetings between Board President Michael Scoot (or his aides) and Carpenter parent leaders, no sooner had the Board approved the move than Ogden began forcing out Carpenter, despite the fact that the Carpenter building is not fit to house a real high school. The parents were also misled by 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, who has been one of the most consistent supporters of Mayor Daley's "Renaissance 2010" plan in Chicago's City Council. Critics now wonder whether the passage of the so-called "Soto Bill" by the Illinois General Assembly will make a difference for schools like Carpenter and nearby Andersen Elementary, which are targeted for elimination because of real estate manipulation and gentrification. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.House Bill 363 — otherwise known as the Soto bill which is now state law — was introduced in the beginning of the year 2009 by State Rep. Cynthia Soto when constituents in her district complained about closing their neighborhood schools and replacing them with various Renaissance 2010 schools. The legislation had the support of a broad coalition of community and parent organizations (including Designs for Change and PURE), as well as CORE, the Chicago Teachers Union, and the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.

The bill first and foremost sought a one-year moratorium on all school closings until a review included more community input.

The moratorium was taken out after intense lobbying by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and the Chicago Board of Education, which he appoints and directly controls. The Mayor, with heavy backing from the corporate sector, is intent on closing as many public schools as possible and replacing them with privatized charter and contract schools (or other unusual schools) under the Renaissance 2010 Plan. Schools in Representative Soto's district have been particularly hard hit by Renaissance 2010, which has been viewed by many as a plan to aid real estate developers seeking to gentrify a number of communities.

While the heart of the bill was gutted and Rep. Soto reportedly agonized over continuing to sponsor the bill, she kept the bill alive. It passed the House and Senate with no opposition despite the Chicago Machine still lobbying against the weakened version.

The bill includes a Special Joint Chicago Education Facilities Committee. The facilities committee will include four representatives from the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, four senators from the Senate Education Committee, two community representatives, a representative from the Chicago Teachers Union, and a representative from the Principal's Association; independent experts to gather and analyze pertinent information on a pro bono basis; focus groups, and interviews to give opportunities to local stakeholders to give their input; a draft to share with the communities; meetings in the communities affected during times the community can participate to get their feedback on the draft; and a Special Joint Chicago Education Facilities Committee that will get a legislator to sponsor the final draft/policy in the form of legislation to be voted on by the General Assembly.

While Illinois State Representative Cynthia Soto (glasses, right) looks on, Carpenter Elementary School parent Jessica Contreras (red blouse) explains to a paced press conference the need for the passage of the Soto Bill to prevent the continued destruction of Chicago public schools like Carpenter by the Chicago Board of Education's Renaissance 2010 plans. At the time of the press conference above, on February 3, 2009, the Soto Bill still included a provision that would have forced a moratorium on the school closings (and other modifications) which were being planned by the Chicago Board of Education for the 2009-2010 school year. The Board ignored massive protests and voted at its February 25, 2009, meeting to slowly eliminate Carpenter in favor of a program called "Ogden High School", an expansion of the Gold Coast elementary school. By the time it was passed by the Illinois House of Representatives, the Soto Bill had been stripped of the moratorium provision. After finally passing the General Assembly without the moratorium in October 2009, the bill now stands as a possible way to stop another round of "Renaissance 2010" attacks on Chicago's regular public schools this school year. After trying to subordinate the Soto Bill's facilities planning committee to the mayor and governor, the Board of Education is now making it clear that it will just ignore the law and continue with its 2010 - 2011 Renaissance 2010 'Hit List' this winter. Substance caption and photo by George N. Schmidt. Supporters of the legislation were hopeful, even though the moratorium had been eliminated. But then the governor vetoed the bill and added an amendment to add two appointments for the mayor and himself, replacing the number of task force members the state legislators could appoint.

He also changed the reporting date that the task force would give their findings past the original proposed deadline of October 30. It appeared the governor was merely carrying out the Mayor’s wishes for a later date change to circumvent community organizing to oppose the Board’s wishes.

According to Designs for Change, which helped Rep. Soto draft the bill, in June 2006 the Mayor announced they would spend $1 billion on building and rehabbing 24 new schools, with no transparent standards for deciding where the greatest needs were.

While several high-profile charter school buildings (from the Austin High School building on the west side to the Calumet High School building on the south side) have been fixed up at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, many public schools have been allowed to fall into dangerous disrepair. Parents, teachers, students, community leaders and even aldermen have complained to the Board that their buildings are falling apart or are severely overcrowded. They are almost always greeted with the same refrain from Chicago Board of Education President Michael Scott and Schools CEO Ron Huberman: "We would love to do something about the problems at your school, but we don't have the money."

A growing coalition of teachers, parents, and community organizations, however, has pointed out that the Board always finds the money — often tens of millions of dollars — to do renovations and repairs at Renaissance 2010 schools. But without a regular public facilities planning process, CPS can hide many of its projects from citywide scrutiny. The legislation that has been passed would make that impossible, if it is implemented.

Over the past year, a large number of schools have gone before the Board to point out the problems.

Reinberg Elementary School, on Chicago’s northwest side, complained so many times that the Board of Education finally announced they would buy an old Catholic school building — Notre Dame High School for Girls — to ease the overcrowding. The Board voted at its October 28, 2009, meeting to purchase the Notre Dame building, ostensibly to create a new public school on the northwest side to relieve the overcrowding at Reinberg.

Some members of the community are now worried, however, that the Board of Education will ignore the community and repeat what they call the "Haugan Double-Cross" and turn the Notre Dame building into a charter school. UNO has reportedly been lobbying heavily to get the Notre Dame building. The "Haugan Double Cross" refers to the construction of the new "Haugan Middle School" building to relieve the overcrowding at Haugan Elemenary School on the northwest side. When the new, $24 million school building was opened, it was given to the Aspira organization for a charter school over the wishes of the community. The "Aspira Haugan Middle School" has been controversial and unstable since it was opened, but it is still a charter school and not a real public school.

Press reports question if the building will not again go to a charter school — such as UNO — which is heavily lobbying to buy the building. At the October Board of Education meeting, Chief of Staff David Pickens told Substance that the building was being purchased to relieve the overcrowding at Reinberg, not for another charter school. But recently representatives of UNO have been claiming that part of their mission is to create schools to relieve overcrowding.

Gallistel Language Academy, 20 miles away from Reinberg, which serves 1,400 students on Chicago’s Southeest side was also not earlier chosen for fundamental improvement. Gallistel, which is currently forced to operate at four separate locations along S. Ewing Ave., has been stalled in its requests for consolidation for five years. The building is said to lack electricity sometimes for two to three days, according to Designs for Change.

Designs for Change added that the heat is so uncontrollable in some parts of the building, where the temperature rises to 100 degrees in one kindergarten class. For five years [see article Gallistel still ignored..." from substancenews.net on March 2, 2009, at http://www.substance news.net/ articles.php? section= Article& page=652], Gallistel has mounted massive outpourings of parents, students and teachers to ask the Board to solve its problems, only to face stalling and empty promises from the Board.

The law should change the current situation in Chicago which is the only one of the state’s 950 school districts that does not operate under a framework of state laws and regulations for making school facilities decisions, Designs for Change says.

“There are enough people pissed off about this that they voted against the Mayor’s interests,” said Don Moore of Designs for Change.

Several questions arise now that the bill is law, including whether or not the Board would be able to close, consolidate or open any new schools this year because of the October 30 deadline. At the CTU November House of Delegates meeting, the Chicago Teachers Union announced the victory of the Soto bill override. However, the CTU newspaper recently showed the Governor and CTU President Marilyn Stewart smiling together during his campaign to get elected, despite the fact that his actions in office have been very anti-union and pro-privatization. For example, despite pleading with Illinois voters for an income tax increase amidst severe state budget woes, he announced a $98 million state grant for the UNO Charter Schools and a $12 million grant to ASPIRA Charter Schools, private schools funded with taxpayer money with controversial track records.

Meanwhile, Chicago Schools chief Ron Huberman is predicting a $900 million deficit next year which may call for teacher layoffs and larger class sizes. 



Comments:

November 15, 2009 at 2:11 PM

By: thank you to all on the Soto Bill

enforce it now

great job on overriding Quinn's veto! Quinn has proven himself a Daley lacky, hopefully he will NOT be elected as Gov. ALL must now assure that CPS follows what is in this law. The mayor, and Ron have NO intention of following it. Word is that 30--yes, 30 more schools will be announced for various forms of closure soon.

November 15, 2009 at 2:40 PM

By: kugler

great work

let's keep the pressure on. remember elections are coming up. politicians get votes from voters not other politicians (ie Daley)

November 15, 2009 at 4:27 PM

By: George N. Schmidt

Will Rep Soto, supporters be at Board meeting Wednesday, remind Board it must defer new charters?

As many people know, several of us at Substance have been skeptical of the Soto Bill since it diverted so much attention from the Chicago Board of Education's Hit List gyrations last winter and spring.

The most dramatic "told you so" came when the bill was gutted at the last minute by taking out the ex post facto "moratorium" which would have saved 16 schools -- including Fenger (now world famous, and an ongoing example of Chicago hypocrisy) and Carpenter (in Soto's own district) among others. Had the "moratorium" not been taken out of the legislation at the very last minute, the CPS privatization and teacher bashing agendas would have been slowed almost to a stop.

Now there is another reason to be skeptical.

Wednesday (November 18, 2009), the Chicago Board of Education plans to meet and within a few hours violate 20 or 30 times the law that is being discussed here. There will be dozens of Board Reports dealing with major "facilities" decisions on the agenda. Most involve giving away more public schools, public lands, and millions of public dollars to unproved (or worse, corrupt and failed, like Aspira) charter schools and other privatization scams.

Colonizing J. N. Thorp is just one example. The attempt by UNO to take over the Notre Dame for Girls building (which CPS approved purchase of a the October meeting) is another. The plan to force the children of Altgeld Gardens to attend a charter schools which is being given a completely refurbished public school building (Carver Middle) is another.

So it will be interesting to see if anyone with power (the state legislators) or influence (the community groups that backed the bill and organized others to do so, along with their allies, including the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Principals Association) will actually be publicly speaking at the November 18 Board meeting, warning the Board that they are being asked by Ron Huberman to violate the new facilities law, and that there are several such violations, signed by Huberman, on the agenda before the Board members.

The examples include virtually all of the charter schools that are being given CPS "facilities" or where "facilities" dollars will go to the expansion of those charters without the oversight of the General Assembly's new committee.

So I am still a skeptic.

It would be easy enough for Rep. Soto, along with a large number of her legislative supporters, to be at the Board meeting Wednesday and speak publicly, warning the Board to defer any action on the numerous facilities related Board Reports that will be on the Board agenda when it is published tomorrow morning in conformity with the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

It will also be easy, and certainly proper, for representatives of the numerous community groups that supported the legislation (from February on) to speak out at the Board meeting as well.

Everyone knows that the Board works overtime in the hours before the meeting goes on camera (for the TV version) to talk as many critical people as possible from speaking. The objective is to fill the televised version of the meeting with mindless Happy Talk, just as the seats behind the speaker's podium will be filled with a rainbow (diversity and all that) of smiling, well dressed, $100,000-per-year CPS hacks who have nothing to do one day per month but sit in the same seat and smile the same smile so that the TV show never sees any disagreement with this best of all possible boards in this best of all possible cities with this best of all possible school systems.

I'd love to have my cynical skepticism proven wrong.

By noon Wednesday, we'll know whether anyone associated with this new "facilities" oversight thingy has bothered to tell the Chicago Board of Education that half its agenda for November 18, 2009 is illegal. By 6:00 p.m. the Board will have voted, for the seventh November in a row, to continue the massive giveaway of public buildings and public dollars to fund these often corrupt, always uneven, and sometimes destructive charter and other privatization schemes.

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