EDITORIAL: One cheer for the Soto Bill. Now comes the hard part -- stopping the CPS 'New Schools' railroad at the November 18 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education

As many people know, several of us at Substance have been skeptical of the so-called "Soto Bill" since it diverted so much attention from the Chicago Board of Education's Hit List gyrations last winter and spring. Nevertheless, we are supporting what has developed, and wish it well.

However, we need to remind people of the convoluted history of this fight up to now.

While State Rep. Cynthia Soto (with glasses, center) looks on, Peabody school parent leader Lillie Gonzalez tells a packed press conference on February 3, 2009, that the Board of Education should be forced to freeze all school phase outs, closings, and other transformations. The original legislation introduced by Rep. Soto promised a "moratorium" on the radical changes that were voted on by the Chicago Board of Education at its February 25, 2009 meeting, but at the last minute the legislation was gutted, in the words of critics, of the moratorium provision. The legislation that was finally passed over an attempted veto by Governor Patrick Quinn requires the Chicago Board of Education to submit to the oversight of a facilities panel. But activists are now wondering whether the Board will simply ignore that law, as it has in the past, and proceed to approve dozens of new facilities changes, mostly for charter schools, at its November 18, 2009 meeting. Substance photo and caption by George N. Schmidt.The original bill received widespread support because it explicitly called for a "moratorium" on all of the changes that were in front of the Chicago Board of Education in January and February 2009. The "moratorium" was the driving force behind the massive support for the bill especially after the Board of Education voted to approved the 16-school "Hit List" at its meeting of February 25, 2009.

Had the moratorium remained in the law, when it was passed by the House and Senate, it would have made illegal what the Board had done and prevented most of the destruction that took place -- to thousands of children and their families — when the changes went into effect from De La Cruz and Carpenter to Fenger and Dulles, Bethune and Reed — in June 2009. 

Final edited version of this article posted at November 26, 2009, 5:00 p.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.

But that's not what happened in Springfield or Chicago, and we had to report and to say "we told you so."

The most dramatic "told you so" came when the bill was gutted at the last minute by taking out the ex post facto "moratorium." Theoretically, the moratorium 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. The Board has ignored every law and every ethical consideration since Arne Duncan began the privatization and charterizatioin juggernaut nine years ago. Why would anyone believe they are going to stop now simply because the Illinois General Assembly passes a law they don't like? They know there is no penalty for their illegal and unethical actions.

Wednesday, therefore, will be a very interesting event. 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. Last month, Board President Michael Scott deliberately stalled the entire Board meeting so that the dozens of parents who were bottled up on the 15th floor "holding room" could not speak. He cynically does this every month and has been getting away with it since he returned to the Board in February after Daley dumped Rufus Williams for showing some conscience. Scott will do anything his maters order, and Daley knows it.

There will be dozens of "facilities" issues before the Board this Wednesday, and over the coming months.

The attempt by UNO to take over the Notre Dame for Girls building (which CPS approved purchase of a the October meeting) is another example.

The plan to force the children of Altgeld Gardens to attend a charter school which is being given a completely refurbished public school building (Carver Middle) is another.

And so it goes.

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. Who will be there warning the Board members that they are being asked by Ron Huberman to violate the new facilities law? Who will remind them and 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.

If history is any guide, the meeting room will be packed with bureaucrats from the Office of New Schools, posing as members of the "public", and stacked with dozens of charter school cheerleaders, well rehearsed. But elected officials and the officers of the Teachers Union and the Principals Association are put at the front of the line. Will they show up to warn the Board it is now violating the law, as well as every standard of ethics and decency (as it has since it began it orgy of privatization the year Arne Duncan settled into power and Michael Scott took over as Board President)?

We have to remain skeptics.

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, November 16, 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. If they show up, they can also challenge the mendacious claims of the charter school touts who will be out in force, with their marketing schemes, mission statements, Power Point silliness, and lack of praxis to flaunt.

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 Board's 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. For years, these hacks have had nothing to do one day per month but sit in the same seats and smile prettily or handsomely 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.

We'd love to have our 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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