BOARDWATCH: 'Last call for' democracy as the Chicago Board of Education continues to strangle the truth from the schools and the streets

It echoes at every meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. "Last call for Mardess Toney..." Estela Beltran said. Beltran, the secretary of the Chicago Board of Education was calling the names of those people who were supposed to participate in "Public Participation" at the June 26, 2013 meeting of the Board. Before the meeting, the Board publishes a document called "Board of Education Public Speakers..." Since January 2013, the document has listed precisely (never more and never less) sixty "speakers."

Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale didn't even pretend to be listening to the handful of members of the "public" who got to speak for two minutes at the June 26, 2013 meeting of the school board of the nation's third largest city. Above, Vitale during the public statement by Wendy Katten of Raise Your Hand. Katten told the Board that CPS hadn't done any cost benefit analysis of the massive school closings approved by Vitale and the Board members at the May 22 Board meeting. Katten's group had requested the analysis under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and was told there was none. Yet for more than six months, CPS officials had claimed there were "savings" of hundreds of millions of dollars to be had by closing so-called "underutilized" schools. Substance photo by George N Schmidt.But as the months have gone, by there have never been sixty actual people there, so each meeting features the regular droning voice of the secretary: "Last call for Marquita Ross..."

But there was no "Mardess Toney", nor was there a "Marquita Ross." So Beltran went on and called the next name. And the next, [img=6342]"Last call for Marquita Ross," the voice proclaimed as the third person on the list of "Board of Education Public Speakers" continued.

It wasn't until Beltran got to the fourth person on the official list that there was anyone speaking. Georgia Walker rose and spoke forcefully about how the budget cuts at Beard School, which serves children with disabilities would hurt those children. Then two more speakers, Mary Cooper and Shauna Reitz, spoke before it was back to...

"Last call for Marshetta Ross..." who wasn't there, if in fact he or she exists.

While other cities hold public meetings and their boards of education listen, sometimes late into the night, until everyone who has something to say says it, Chicago's seven-member Board of Education has worked for years to push the "public" to the back of the bus, so to speak.

By April 2013, it was clear that the new automated public participation sign-in method for the school board of the nation's third largest public school system was designed not to further democracy, but to add to the strangulation of democracy that has become one of main features of this Board.

By the end of the meeting, in mid-afternoon on June 26, at least 24 names had been called, then "last called..." Twenty-four no shows out of sixty official public participation people.

For decades, even though the Board of Education was not elected in Chicago, the Board functioned with various committees, each of which held public meetings to gather public input on public school policy.

There was a committee on facilities, a committee on finances, and an audit committee. Major decisions were made after reports from those committees. Then came the Amendatory Act of 1995, which gave Chicago the nation's first mayoral control of a large urban school board and the notion that a "Chief Executive Officer", rather than a superintendent, should be the chief person over a major school system.

The record of the Board meetings and committee meetings during those years are still available to the public -- on paper but not on the Internet. The same Board of Education that is resticiting the ability of the public to participate minimally in public meetings at CPS has also decided that the Web record of the Board's meetings on line will begin at the beginning of the 21st Century, even though (a) the Chicago Board of Education's recorded history goes back to the first half of the 19th Century and (b) the technology exists to make the full record easily available to the public on line. Even some low budget publications have managed to load their entire hundred or more years of history on the Web by now.

But Chicago officials do not want the public to be able to read the actual history, any more than they want the public to be part of the "public participation" at the meetings of their school board.

For years since mayoral control began in Chicago in 1995, the public has been limited to one meeting per month. During the first years of mayoral control, the Board would meet on alternate months at a public school somewhere in the city, then at its downtown headquarters. By 2002, that one meeting would be held downtown at the Board's headquarters at 125 S. Clark St., maximizing the inconvenience to parents, students and teachers, especially as CTA fares and the cost of Loop parking increased.

Three speakers spoke, then the No Show calls resumed:

"Last call for Marshetta Ross..."

The there was one speaker, Martin Ritter, who lives in the West Loop and among other things serves on the Whitney Young High School LSC.

Ritter finished and the No Show calls resumed...

"Last call for Queen Sister...."

And no one explained how "Queen Sister" was taking up two spots on the sign-in sheet, and why the CPS secretary hadn't arranged to prevent that kind of thing from stealing time from those who might actually be present and have something to say to the Board.

Squeezed between the two "Queen Sister" entries (spaces nine and eleven) was Kathy Murray, number 12, who actually exists. Murray told the Board it's possible to renegotiate its loans and gave the Board the phone number of the Orland Park Board of Education, which had done so. The Board members sat sullenly while Murray proved, again, that they were evading the question of how to increase revenue for the city's real public schools (some of them would talk, but only later when the speakers were no longer around, or when they were not at the micorphones).

Estale Beltran didn't call "Queen Sister" twice, but the two minute time was not re-allocated to someone who had something to say.

After a couple of more speakers, it was back to the No Shows.

"Last call for Latausha Campbell..."

Then a few more real people, then

"Last call for Colleen Dillon..."

At 12:30, Wendy Katten, of the Raise Your Hand Coalition, took the floor to challenge the Board's claim that it would save money by closing schools. Katten's group had filed a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request for the cost-benefit analysis by CPS of the proposed closings only to discover that CPS had not done any cost benefit analysis.

For mpnths, CPS officials and Barbara Byrd Bennett had made a number of claims. none verified, that there was a "underutilization crisis" and a "billion dollar deficit" and that closing schools would "save money" to reduce the "deficit."

But at no time did CPS provide the public with the actual information to prove its talking points. And during the entire time, Barbara Byrd Bennett had avoided press conference, restricting the official CPS versions of reality to email comments to the press, and to a handful of carefully screened one-on-one shows and interviews (where no dissenting voices were to be heard). The most dramatic of these took place on WTTW, Chicago's supposedly "public" TV station, and at a Tribune forum, where Byrd Bennett appeared solo with Tribune editor Bruce Dold in a show that a year earlier had featured a confrontation between Karen Lewis of the CTU and Jean-Claude Brizard, Byrd-Bennett's predecessor.

Wendy Katten sat down. The six Board members sat sullenly (with David Vitale actually closing his eyes, as if to catch some sleep). They would wait until Katten and her supporters were safely away from the podium before they would pontificate on how they understood these things and Katten was wrong.

"Last call for Okama Lewis...."

"Last call for Matthew Luskin...."

By the time the list reached number 30, more than a half dozen no Shows had been called.

"Last call for Amisha Patel...."

"Last call for Maria Kastanamby...." (Number 32).

Christopher Ball challenged the Board's waste of time and money on high-stakes, low stakes, and other testing (all of which unverified) speaking for "More than a score..." Then....

"Last call for Stephanie Galiderman...." (Number 34).

"Last call for LaSharra Wilson...." (Number 35).

After a brief flurry of shouting by some students, the Board got back to the elimination of democracy...

"Last call for Tim Meegan...." (Number 39).

"Last call for Jose Jiminez...." (Number 40).

"Last call for Latrice Johsnon...." (Number 41).

"Last call for Elizabeth Cooper...." (Number 42).

Byt the time the list got down to the final third, it was clear that CPS was successfully defeating any attempt at democracy. For every real person who testified, at least one No Show was called.

"Last call for Claudia Terrazo...." (Number 48).

"Last call for Oyewola Adeyinka...." (Number 56).

The final speaker who actually spoke was Nellie Cotton, from Grimes-Fleming school, who pointed out the hypocrisy of CPS officials and the Board members. She was officially Number 57, but in reality the final speaker.

"Last call for Xian Barrett...." (Number 58).

"Last call for Caludia Pseenti...." (Number 59).

"Last call for Lisa Pesenti...." (Number 60).

Having stalled and squelched as much democracy as possible, five of the six Board members went into their usual scripts. Benry Bienen reminded the audience that he knows it all. Mahalia Hines reminded the audience that she was the voice of her ("African American") community. David Vitale did his Davis Vitale. Jesse Ruiz smiled a lot and, when his words are parsed, said little except that he was doing to do what the Mayor ordered. And Andrea Zopp once again claimed, without any basis in fact, that everything the Board was doing was for the best, especially for the children of her "community."

Then the Board members voted to establish some more privatization schemes under the new "alternative school" "options" -- without ever having asked why Chicago doesn't have truant officers. And then they went into executive session, which they will vote to keep secret again in a few months.


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