BOARDWATCH. Squeezing out the public and the press.. Board Chambers designed as an insult to the public and the press.... 'News' coverage is forced to photograph the smiling faces of the Board members while speakers critical of the Board are only seen from the backs of their heads

The supposedly "public" meetings of the Chicago Board of Education are being manipulated as never before, now that the Board has gone into its carefully designed new headquarters in the old Sears store at Madison and Dearborn in Chicago. One of the careful tricks of the Board members under David Vitale (above, third from right) has been to limit TV cameras to a corner of the room where they are unable to photograph the speakers while being forced to cover the Board of Education only by photographing the Board members. Above, this photo was taken from the "press pen" in the far corner of the meeting room on January 28, 2015. It is impossible from this angle for cameras to photograph the speakers at the meeting, since only the backs of their heads can be seen from the above angle. Note also that the Board members have reduced the amount of space in the "Board Chambers" by creating a false partitioning of the room (the partitions are behind the Board members) to further squeeze out the public and press. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.While each month the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education regale the TV cameras with their scripted lessons about the "true facts" (which only they possess, no matter how precise their critics become), the current year sees on of the most arrogant examples of how David Vitale and his six colleagues are trying to squeeze out the public and press from the public meetings the Board is required to hold at least once a month: The Board's "Chambers" were designed to limit access to these public meetings to the maximum extent possible, creating a tiny space for the public, a larger space for the Board in sight, and an equally large space for the Board members to play in behind the partition in front of which they sit.

Observers should be calling it "The Big Squeeze." Although the spacious area at the Board of Education's new headquarters could easily accommodate a larger Board Chambers than ever before in history, the Board members have deliberately ordered up what must be characterized as "The Big Squeeze."

Space behind both the Board members and the public seats has been walled off for no reason other than to squeeze the remaining few seats still available to people trying to get to a public meeting of the most important public body in Chicago. Once that was done to reduce the number of feet available within the confines of the Board Chambers, the space was further squeezed by providing the Board members and bureaucrats with an area nearly a third again as large as the area for the people. The Open Meetings Act may require that public bodies like the Chicago Board of Education provide the public with its agenda 48 hours in advance and then make the meetings open to the people (and the peoples' press), but in Chicago in 2015, David Vitale, Barbara Byrd Bennett, and the members of the Board of Education appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel are working to ensure that both press and public are squeezed out of the meetings to the greatest extent they can get away with.

At the new "Board Chambers," David Vitale and the Board members have squeezed the "public" into 25 rows of seats, with four seats in each row. Many of those seats (see above, right) are marked as "Reserved" for CPS bureaucrats. The bureucarts take up that additional space during the meetings, further limiting the members of the public allowed in to attend the supposedly public meetings of the important public body. The above photo was taken during the January 28, 2015 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, showing in the back of the diminutive "public" section the partition the Board installed to further squeeze the people. A platoon of Board security people then patrol the chambers, demanding that members of the press no deviae from the press pen and that members of the public not "disrupt" the meetings. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.And twice -- on December 17, 2014 and January 28, 2015 -- Vitale, Byrd Bennett, and the Board members have gotten away with it.

I have covered the meetings of the Chicago Board of Education since the Board headquarters was located at 228 N. LaSalle St. (the building now holding the address of "222 N. LaSalle St. for mysterious reasons) during the 1970s. By 1980, the Board had moved into the old Fifth U.S. Army headquarters buildings at 1819 W. Pershing Road, with the Board's executive offices and "Chambers" located in the "East Building" of the massive three- building complex. Although it wasn't pretty, the Pershing Road complex had several things going for it, one of which was that members of the public could park without having to pay downtown parking prices to go to a Board meeting.

The Pershing Road complex was evacuated by the regime of Richard M. Daley after the Amendatory Act gave Daley dictatorial control over the Board and established the so-called "Chicago School Reform Board of Trustees" for three years following the passage of the Amendatory Act in 1995. That law gave Daley the power to appoint the members of the Board of Education (for those first years called the "School Reform Board of Trustees"), the "Chief Executive Officer" (for the first six years, Paul G. Vallas, who later became Pat Quinn's running mate), and the Board President (for the first six years, former Daley Chief of Staff Gery Chico).


February 10, 2015 at 1:16 PM

By: Theresa D. Daniels

Bd. Prez Vitale so unprofessional

Maybe you missed it even if you were sitting there at January's Board meeting, but when the union's Jackson Potter was arguing for preference for County Commisioner Chuy Garcia (officials speak before the other speakers), Vitale said Chuy had not asked for preference. He said that Alderman OConnor was also there and didnt get preference. Someone called out that Mike Brunson, CTU officer, was also present. To that Board President Vitale clearly said, I dont care about Brunson. Vitale was on camera and you could hear it very clearly. I was watching my recording and I urge everyone to watch the Board's recording Saturdays at noon, channel 21 for me. Cracked me up, so unprofessional. However, at the end of the mtg, when Mike stood up in support for the last speaker (who did a wonderful job on the Boards and Quazzos conflicts of interest), Vitale said, Michael, I didnt see you until just now. Please, do you want to speak now? Mike joked that he had been ready to leave in a huff, but that he would let the last speaker proceed before he spoke. All of our peopleMike, Dave Vance, Norine, Jackson, and whoever I forgotdid a great job.

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