Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Chambers & CTU

CTU Chambers Correction on Secondcityteachers
By Jim Vail

Back in the day newspapers were the sole purveyors of news. Today it's the internet.

So when there was a mistake made, it was a big deal. The newspaper would issue a correction, and hopefully the matter would be solved.

Not today - who knows what is true, and what is 'fake news' as our president says, with people getting their information from the internet, and god knows where the information comes from - sometimes a legitimate source, and many times not. Who ever heard of a correction?

But being raised and bred a journalist where we are supposed to check our facts and report the news, I take to heart when someone points out an inaccuracy in a story I write. 

In this case I wrote about how the CTU hasn't been the strongest fighter to save star activist Sarah Chambers' job. One point I made was the CTU website did not post the story about the union's lawsuit against Chicago Public Schools for her firing because she was a whistle blower.

On Twitter one person pointed out that the story was posted. And sure enough, when I checked, it was. It is now the third blog post.

So I must make a correction. I will say that I did not see this story posted after the press conference last week, verifying my theory that the CTU has been a lukewarm fighter against the CPS to have Chambers reinstated. I check last weekend and wrote my story last week on a Monday. 

Well, the story is there for all to see that the union has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ms. Chambers. That is good.

And I stand corrected when I pointed out in my story that this fact wasn't posted on the internet.

And I hope the CTU will continue to fight hard for Chambers job. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

CTU & Chambers

Is the CTU Minimizing the Fight to Save Sarah Chambers?
By Jim Vail

Star teacher activist Sarah Chambers was fired by CPS. 

Teachers this past week have to be pretty down after we found out that the Chicago Teachers Union top activist Sarah Chambers was fired from her position because she supposedly did not follow protocol when administrating the PARCC test and allegedly set up a bus to transport students to the Chicago Board of Education meeting.

Chambers is telling everyone this is not true - they want to silence the critics like her who galvanize the parents to fight against draconian special education cuts because the board claims it has no money, while the mayor just set up another scheme that will pay banks about $70,000 a day to borrow more money.

If you are a general fighting a war, this is your top soldier, the one who has run numerous valiant missions to defeat the enemy. And she just went down. 

But our general - the CTU - is acting as if this person barely exists.

First, when a rally was held to save Sarah Chambers job at Saucedo Elementary School in Little Village earlier this spring, not one CTU officer attended the event.

Lindblom delegate Ed Hershey holds a poster to support Sarah Chambers at a rally in the spring.

CTU VP Jesse Sharkey told me it was because they had other things to do that took precedence.

The word from insiders - I guess I'm not included in that group - was that they wanted the event to look organic in that it was the community who wanted Sarah back, not the CTU. Never mind that it was simply an attack on the union's most militant activist.

Sarah Chambers is the CTU - she has been what we would dream every teacher would be, or at least a lot more, a fighter for public education who does not fear the powers that be. Quite simply - she is the union! Her fire power is what makes the CTU work!

The CTU did hold a press conference for Sarah last Friday to announce that a federal lawsuit against Mayor Rahm Emanuel's handpicked Chicago Board of Education for retaliation against Chambers for her First Amendment-protected criticisms of its deficient services to special education teachers. "The Board also broke the Illinois Whistleblower Act when it fired Chambers for blowing the whistle on its violations of laws protecting special education students."

Chambers will have a hearing at the IL State Board of Education about her job.

The suit contends that the Board's actions are unlawful as a wrongful discharge because all employees in Illinois are protected from retaliations when they point out violations of the law.

"The Board's reasons for firing Ms. Chambers are pretexts to hide its true, retaliatory motive," said Chamber's attorney Josiah Groff. "We look forward to proving this in court."

But when I went to look up this story about Chambers on the CTU website, there was no mention of the press conference on the site. It simply vanished!

Her face is at the top of the masthead of the website - CTUnet.com - along with five other faces, entitled the CTU Six - which are other teachers, some delegates, who the CTU claim have been targeted to be fired for their activism. 

CTU President Karen Lewis told the media this is not just about Sarah Chambers, but all the members who challenge the board and get fired as a result.

CTU President Karen Lewis

But when it comes to people - Sarah is at the top of the list. Her activism helped make Karen the CTU president, her activism reversed the disastrous CTU support of SB7 by forcing the executive board to reverse its blanket support of the anti-union legislation that Lewis worked out with the state legislature, her activism held off another school - Spry High School - from invading Saucedo's School and ruining its programs, her activism included numerous fights against school closures, special education cuts, privatization, disastrous contract deals, etc, etc.

Lewis did feel it important enough to attend a sentencing hearing for former disgraced CPS CEO and now felon Barbara Byrd Bennett.

Lewis did feel it important enough to say she supported Chuy Garcia to be mayor of the city even though the house of delegates had not yet voted on the endorsement.

But Lewis has not stepped up on her own volition to fight for her top soldier.

It's been a sad week for defenders of public education and even sadder to know union politics trumps what a union should truly stand and fight for.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Russians Don't Leave

By Stephen Wilson

MOSCOW -- The overwhelming vast number of Russians don't want to leave Russia for
good. Or at least that is the conclusion of a recent poll undertaken by the
All Russian Center for Studying Russian Opinion which found that 89 % of
Russians would rather remain in their own country. While 10 % of those
polled would like to live abroad, 43 % of them are uncertain whether or
when this would be possible. This survey appears to represent the highest
percentage of those polled found in favor of remaining permanently in

The survey also indicated how the motives of those seeking to go abroad
has changed over the last few years. While a survey two years revealed that
more than half of those wanting to leave were motivated by the dream of
a higher standard of living, better pay and benefit, this has declined to 33% !
More respondents appear to be citing ecological reasons as a prime source
for wishing to leave [ 4% in 2016 , 12% in 2017] and Human rights { 0% in
2016 , 10 % in 2017} Most of those who want to emigrate tend to be young
and from cities such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The favorite destination
appears to be Germany.

What are we to make of those findings ? I personally welcome them but don't
find it too consoling because my personal experience does not always tally
with this survey. For whatever reason, I keep encountering people wanting to
get out. Moscow is even beginning to remind me of poor Moldova. It is
unpleasant to stay in a country when you keep meeting people who tell you
" I hate this country and want to get out " Or as an accountant in an American company
SAS , told me : " If every employee had a chance , they would live abroad." This
turned out to be an overstatement as some employees told me they did not have
such a dream. In Moldova I was constantly asked for advice on how to obtain
citizenship in Britain. Now when I told those people I was happy to stay in Moldova
or Moscow rather than Scotland, they thought I was mad . It was disconcerting.

When I asked how they imagined life in Britain I found a highly unrealistic view
of Britain which did not echo any of my experiences in Scotland. They spoke of
highly paid jobs, a fair legal system and great medical care system. Where did
they get those high expectations ? Did it spring out of their imagination or word
of mouth ? A Russian artist from Moscow once bumped into me on the streets
and asked me : "Don't you get sick and tired of living in this country ? I'm surprised
you are still here ." She has visited and worked in New York and dreams of
permanent American citizenship which appears elusive. And how did she find
America? She adored New York ! She told me she found the people friendly, nice
and helpful. This is why I 'd never make rash judgments on a person's dream. Who
am I to break a person's illusions ?

I came across person, a student called Olga who could not get used to living in America.
She told me : "I went to live in America with my husband, who was a scientist. Although
he loved it I could not stay and missed Russia. I longed for my family so we split up.
I returned to Russia. .... What I found strange about America is that whenever I went for
a walk some driver would pull up and offer me help. They thought my car had broken down
or I needed a lift. But I only wanted to go for a walk. Americans seem to like driving

The worst attitude you can come across is people who think that to leave your country
is to abandon it and betray it. This attitude not only exists in Russia but Scotland. It is
summed up by the self righteous attitude of a poem : 'I never abandoned my country'
suggesting those who did were deserters of an army. This is not the best of Akhmatova's

Whatever we can conclude about the findings of this survey , it at least explodes the crude
myth that most Russians are dying to leave Russia , or that they find dwelling in their country unbearable. Whether they have lowered their expectations about life abroad in terms of becoming disillusioned remains an open question. They might well be heeding the old Russian proverb : 'Life is better where you don't live'. It is one thing to enjoy a holiday in Greece, quite another to live there ! They don't always take this proverb to heart in Scotland. When I last visited Scotland , many Scots I met asked how they could come to Russia to live. "It must be better than Scotland " they told me . The last person to phone me up and asked if she could come to stay permanently in Russia was my sister. I wonder what the Russians would make of this?

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Pay differences

Huge pay differences at Russian universities
By Stephen Wilson

MOSCOW -- When Maria Koroleva, a Russian academic once attempted to persuade graduates from Moscow State University to pursue a doctorate she was met with a bemused stare which seemed to say : "And how would I feed myself never mind pay high
fees?" Undertaking a post graduate course without adequate state support seems
like a futile feat even for the most-talented students. Even if the course is completed,
jobs as academics still remain largely low paid not to mention entailing a bigger workload
due to increasing red tape. As in the West, attaining an academic career appears to
be a distant dream, or rather nightmare, depending how you look at things ! This is because
the long sought for dream of working as an academic can turn into a stressful headache.
You are no longer an academic but administrator in a hostile environment fraught with
petty office politics.

When Putin gave a long public question and answer forum to journalists and the people
he received many complaints about under or low pay . He acknowledged that violations
in pay had taken place and that the teachers in question should send a letter of complaint
to wage inspectors and other officials. But the scale of the complaints encompassing either
delayed salaries or blatant underpayment indicates the state's promise to increase by
100- 200% the salaries of teachers and doctors from 2012 has a long way to go. This
is because of widespread corruption within schools and universities as well as the absence
of an effective mechanism to take effective legal action against the culprits.

Only yesterday I was informed of how head teachers and administrative staff asked one
school teacher to open an account which would allow them to make illicit transfers which
concealed the level of payments allowing some head teachers to unfairly receive more
income than other teachers who would obtain far less.

Corruption concerning unfair pay is not new. One of the demands of the Bolsheviks was that the salary of an elected official should not be higher than the average salary of a skilled worker. Lenin was startled to discover that someone had raised his salary without his permission and that when he protested about it no action was taken ! Later on the salary of an official was not allowed to exceed two or three times the wage of a worker. In current times, the salary of a university lecturer should not exceed five times the amount of a university teacher. Alas, it blatantly does ! A rector's salary amounts to twenty times the salary of a university teacher at a time when universities are short of staff. Even a shortage of staff can be a blessing for some head teachers who take over the hours of two or three redundant teachers, make the minimum effort and attain a huge windfall.

The huge discrepancy of pay between rectors and teachers partly explains why the latter are so low paid ! For instance , Vladimir Litvinenko the Rector of Saint Petersburg Gorni University obtains a lavish annual salary of 195.7 million rubles and Anton Torkunov, rector of Moscow State Institute of International Relations receives an annual salary of 31.9 million rubles.

Compare this with the salary of a teacher at Institutes of Further Education who receives 55,000 rubles a year { ROSSTATA 2016} In many cases in the provinces, the salary of a rector can be 40 times the pittance of a teacher.You could fund whole faculties with the income a rector receives!

In many cases those rectors are so smug they don't even conceal their salaries ! On the
contrary they boast about them and show off their wealth. When they hear that some
wealthy managers in the West modestly conceal their wealth , go to work by tram and wear
informal clothes they are shocked by this. They think that flaunting their wealth boosts their
image rather than provokes people. Most of those rectors view an institute as a lucrative
business where they can rent out offices of the universities and pocket the money.
Irina Kantorovich states, "The reason for impoverished teachers was the new system of
paid labor introduced in 2008." She states that this system allows the management of such
institutes to decide which teacher should be paid the most and who should take the lion's share of the pay and increments. She has gathered a petition of 50,000 signatures calling for a much more accountable and decent pay system where payment is based on fair play and not caprice.

She has a hard job ahead of her! The government , rather than taking the bull by the horns
simply tells frustrated teachers to send a complaint to either an official in the Department of
Education or a wage inspector! Meanwhile rectors continue to draw staggering salaries as if
there were no tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Sarah Chambers Fight Continues

The Fight to Save Our Top Activist Sarah Chambers Continues!
By Jim Vail

Many aldermen support star teacher activist Sarah Chambers.

The fight to save Saucedo special education teacher Sarah Chambers job continues as almost 20 aldermen have signed letters of support to have her reinstated.

Chambers, considered the Chicago Teachers Union top activist, was suspended and has a hearing to determine termination. The Chicago Public Schools have not determined exactly what she is accused of. Chambers says it is because she has been actively fighting against the board's special education cuts and other anti-public education policies.

Here is the letter of support from our Ald. Harry Osterman of the 48th Ward:

Ald. Harry Osterman wrote a letter in support of Sarah Chambers

"Dear Members of the Chicago Board of Education:

"Please allow this letter to serve as a formal request to have Sarah Chambers, an accomplished special education teacher and ardent advocate for expanding the rights and resources aimed at assisting students with special needs all throughout the Chicago Public School district, fully reinstated as a teacher in good standing.

"In addition to her extraordinary work in the classroom, Sarah is also a sponsor of the Gay-Straight Allianace (GSA) at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy, an important group aimed at fostering dialogue between student and faculty members at a time when the rights of LGBTQ students are under assault.

"Taken together, Sarah is an award winning teacher, one who has been praised for her efforts by six different administrations.

"There is much uncertainty surrounding the actual reasons why Sarah Chambers was suspended in the first place, particularly in light of the fact that special education funding is suffering from devastating cuts on the local, state and federal level, it hardly makes sense to lose our most talented instructors in this field in light of these circumstances.

"With so many hurdles facing our schools in the City of Chicago, I would hope that the Board of Education considers the unintended consequences of punished employees who dedicate their lives to advancing the cause of public education.

"I thank you in advance for your attention to the matter and please do not hesitate to contact my office if you have any questions reiterated in the request."


Harry Osterman
Alderman, 48th Ward

Monday, June 19, 2017

Day of Protest

By Stephen Wilson

"What day was it ? " and "Where do we meet ?" were the questions which sprung to
mind when I woke up this on the 12th June. A further question which should have been
asked at a deeper level is not so much 'Who is to blame ?" and "What is to be done?"
but "What are the exact aims of this protest ?" I was not alone in this confusion . A
rally against corruption had been called on the 12th of June because it coincided
against on the celebration of 'The Day of Russia'. "They can't arrest people on this
day because there is no contradiction between gathering in the city to celebrate on
this day and a protest against corruption. "it was presumed. Besides, when Navalny,
announced the place of the demonstration had been abruptly changed from the officially
approved Prospect Sakhalova to Tverskaya square and that : "Your rights are
protected under the Russian constitution and the European Convention on Human
Rights ," it did not sound convincing. An estimated 866 people were arrested in
Moscow alone.

Practically half of Russians are unaware that on the 12th June they are supposed
to celebrate 'The Day of Russia' according to a recent Levada poll. If you ask Russians
what is Navalny's political stance even more ignorance arises. Most people don't know.
Even most protesters can't offer me a straight answer other than; "he is against corruption''.
The most important point is that he is not a fascist but a relatively moderate Russian
nationalist who believes that the main cause of Russia's economic ills is due to the loss
of money via corruption. The money which could be saved on corruption could be
used to regenerate the economy assuring wider prosperity. He is center right in his politics.
When I got out of the metro station Mayakovsky the atmosphere was claustrophobic.
You had to squeeze past a never ending line of riot police and and reconstruction sites.
All the pavements from this metro to the city center were under massive construction.
As we walked on single -file past another line of people leaving in the opposite direction
we noticed hundreds of riot police were running in formation and halting along our path.
They were mainly fresh young faces who had a kind of bemused look on their face betraying
they were raw. Many wore green helmets and bullet proof vests and resembled soldiers
so much one protester asked 'Have they brought in the army?'' We were almost surrounded
by the police. I tried to take a short cut to the square but noticed every alley or road was
either a dead end or blocked by police. While doing this I encountered Monica Spibak
whom I had interviewed during the protest against Demolition. 'I warned her :"You are
likely to get arrested . It is like walking into a trap." She answered : "If I get arrested I'll
tell you all about it." You could see many buses along the way ready for the detained.
I thought they intended to arrest everyone on the demonstration.

What followed assumed a dreamlike surreal situation which was unreal. The riot
police began to arrest people shortly after 2.p.m. But who could they arrest? Most
of the protesters were not carrying placards and some people carrying flags were
celebrating 'The Day of Russia ' . The police chose the option 'Arrest and later find out'.
One man who was being escorted to a police bus by a policeman complained ; "I just
wanted to get a cup of coffee ! " It must have been an expensive cost of coffee. He
could have been fined 10,000 rubles ! The funniest incident was when a Putin supporter
came up and was being filmed by a T.V. crew. He started to complain : " Those riot
police are not doing their job. They should be arresting protesters yet they are either
letting them go by or even letting them go..... When Putin is reelected next year we
will all be better off." Just after he said those lines two Russia riot policemen grabbed him
and took him away to the police station. This example serves to indicate that the arresting
was not so much indiscriminate but inconsistently sporadic.

Reenactment groups who were dawning Viking costumes to perform on this day claimed
"Our day was ruined by this demonstration."

Not all the opposition agrees with the decision by Navalny to change the location of the
demonstration. They thought it needlessly provocative . Critics stated that very little
thought was given on how to secure the release of those arrested. Many of the families
of those arrested also face the predicament of having to pay hefty fines from 10 to
20,000 rubles or days in detention.

A maths teacher , Dmitri Bogatov who was arrested in a previous protest has had his
detention extended until the 30th June. He faces serious charges of inciting disorder
through the internet under part 3 , article 212 of the law of the Russian Federation ' and
more ludicrously of encouraging terrorism. The protest movement should take more
steps to defend his case and rethink its tactics. The aim of most opposition movements
is to avoid arrest and not to make themselves sitting ducks for the riot police.

If the government had any sense it would not arrest anyone on this demonstration.It would
let sleeping dogs lie and there would be very few, if any unpleasant scuffles or disorder.
However, every time mass arrests are made , more and more people ,feeling indignant,
join the protests. Not all the police in Russia used heavy handed tactics against the
protests . In Omsk where 3000 gathered to protest, no one was arrested. And
in Magadan where about 100 gathered, nobody faced detention at all !

In one village in the Arkhangelskaya region , seven protesters were left alone by the police
No arrests were made. In fact, the police shook hands with the protesters to show there was no ill-feeling.

Monday, June 12, 2017

HOD Meeting

CTU HOD Meeting Ends with a Thud
By Jim Vail
CTU VP Jesse Sharkey emotional outburst at the HOD meeting last week
revealed certain budgetary problems.

The Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates meeting last Wednesday was supposed to be focused on the budget.

Instead, the union leadership decided to begin the last meeting of the school year late so they could honor Jackie Vaughn - the hall is named after her - and pay tribute to Rep. Monique Davis -a 100 percent voting record in favor of the teachers union. 

CTU President Karen Lewis said Rep. Davis even voted against SB7 - interesting because Lewis at one point told legislators to vote in favor of SB7 which eliminated seniority rights and other bargaining items. She said they saved the right to strike, though legislators mandated teachers needed 70% to vote in favor. A push back from the membership, and resolution by the executive board against SB7 forced some changes, and confused legislators.

So the meeting on the budget started late. Many members left by the time a vote was supposed to take place. Delegate Frank McDonald asked if they have a quorum, which means are there a majority of CTU delegate in the hall to vote. 

At this point, CTU VP Jesse Sharkey erupted and shouted how could somebody call a quorum and then the union is left without a budget. It was pure sabotage to do this, he thundered. McDonald did not respond, and then Lewis asked if anyone would like to call a quorum, after Sharkey made it clear the delegates should not call a quorum. Nobody said anything.

During the debate on the budget, a few delegates had questions about the Chicago Teachers Foundation - whose budget was used to purchase the current CTU building. This was after the CTU sold the Fukes Tower for about $40 million.

Sharkey admitted had the union not used money from the foundation - not union dues - to plug a $700,000 budget deficit, then there would have been job cuts.

Another delegate asked about the union joining forces with the charters teachers union - ChiActs - and will this affect the money and time devoted to grievances and paying for lawyers for arbitration. Sharkey said field rep Joey McDermott and others devoted about $100,000 or so to help negotiate one of the charter school contracts.

Several delegates complained that the union should not cut its organizing department. According to sources, organizer Matt Luskin was moved out of the organizing department to the political department, so a vacancy was made available.

Executive board members, according to sources, argued to add another paid position to make room for another organizer. The board decided not to do this since the union has a big deficit.

At the end Sharkey yelled out that he quit. He did apologize afterwards for his outburst to delegates who said it was wrong what he did, by speaking out of turn and not addressing the delegates question about the quorum.

I believe the union leadership did not expect some good questions concerning a troubling budget.

The delegates voted in favor of the final budget.