Friday, June 28, 2013

Substitute Teacher Fired for Trying to Save Student's Life
By Jim Vail
Second City Teacher

What happens when you try to save a kid's life by preventing him from crossing a dangerous street?

Well, if you are Peter Nerad, and you work for the Chicago Public Schools, you get fired.

Nerad was a substitute teacher at Lane Tech High School until this past January when he was supervising over 200 students during a fire drill.

Suddenly, one of the students started to run across Addison Street and Nerad quickly ran to prevent the boy from getting hit.  

He held the student by his back pack to keep him in the narrow dividing lines and then pulled him back a few steps toward campus.  

"I held him until it was safe to go," Nerad told Second City Teacher.  "He was pulling away because he was on his lunch time and wanted to go to McDonalds."

The fact that two kids were hit by cars crossing this busy street also prompted Nerad to think and act fast, he said.

However, another Lane Tech teacher was apparently upset that Nerad had touched a child, and then claimed he was "confrontational" when she asked him his name.  

So Nerad found himself in the principal's office about the incident.  He had no idea that this heroic act would then be used against him.

"The principal Dr. Dingham said, 'You dragged the kid across the street?'," Nerad said.  "When I explained the obvious safety concerns and split second decision making involved, the principal then asked, 'Well, where exactly were the cars."

It certainly appeared that Nerad became yet another unwilling victim in the CPS quest to fire teachers, no matter how ridiculous the charges are.

Nerad had been told before his hearing to "be careful" because CPS is going after subs (and you wonder why the schools can't get subs).

Nerad was charged with "conduct unbecoming an employee of the Chicago School Board."

"I held the kid by the backpack because I was afraid he would get hit by a car," Nerad told the hearing officer.  "All of my actions that I took was to keep the student safe, especially in light of the fact that two students had been seriously hit on Western Ave. several weeks before."

The Lane Tech teacher Melissa Smith, who reported on him, apparently had a beef with the fact he did not immediately respond to her question about his name.

Smith claimed she was a victim of "verbal abuse" because Nerad responded to her question by saying, "Why don't you come over here and I'll tell you what my name is," according to the hearing transcript.

But Nerad told the hearing officer, as if it mattered at all, that he actually said, "I'm not going to yell over four lanes of traffic.  If you come here I will tell you my name."

He held the student by his back pack to keep him in the narrow dividing lines and then pulled him back a few steps toward campus.

The verdict came back guilty as charged.

"This is to notify you that, as a result of the hearing held in the Office of Employee Engagement on April 18, 2013, we have substantiated the allegations described in our letter to you dated April 8, 2013.  Therefore, it has been determined that your services as a substitute teacher are no longer required.  You will be terminated as an employee of the Chicago Public Schools effective the date of this letter.  You are ineligible for future employment with the Chicago Public Schools.  Sincerely, Thomas Krieger, Assistant Director."

Since when does a co-worker have the right to demand someone's name in public, especially during a fire drill when you are responsible for the safety of some 200 students?

This definition of "verbal abuse" that CPS used to justify firing a teacher for his heroic act would only be understood on a late night comedy hour.

But it keeps the CPS wheels turning, by ridding the schools of those who fight for safety, making it safe for the informers whose feelings are hurt when they don't get the right answer.

Nerad said his Chicago Teacher Union rep would appeal the decision, by saying she'll put it on the "pile with all the other fired subs."

"I guess the pile means they won't be getting back to me any time soon," Nerad said.

I told him he has to write a book about this and see if anyone will believe it's true.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Pension Dooms Day a Comin!
By Jim Vail
Second City Teacher

As a Chicago public school teacher, I can say it feels like we're getting our asses kicked every day by the mayor and his corporate paymasters.

The mayor during his election campaign said teachers are not underpaid (read:  they are overpaid and need to give up salary and benefits).  

Then he went to work on us after his bought and paid for election.

He first cancelled the last year of our salary raise claiming there is no money (but there is money for DePaul, and JP Morgan, etc.).

He then said he wanted a "full school day" - a longer school day despite this thing called a contract, which I guess only counts if you're a bank or corporation.  If you are a bunch of teachers, then as the mayor always says, "%$#@ YOU!"

Well, the union did stop the mayor on that, temporarily.  And we did stop merit pay, and restored our salaries with lanes and steps, and decent health benefits, thanks to the week and two day strike last September.

But the mayor is right back to kicking our asses.

He closed the most schools in the country ever - 50 some!  Boy did that feel good.

Then he announced his per pupil budgeting plan and schools are getting hit with 20% + budget cuts.

What's next?

Our pensions, of course.

Emanuel, the ruling class, want us stuck with 401Ks, not real pension plans.  But there's that sticking point called the IL Constitution, that guarantees our pensions (and the reason we got pensions in the first place was to save employers some money by paying workers less).

So now the mayor is blaming the pensions for these drastic school budget cuts.

Raise Your Hand, an excellent parent organization on the fighting front to stop school closures, budget cuts and the privatization of public education - is even putting "pension reform" on their agenda to getting more revenue into the schools.

And when you read the mainstream media - it is obviously pensions that are the problem for everything.  No mention about tax the rich, no mention about making the banks pay these ridiculous interest rate swaps that makes the schools and other public bodies pay what the banks got bailed out on.  No mention about a stock market transaction tax.

This latest piece from the otherwise decent reporter Ted Cox for, brought back dreadful visions of Fran Spielman's reporting from the Chicago Sun-Times on former mayor Richard Daley's press conferences.  If da mayor said the sky was blue and the sun red that day, Spielman faithfully reported every word.

Cox's DNAinfo report on mayor Rahm Emanuel's speech blaming the pension problems for the individual school budget cuts being made today was eerily reminiscent of Spielman's shameful city hall reporting.  

Not one word from Cox questioning why your lordship does not give back the stolen TIF funds to the schools, renegotiate toxic bank interest rates costing the schools $30 million a year or taxing the rich, or roll back wasteful corporate tax giveaways.

That's what you call their media, their propaganda.

Here, at Second City Teacher, we present the people's media.  Our propaganda. What is good for the 99% is reported here.

Pensions are good for us (and everyone!).  Taxing the rich is good for all of us.  Demanding the banks bailout the people, after they got bailed out by us, is of course good for us.

We need to stop these attacks on us, we need to restore worker decency and re-implement a fair taxation system.

But how to do it is the big question.


Rahm Blames CPS Budget Cuts on Pension Problems

Ted Cox

By Ted Cox on June 25, 2013 4:12pm | Updated on June 26, 2013 7:16am

SOUTH AUSTIN — Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday blamed pension problems for individual school budget cuts being made over the summer.
In the first chance for media to ask Emanuel questions since he returned from a trip last week to Israel — during which many of the local school councils discovered their new budget cuts — the mayor said pension payments were responsible for 45 percent of the projected $1 billion Chicago Public Schools deficit.
That deficit has not only led to budget cuts but the closing of 50 schools, some of which had their final days of operation on Monday.
Emanuel said he warned a year ago that "this day of reckoning will come to our classrooms" if the General Assembly did not pass pension reform.
"I warned everybody," Emanuel said. "If we don't reform our pensions, there are going to be some very difficult choices to be made.
"So we have to get pension reform so we can make the right sort of choices rather than the wrong sort of choices," he added.
Gov. Pat Quinn has called the state legislature back to Springfield and set a July 9 deadline for pension reform to be passed.
Emanuel refused to discuss individual school cost-cutting measures, such as Whitney Young Magnet High School's plan to charge $500 for seventh period next year or therefusal of Blaine Elementary's Local School Council to approve staff cuts.
He blamed choices pension payments deferred for decades and "kicking them down the can" for the current budget crunch at CPS passed on to individual schools.
"We invested in our children and we're going to continue to invest in our children and nothing's going to change that," he said.
Yet, he said making pension payments could divert CPS funds away from classroom spending.
Earlier, in touting $1.7 million in grants to neighborhood nonprofit organizations specializing in mentoring, conflict resolution and job training, Emanuel said, "You can never go wrong by investing in the children of the city of Chicago."
Emanuel also defended the appointment of Deborah Quazzo to the Board of Education, saying she had "deep experience in education" and would widen the diversity of approaches on the board.
Quazzo has ties to charter schools, a connection criticized by the Chicago Teachers Union. Charter schools are typically non-union.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Pension Fight Takes Front and Center Stage Amidst Massive Budget Cuts

Jesse Sharkey, Chicago Teachers Union Vice President, clarified the CTU's position on the current pension debate.

The CTU is opposed to the Madigan Plan (actually, SB 1 with the Madigan Amendments) for fairly obvious reasons—it offers draconian cuts in benefits, fails to secure any additional revenue for pensions, and is blatantly unconstitutional.

We took ‘no position’ on the Cullerton Bill.  The Cullerton Bill 2404 does not directly affect us, and many other unions supported it, including the IFT.  So we did not want to burn bridges with them, but we do not favor the Cullerton approach to our own pension—again, it offers cuts with no additional funds for the pensions.

We did support HB 1920, which would have increased the amount CPS is putting into the fund up to $350 million, though this is still less than the full $600 million they owe.   We did this based on a simple political calculation that it was the best deal we could get at that time—it did not cut benefits and it added to the amount CPS was paying by $150 million.

Obviously there were problems with this approach--increasing CPS’ payment by $150 million without granting them any extra revenue would be likely to lead to cuts in education spending, layoffs, etc.  Also, it would have still shortchanged the pension fund.  As it happened, Quinn threatened to veto the bill, and the CTPF came out strongly opposed, so the bill failed. 

Now CPS does have to put in the full $600 million. 

So we’ll see what happens next.  CPS will budget very severe cuts at the schools—layoffs etc. and attempt to use that to pressure us to accept benefit cuts.  We are going to continue to insist that the solution involves taxing the rich.

Obviously, if the legislators put together a bill we’ll get out an alert about it as soon as we are able.

Yours in solidarity,

Jesse Sharkey
Vice-President, Chicago Teachers Union

Monday, June 24, 2013

Critics Say Chicago Shouldn’t Aid DePaul Arena With Schools Closing

DePaul University
A rendering of the proposed basketball arena for DePaul. Chicago has promised to pay $33 million of the $173 million cost.
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CHICAGO — Since 1980, the basketball team at DePaul University, the largest Roman Catholic college in the United States, has played its home games in the suburb of Rosemont, Ill., at a nondescript and, lately, mostly empty arena.

For several years, DePaul, which is in the leafy Lincoln Park neighborhood on the North Side and a member of the Big East, has declared its interest in moving back to the city to try to recapture its glory days, when the team was a national powerhouse in the 1970s and ’80s.
In May, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the university announced a proposal for a 10,000 seat, $173 million arena near McCormick Place, a convention center along the lakefront south of downtown. DePaul and the quasi-government agency that runs McCormick Place would chip in $70 million each for the publicly owned venture. The city’s tab would be $33 million, and that has created a bit of a stir.
The unveiling of the plan, which came six days before the Board of Education voted to close 50 public schools because of a $1 billion deficit and underutilization issues, has troubled some.
“This project could not be worse for human priorities,” said Bob Fioretti, the alderman of the ward that would house the arena. “We can’t afford neighborhood schools, but we can bankroll an unnecessary basketball arena for a private university?”
Since the deal was announced and an accompanying bill was passed by the Illinois Senate and House, a report from Crain’s Chicago Business detailed DePaul basketball’s attendance woes. Estimates that the new arena would be a moneymaker sooner rather than later were pegged to DePaul’s announced crowds of about 8,000 a game, but the actual numbers were closer to 2,600, according to the report. (DePaul is 7-83 in conference play over the last five years.)
“School closings were a real horror for people,” said Karen Lewis, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union, who noted that most of them were on the South and West Sides. “And here is another project for the central business district. There are other parts of town, and we don’t have any plans for them.”
The city counters that calling the project only an investment in a basketball arena is shortsighted and incomplete. DePaul represents one piece of a $1.1 billion investment to boost tourism, a plan that includes adding amenities to McCormick Place, which has lost convention business to cities like Orlando and Las Vegas, and sprucing up Navy Pier, the state’s No. 1 tourist attraction, which is just north of downtown.
The arena is part of a goal to revitalize the South Loop neighborhood, and the project includes two hotels, new restaurants and areas for entertainment, and potentially a casino.
The arena would be an events center for concerts and conventions when DePaul is not playing, and the university has agreed to pay rent at $25,000 a game for men’s home dates and $7,500 for women’s games.
DePaul’s $70 million investment was needed, Tom Alexander, a city spokesman, said, because it would ensure that construction at Navy Pier and McCormick Place could proceed in tandem. “This is really a facility the entire city can use,” he said. “DePaul is helping facilitate it.”
Then there are the 10,000 construction and 3,800 permanent jobs that it would create, by the city’s math. The unemployment rate in the Chicago metro area is more than 9 percent.
“I would be safe to assume any city in the country would love to have these jobs and these types of announcements,” said Jorge Ramirez, the president of the Chicago Federation of Labor.
He added, “Tax dollars that come in from convention and tourism can be spent anywhere in the city, and should be.”
The city declined to address the timing of the announcement but said in a statement that its “challenges are equal in urgency and priority.”
Still, the public financing remains a sticking point for critics. The teachers union says that the $33 million promised by the city, which comes from a complex method called tax increment financing, might otherwise be spent on education and other city functions (the figure reaches $55 million when the next-door hotel is included). Alexander called that charge “utterly wrong.”
In addition to the round of school closings, school budgets are expected to be cut next year, and that, too, puzzles some observers. “We’re told there’s no money, and suddenly there’s money for this,” said Allen Sanderson, an economics professor at the University of Chicago. “It’s a mixed message.”
Sanderson also alluded to the long-rumored casino as the elephant in the room. “If that’s the ultimate plan, I’d like to know about it,” he said.
The city is acquiring the land for the arena and hotel. Once a deal is reached, the City Council will vote whether to approve it.
“I wish the best for DePaul,” Fioretti said. “I would love to see them go back to having a good basketball team. But I don’t understand this, and neither do my constituents.”

Friday, June 21, 2013

Bill introduced to close wasteful loopholes
by Jim Vail and AFSCME Local 31
Second City Teacher

Is there any doubt who runs the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times?

Both dailies have entirely blocked out the Chicago Teachers Union solution to the city's so-called funding crisis that allegedly dictated closing public schools and cutting an enormous budget deficit.  The CTU is demanding that the city return the TIF monies to the schools, renogiate toxic interest rates and swaps (the banks got bailed out, but not the schools?), and implement a progressive income tax that makes the rich pay their fair share.

It seems these quite sensible demands are not allowed to be printed in our mainstream local papers.

That, plus the fact that our legislators, the ones who passed a resolution to overturn Citizens United which allows unlimited political spending, have refused to pass a perfectly sensible bill that would close wasteful corporate tax loopholes.

The legislation (SB 1159) introduced in April would eliminate three loopholes that cost the state $445 million annually – money that could be spent improving public services or shoring up pension funds.

"We need to view tax expenditures like all other state spending," said Senator Toi Hutchinson, lead sponsor of SB 159. "What is their purpose? Do they work? Can we afford them? If not, we need to end them."
Closing wasteful tax loopholes is a key component of the We Are One Illinois coalition’s plan to fix the state’s underfunded pension system while protecting benefits for retired workers. That plan would eliminate $2 billion in loopholes, including the three in SB 1159.
The legislation, as amended, would eliminate three major loopholes that allow corporations to avoid state income taxes:
  • Taxing Foreign Dividends. Illinois doesn’t currently tax profits produced by corporate subsidiaries located in other countries, even when the company is headquartered in Illinois. Companies that aren’t generating business and creating jobs in the state shouldn’t be able to deduct these profits from their tax liability. Closing this loophole would generate $320 million annually.
  • Decoupling from Federal Domestic Activities Production Credit. Currently, Illinois allows a deduction for companies that are engaging in production activities that benefit other states. The reason this loophole persists is because Illinois is simply following the federal tax model – this is not something the state is required to do. It’s not fair for taxpayers to have to subsidize activities in other states that are trying to steal business away from Illinois. Put simply, just because a corporation is headquartered in Illinois does not necessarily mean that they are creating jobs here.  22 other states have decoupled and closing this loophole would generate $100 million annually.
  • Repealing the Noncombination Rule. While companies are required to file their taxes in a single combined return, large corporations have been able to set up complex tax avoidance structures by utilizing a loophole that exempts financial, transportation and insurance corporations. A number of large corporate institutions use this loophole to create a subsidiary in one of these categories and shift profits to avoid paying Illinois taxes. 23 states already have repealed this rule and closing this loophole would generate $25 million annually.
"Tax expenditures drain billions from the state coffers every year," said William McNary, co-director of Citizen Action/Illinois and legislative chair of the Responsible Budget Coalition. "They include loopholes that allow large profitable corporations to avoid state income taxes entirely, making it harder to fund our budget priorities and pay our back bills."
Any revenue captured through the closings would be dedicated towards paying down the state's $9 billion in past-due bills.
"Our state's key priorities, like education and human services, are being seriously underfunded because we don't have adequate revenue," said Rep. Will Davis, House sponsor of SB 1159. "This bill is a step towards setting our priorities right by cutting handouts to corporations rather than payments for schools and services."
Other lawmakers backing SB 1159 include Senators Melinda Bush, William Delgado, Michael Noland and Heather Steans, and Representatives Kelly Cassidy, Ken Dunkin, Marcus Evans, Greg Harris, Naomi Jakobsson, Bob Martwick, Brandon Phelps, Art Turner, Mike Smiddy, Chris Welch and Ann Williams.
If your representative or senator isn’t on this list, call them today and tell them it’s time to close wasteful loopholes and support SB 1159 – you can call toll-free at (888) 912-5959 or use our click-to-call tool.
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Thursday, June 20, 2013

CTU Holds Town hall Phone Meeting
By Jim Vail
Second City Teachers

Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis and vice president Jesse Sharkey held a town hall meeting over the phone with concerned CPS teachers about the current situation Wednesday, June 19th.

Several teachers and aides asked questions about the pension crisis, with one asking why is the union negotiating with the board of education over the teachers' pensions.

"If we don't," Lewis replied, "then they'll give us whatever they want."

While the CTU and CPS had agreed to provisions in the Madigan bill (with "guns pointed at their heads," according to one source), including a 2 year freeze for CPS paying into the pension fund, the bill did not pass.

Lewis made it clear that the devastating budget cuts - due to the new per pupil funding formula (Burley Elementary School is projecting to lose 5 teachers and held a protest earlier today) - are tied to the pension "reform" talks.

"The budget cuts indeed are tied to the pension negotiations," Lewis told the callers.

Lewis said the board of ed does not want to work with the CTU on retiree health care issues.

"All (CPS) wanted to do was talk about what will we give up," she said.

Lewis said the board would like teachers to pay 8% of their pension costs (today teachers put in 2% and CPS picks up 9%, which resulted from the previous teachers strike in 1987).  

One teacher called in to complain about the new IB program being implemented in high schools that has resulted in layoffs of regular teachers.

Sharkey said the union filed an unfair labor practice grievance and now the board wants to make a deal.  There will be an emergency meeting at the union offices at the Merchandise Mart this Monday and all teachers affected are welcome to attend, Sharkey said.

Another caller said he was laid off as a probationary teacher and told he had to apply to be in the teacher quality pool.

Sharkey responded that all tenured teachers with proficient or higher ratings are automatically in this pool.  Other teachers need to apply by providing two recommendations from administrators or instructional coaches, and complete an interview (a similar process for principals).

The CTU negotiated to have 50% of the reassignment pool hired by displaced teachers.  About 850 teachers lost their jobs due to the school closings and turnarounds, and more teachers are being cut due to the budget cuts.

Lewis again stressed that the CTU is looking at potential revenue sources to shore up the CPS budget deficit.  Among those are a stock trade tax, taxing the rich and putting TIF surplus funds back into the general operating budget.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Stripping schools to the bone

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is ready for the next stage in his cruel war on public education--and students and teachers will pay the price, writes Lee Sustar.
Students protest Emanuel's plan to close dozens of Chicago elementary schools (Sarah-ji)Students protest Emanuel's plan to close dozens of Chicago elementary schools (Sarah-ji)
AFTER CLAIMING that closing 50 elementary schools will improve the quality of public education, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials are preparing the way for cuts throughout the system that will lead to teacher layoffs, overcrowded classrooms and the elimination of what CPS calls "specials," like art and music instruction.
A new budget system for the schools--pushed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel's handpicked school board weeks after it approved the biggest round of school closures in a single city in U.S. history--is an attempt to use CPS's claimed $1 billion budget deficit to push forward with the latest craze in corporate school "reform." It's called "principal autonomy"--and the aim is to promote market-style "school choice" and weaken teachers unions.
"There is a literal wealth of revenue that the district has ignored," Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis said. "CPS claims to act in the interest of the children, but by cutting budgets up to 25 percent in lieu of going after potentially billions of dollars, one has to ask just how much are they really doing?"
The CTU has called for Emanuel to cover the deficit by releasing funds from the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program--basically a slush fund controlled by the mayor that diverts $250 million in property taxes from school funding each year to pay for real estate development schemes.
The union also is pressing CPS to renegotiate its costly interest rate swaps with banks that drained another $70 million from the system--and it wants a financial transaction tax to fund the schools, too.
Instead, however, Emanuel is determined to shield the bankers who back him by squeezing students and bashing the union that defeated him in last September's strike.
"I think it's the shock doctrine once again," said Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, a leading activist group challenging school closures and other CPS policies. Brown was referring to Naomi Klein's book The Shock Doctrine, which describes how capitalists have used natural disasters and economic crises to push harder for free-market policies.
"Closing schools is one blow," Brown said. "The other blow is to destabilize hundreds of schools by starving them. As the schools fail, they will come in with their solution--mass privatization," through the proliferation of charter schools.
There's a short-term political advantage for Emanuel as well: The new plan for per-pupil budgeting would push the crisis into hundreds of different schools, overwhelming teachers and parents while keeping the heat off City Hall. The funding formula puts more power in the hands of principals to make the cuts, instead of the central office--and gives those principals a clear incentive to purge veteran teachers by scrapping courses outside "core" areas.
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THE EDUCATION justice movement was quick to respond to Emanuel's latest maneuver, with members of Local School Councils (LSCs) rallying outside CPS headquarters on June 17--and dropping the proposed budget into a shredder.
"They closed 50 schools in Chicago and then cut millions of dollars from the rest of our schools," Anita Caballero of the Kelly High School LSC said at a press conference. "Meanwhile, the mayor is building another stadium with our tax dollars." Caballero was referring to a new pet project of Emanuel's: a new basketball arena for DePaul University, funded by $55 million in TIF money diverted from schools and other social services.
The new per-pupil budgeting system ties individual school budgets directly to the number of students, rather allocating teaching positions according to a formula based on average class sizes. This may sound reasonable, but CPS wants principals to pay teachers' salaries out of the same funds as supplies and other items. As one blogger put it, individual schools will face a choice between teachers and toilet paper.
Principals will be compelled to cut teaching staff--and, in particular, to take aim at the highest-paid veteran teachers. For example, the $1.1 million slashed from the budget of Theodore Roosevelt High School could result in the loss of up to 20 positions on a staff of 100. Those cuts would follow layoffs of one-third of the staff in 2010. Ironically, the cuts would come in the midst of an expensive renovation project at Roosevelt's 85-year-old building, which houses several small "learning communities" oriented on vocational education and will also host a new ROTC program.
Parent activists in the group Raise Your Hand began a recent meeting with a list of the cuts in other schools: $780,000 at Mitchell Elementary, $700,000 at Alcott, $186,000 at Pritzker, $275,000 at Goethe, $550,000 at Beasley, and $1 million at Gage Park High School.
"What CPS is doing is beyond imagination," said a high school teacher at one of the hardest-hit schools.
The only schools partially protected will be selective enrollment schools, where kids who are adept at taking tests gain placement, and some magnet schools, where a lucky minority win seats via a lottery system.
So despite a $400,000 total reduction in money from CPS, Disney Magnet Elementary School, with about 1,650 students, will lose only one clerical position and one-and-a-half counseling positions, thanks to money from grants, rental of the school parking lot and other funding sources. Only a relative handful of CPS schools have such funding alternatives.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
THE FINANCIAL disaster driving the latest budget cuts is the state public employee pension funds crisis.
Because CPS took a three-year pension payment "holiday"--that is, it skipped payments--it now owes $600 million to the Public School Teachers' Pension and Retirement Fund of Chicago. Emanuel, Chicago Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and CPS are pressuring the CTU to either accept state legislation that would sharply cut retirement benefits--or stand by as hundreds, if not thousands, of teaching jobs are eliminated.
There are many people who say the CPS budget crisis is exaggerated. Crain's Chicago Business recently pointed out that the claimed $1 billion deficit for the coming year will be radically reduced through a variety of means, including state revenues and property tax payments getting to CPS earlier than usual. "[T]he very fact that the CPS has been able to eliminate such a large deficit will raise some questions about how real the projected $1 billion figure really was," wrote journalist Greg Hinz.
Crisis or not, however, Emanuel was planning to push per-pupil funding and principal autonomy, no matter what. It's a strategy embraced across the political spectrum of corporate education reform.
On the right, the ultra-free-market libertarian journal Reason even published a handbook for school administrators to show them how to implement per-pupil budgeting in order to break up traditional school districts and further privatization. "We are moving away from a K-12 system funded by local resources and driven by residential assignment to a system where funding is driven by parental choice and student enrollment," the authors of the manual wrote.
The same strategy is given a more liberal framework by the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington, a research center funded by leading proponents of school reform such as the Gates and Broad Foundations. For the CRPE, per-pupil budgeting is inextricably linked to a "portfolio strategy" of school administration that embraces both traditional schools and charter schools.
The goal, CRPE makes clear, is to convert principals from being instructional leaders into being bosses who hire and fire at will, union contracts be damned: "The strategy demands that school leaders have authority to use money flexibly, for example, to extend their school's hours, vary class sizes according to student need and teacher ability, create their own mix of junior and senior teachers, and make tradeoffs between staff salaries and instructional technology or purchased services."
One key proponent of this approach is the Broad Institute, which trains big-city school superintendents. In Oakland, Calif., a Broad-trained superintendent used per-pupil budgeting to ram through a series of devastating cuts, as Rethinking Schools reported. Principals had a financial incentive to cut staff--and did so. "It all happened quietly, school by school," the magazine reported.
In New York City, former Schools Chancellor Joel Klein took a step in the direction of per-pupil budgeting by linking school budgets to the average salary of teachers at the site. He claimed this method would channel more funds to schools in poorer neighborhoods, where less experienced teachers were often located.
The result, however, was to put a target on the back of better-paid veteran teachers. "Before that, when a principal hired a teacher, it didn't matter what their salary was," said a high school teacher in New York. "Now, salary is something that every principal has to consider, because it affects their overall budget."
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THIS VISION of an empowered, budget-cutting, union-bashing principal captured Rahm Emanuel's imagination. In 2011, Emanuel announced that then-schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, held a special meeting of all school principals to inform them they'd have more independence--and would be under more pressure to perform.
Brizard got the boot shortly after the CTU strike. But his successor, Byrd-Bennett, accelerated the principal-empowerment program.
A former head of the Cleveland public schools who went on to preside over a scorched-earth downsizing at the Detroit Public Schools, Byrd-Bennett is a key player in corporate school reform. She even maintained her position as a "coach" at the Broad Institute for several months after taking over as the head of CPS, with special permission from Board of Education President David Vitale.
In February, a few months after taking over as schools CEO, Byrd-Bennett announced the Principal Quality Strategy, which dangled bonuses ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 in front of principals to try induce them to ratchet up student test scores. Next came per-pupil budgeting, billed as "part of CPS's ongoing effort to increase principal accountability."
After being taken down a peg in last year's teachers' strike, when the CTU held the line against the mayor's most cherished plans for the schools, Emanuel and his apparatchik Byrd-Bennett are determined to show who's boss.
This latest attack from Emanuel and CPS means that the CTU, parents and their community allies will have to fight on three fronts.
In the state legislature, teachers have to continue to work alongside other public-sector unions to guard against a pension "fix" that would slash benefits, raise the retirement age or both. Across CPS, parents and teachers will need to bring together scores of scattered fights against budget cuts into a single protest movement for fully funded education. And in the schools, CTU members will have to make use of new contract language that protects them against bullying and other expressions of "principal autonomy."
So nine months after the CTU strike, the struggle to defend public education in Chicago is far from over.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

CPS Teacher Leads Protest Against DePaul TIF
By Jim Vail
Second City Teacher

Erika Wozniak organized a protest at DePaul University two weeks ago against the mayor's decision to give the private school $55 million in TIF tax monies to build a stadium while at the same time he closes the most public schools ever (50) because the schools have a huge budget deficit.

Wozniak called out the mayor for saying the public schools have to be closed because there is no money, then giving away tax money to a private institution.

The mayor represents the business class, and he has to deceive the public into thinking their interests are the same as the millionaires who funded his election.

Wozniak said she got about 20 people to protest at DePaul and had over 1400 people sign her petition to tell the mayor to give the TIF monies back to the schools that need it.

"This goes against everything I learned at DePaul," Wozniak told Second City Teacher.  "We were always reading Jonathan Kozol (who writes about social justice) while others were reading Charlotte Danielson and looking at lessons."

Wozniak graduated from DePaul in 2004 and has been teaching in the Chicago Public Schools for 10 years.  She teaches 5th grade today at Oriole Park Elementary School.

When she heard about the dirty stadium deal going down to move DePaul basketball games to a new facility at the McCormick Place, she said she couldn't sit still.

She said she quickly emailed about 20 DePaul professors to see if they agreed this idea was crazy, and three responded.  One, she said, was Prof. Kenneth Saltman, an outspoken and eloquent writer about the privatization of education.

The faculty did write a letter to the DePaul president expressing their opposition to the announcement by the city.

While the athletes on campus were told to steer clear from signing any petitions or showing any sympathies toward the Blue Demon protesters, two basketball players in fact signed on, Wozniak said.

"I was very pleased with the reaction of the students and community in Lincoln Park as well, at one point there was a line waiting to sign my petition:," Wozniak wrote.  "The ONLY ones who refused to sign were athletes, which I later found out their coaches telling them NOT to sign.  They looked like fools after two of the BASKETBALL players eagerly signed!"

Wozniak said she's now handing off the protesting to the current students at DePaul.  Some of the students who protested have started a group called Students United for Educational Justice, which is already formed at the University of Chicago.

DePaul and other university students have a rich recent history protesting injustices.   Several years ago students were protesting sweatshop labor and forcing universities to sever its ties to clothing companies with contracts.

Monday, June 17, 2013

No Child Left Behind Reauthorization Revived By Harkin Bill

After more than a year of near-dormancy in the Senate, the rocky process of rewriting No Child Left Behind is getting a new start.

On Tuesday, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the retiring chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, released a new 1,150-page bill to update the law.

The initial, sweeping education law was the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, and an expansive 2001 reauthorization under George W. Bush took the name "No Child Left Behind." NCLB was the first law to tie federal school funding and sanctions to annual performance
goals for public schools. Under the law, schools are supposed to have achieved 100 percent proficiency in math and English for their students by 2014 -- a daunting goal that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has called "utopian."

NCLB has been up for reauthorization since 2007.

Harkin's bill, known as the "Strengthening America's Schools Act of 2013," contains a softer version of those annual goals, with a focus on "continuous improvement" and "college and career academic content."

States can choose between three models of accountability to accomplish that improvement. It would also require states to implement teacher and principal evaluations that rely in part on student achievement, as defined by states. According to a bill summary, it aims to "ensur[e] ... disadvantaged students get the supports they need to succeed" and establishes a more balanced state-federal partnership to make sure that

A fact sheet circulated with the bill outlines common complaints regarding NCLB, such its "inflexible benchmarks" for school performance, its "pressure to 'teach to the test'" and "prescriptive, Washington-generated accountability models." The release asserts that the new measure would alleviate these issues.

While Harkin's bill is sure to be a welcome sign to teachers and administrators who are sick of what they call the punitive nature of the old law, the political prospects of the new version are unclear.

Congress is still toxically polarized. While the negotiations on the bill began in bipartisan fashion, sources say that Republicans such as Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the committee's ranking member, pulled out a few weeks ago when the annual goals were added.

Moreover, the Obama administration has gutted NCLB's most hated provisions by issuing waivers to states that agree to certain parts of the fed's education agenda: rigorous learning standards, specific models for turning around underperforming schools and teacher evaluations tied
in part to student test scores. To date, 37 states have applied for the waivers, which have likely reduced the political pressure to overhaul the long-expired bill.

The Harkin bill would allow any state to continue using accountability systems that have been approved by the secretary of education. (States would, however, have to adopt a provision that imposes consequences on schools with students in poverty that didn't improve.) "If not, a state
will adopt an accountability system that is equally ambitious and holds all students to high expectations of student achievement," according to the summary. These systems must include criteria for student achievement and growth, high school graduation rates and English language
proficiency. States would also each identify their lowest-performing 5 percent of schools with poor students as "priority schools," and "focus schools" would consist of the 10 percent of schools with poor students and the largest achievement gaps.

In fall 2011, Harkin released a bipartisan version of a reauthorization bill. (While the bill made it through committee markup, Harkin said he did not want it brought to the floor until the House produced a bipartisan NCLB, which never happened.) That version mandated teacher evaluations tied in part to students' test scores, but that provision that was struck to increase common ground with Republicans, who argued
that the measure handed too much control to the federal government.

It also did away with annual goals altogether, a move that caused a coalition of civil rights, education and business groups to object. The coalition, which included NAACP, La Raza, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Democrats for Education Reform, issued a statement last year saying
they could "not support the bill at this time" because of its "weak accountability system" that "excludes the vast majority of children we represent."

Harkin's staff, says Barone, DFER's policy director, seems to have taken those complaints into consideration when writing the new bill. "It would appear they heard the criticism they heard from business groups and civil rights groups that they need to have something stronger on accountability," Barone said. But it was unclear to him exactly how accountability would work under the new bill. "It's weaker than most of
us would have wanted on that score, but it's an improvement over where they were last year."

Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, an education lobbying group that criticized last year's bill, lauded the current bill for closing what's known as the "comparability loophole," a longstanding problem that has allowed states to use money set aside for poor students on wealthier students within the same district. Kate Tromble, EdTrust's legislative director, lauded the bill for "its attempts to attend for the need to the transition between where states are now and new assessments."

Still, Barone said, there are some loopholes. After a seven-year push to define graduation rates narrowly -- in an effort to make sure schools don't try to finesse their data -- the new bill, Barone said, would let states off easy by allowing them to count students with GEDs among those who have graduated. "For a bill that starts out emphasizing college and career ready, it gets undone somewhat by creating a standard for high school graduation that's anything goes," he said.

Harkin's rewrite contains a new focus on children's years before kindergarten, requiring states to develop guidelines for student abilities prior to that point; to provide "greater access to high-quality literacy instruction" in early childhood education; and encourages full-day kindergarten programs. Under the law, states' lowest-performing schools would be required to expand their early childhood education programs.

The bill would also create an "equity score card" to inform parents of schools' climate, opportunities, assessments and funding.