Monthly Archives: August 2013

Protestors Boycott CPS on 50th Anniversary of March on Washington


Yesterday, on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington (and just two months shy of the 50th anniversary of the 1963 Boycott), almost 500 students, parents, teachers, and activists boycotted school and marched on CPS headquarters and City Hall.  Organized by community groups including Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) and Action Now, the march was peaceful, succinct, and concluded with members of the protest being admitted to a meeting of the CPS School Board.  The primary objective of the protest was to call for an elected school board, among other demands.  See our earlier post.

The ’63 Boycott production team was out in the streets to capture interviews with protestors.  Surprisingly, we ran into several people who had participated in the 1963 Boycott, including a retired CPS teacher and who had taught classes in a Willis Wagon.  She told us, “They were hot, they had no windows, if you had an emergency you had to get on an intercom, at lot of times they didn’t answer …”  Expect to see some of this awesome new footage in our upcoming documentary.

Photos by Jeff Perlman and Arlen Parsa

New School Year Begins Amid Controversy

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Abel Uribe / Chicago Tribune

It’s gonna be a hot one, as they say, and while CPS students are hitting lunch period on their first day of school, temperatures will be climbing to nearly 100 degrees.  But that’s not where the real heat is.  This school year will witness the effects of a number of controversial decisions – the closings of 49 public schools, deep budget cuts to CPS neighborhood schools – that may ultimately determine the future of public education in this city.

Kids returning to school today do so amid protest, with a citywide school boycott being organized for Wednesday.  Here are some highlights from recent media coverage of the schools controversy – this is what students are walking into:

    •  In the photo above from the Chicago Tribune’s live blog, Mayor Rahm Emanuel escorts students to O’Toole Elementary along a Safe Passage route in Englewood.  Jackson Potter, staff coordinator for the Chicago Teacher’s Union, showed up at O’Toole.  John Byrne reports:

After shouting at Emanuel to use TIF money to shore up the school district’s finances, a salvo the mayor ignored, Potter called Safe Passage “a band-aid” that fails to address the causes of violence.

“It’s only budgeted for a year, and of course right now they have all the police, fire trucks and everything to show this big spectacle,” Potter said as a police helicopter buzzed over O’Toole. “But in reality, there’s no guarantee this is going to be here a year from now, and there’s plenty of routes that children come before the Safe Passage routes are available, after school when it’s late and they’re in after-school programs. They can’t guarantee their safety.”

    • Safe Passage has become a focal point of the schools controversy.  The Safe Passage program consists of routes to neighborhood schools that have workers in yellow vests placed every few hundred feet, the goal being to keep students safe from crime.  One of the main points held by critics of the CPS closings is that the closings will force students to cross gang boundaries in order to attend their new schools, making them more vulnerable to violence.  The newly invigorated Safe Passage program is the city’s way of addressing those fears, even though the shooting of five men in Uptown and a murder on the South Side, both along Safe Passage routes, just seems to confirm them.  Additionally, WBEZ has published an analysis of violent crime in the areas surrounding Safe Passage routes, which have seen 100 shootings and 12 murders this year.  
    • “Welcoming schools” were designated to accommodate the 12,000 students whose schools were closed this year.  Of those students, 2,200 have not been enrolled in their new schools.  WBEZ’s Linda Lutton wrote an excellent article charting the diaspora.
    • 850 teachers were laid off and an additional 2,100 district employees were fired.  Many teachers who had their positions cut or schools closed were added to a substitute pool.  Lauren Fitzpatrick profiles three teachers for the Chicago Sun-Times.


Feel free to share your experiences during the first day of school with us in the comments box below.

Citywide Boycott Planned for Third Day of CPS School Year

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Today in Chicago, education activists held a press conference to announce a citywide school boycott is being called on August 28, 2013.  Timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the demonstration is sponsored by several organizations, including Action Now and Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO).  Similar protests will be taking place in cities in 16 states all across the country.  Read the flyer in an earlier blog post.

Students, parents, and activists are gathering at CPS headquarters, 125 S. Clark St, at 10 am next Wednesday, to protest the closings of 50 Chicago Public schools, budget cuts to neighborhood schools, and to call for an elected school board.  ABC 7 reports:


Read the full article and visit the boycott’s Facebook page to learn more.

Do you think a school boycott is needed?  Will you be participating?  Let us know in the comments box below.

New Film Documents Effects of CPS Closings

Kari Lyderson writes for Crain’s Chicago Business about a feature-length documentary chronicling the impact of the closing of 50 Chicago Public Schools on the community. The film is being made as a collaboration between several Chicago filmmakers, including our own Rachel Dickson and Gordon Quinn:

For Mr. Quinn, the project dovetails with one he already had in the works: a film commemorating the 50th anniversary of a student boycott of Chicago Public Schools in 1963.

“The issue back then was segregation,” he said. “There are ongoing parallels in that our city schools always get the short end of the stick.”

Read the full article here.

CPS Demolishes Pilsen School Fieldhouse

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Photo by Fred Klonsky

Many members of the Pilsen community were outraged this weekend when, without warning, CPS demolished the fieldhouse at Whitter Elementary.  The fieldhouse, nicknamed “La Casita,” had served as a community organizing and recreation center, as well as a computer lab.  Construction crews accompanied by police arrived in the middle of an Aztec dance class on Friday night, told the dancers to leave and removed all equipment.  On Saturday morning, bulldozers finished the job while 50 activists, parents, and teachers watched.  10 protestors were arrested.

There are some members of the community who feel that the fieldhouse was a dilapidated hazard, and ready for demolition.  CPS determined back in May that La Casita was in imminent danger of collapse, and plans to replace the building with basketball courts, a soccer field and a new playground.  But the building was also a symbol.  In 2010, when CPS first tried to demolish the La Casita, protestors held a 43-day sit-in to save the structure so that it could be turned into a library.  As WBEZ’s Linda Lutton points out, this brought to light the fact that 164 CPS schools didn’t have libraries.

While Whittier’s sit-in attracted book donations from all across the country, remodeling plans fell to the wayside, and parents say that the school still does not have a library.  It’s likely that many of those 164 schools, if they haven’t been closed, also still don’t have libraries.  CPS will say the money just isn’t there, perhaps pointing the finger at the pension crisis.

Last week, the Chicago Reader’s Ben Joravsky published an interview with a principal of a Chicago Public School, talking candidly about how she’s managing her school’s resources with the new budget cuts.  Recently, CPS awarded a 3-year, no-bid $20 million contract to the Supes Academy, a principal training program that used to employ Superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennet.  Of her experience in the program, the principal interviewed in the Reader had this to say:

“I went to that training for four days—for six to eight hours each day,” says Jackie. “I became less intelligent after I went through that. I had three days with a guy who was breezing through a PowerPoint and telling us how he did it when he was principal. If you asked a question, he’d tell you another war story. What a waste of money. Imagine all the teachers we could hire with that $20 million.”

Is CPS starving?

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In an op-ed piece for the Chicago Sun-Times calling for a citywide school boycott, CPS teacher Timothy Meegan outlines the strategy behind privatizing public schools.  The goal:  return on investment.  Read Meegan’s powerful argument in its entirety below:

On Wednesday July 24, I was physically removed from a Chicago Board of Education meeting after I waited four hours to speak for two minutes. I timed it at two minutes and five seconds, but I was not allowed to finish. While board member Henry Bienen nodded off, I tried to say what I had to say:

“…and now we are faced with budget cuts so severe that the remaining schools are left wondering how they will function at all? What the Sun-Times declares a conspiracy theory [editorial, July 21] is self-evident to me — that our schools are being starved into failure in order to justify mass privatization. Fifty schools closed and over 20 new charter schools. Three thousand layoffs and $1.6 million to bring in Teach for America novices. Another $20 million on an academy for principals. All connected, along with the CEO of CPS, to the Broad Foundation.”

The Broad Foundation also finances Teach for America and the principal academy in use in CPS, called SUPES. Teach for America places new college graduates in inner-city classrooms for two years with a mere five weeks of classroom training. I expect some will replace the professional career service teachers CPS laid off. CPS funds these two programs as well, to the combined total of over $21.6 million this year, in the face of steep budget cuts to neighborhood schools.

On WTTW’s Chicago Tonight on September 19, 2012, venture capitalist and Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner explained the venture philanthropy agenda. Rauner declared his desire to “blow up” the district and create “smaller networks of schools competing for resources…through charters, contracts, and independent providers.”

The Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), an education privatization think tank, calls this model a portfolio district, similar to an investment portfolio. CPS has adopted that term and, last summer, CPS’ Portfolio Office staff joined the head of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools and New Schools for Chicago for a portfolio school district meeting in Seattle. CRPE developed the student-based budgeting model CPS is putting in place this year and considers it a critical component of implementing a portfolio district.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his pro-privatization friends want to blow up the public education system in this city by implementing CRPE’s vision. All they lacked was the crisis to justify radical change. Solution? Make one.

First there was the bogus pretext of underutilization and mass school closures. Terms such as “right sizing” and “high quality seats” came from the Broad “School Closure Guide.” The chair of CPS’ Commission on School Utilization and Byrd-Bennett admitted the underutilization formula was flawed but CPS proceeded to close schools anyway.

CPS said its deficit was $1 billion. That’s a lot of money. CPS has not faced an “historic” deficit like this since last year, when it was $700 million. But at the end of fiscal year they ended with a surplus of $344 million. They manufacture deficits by moving money around from one reserve to another. This year, the deficit was closed with $700 million in “reserve” funds! The entire city is facing deep budget cuts. But charter and contract school budgets are up over $85 million, while the parent group Raise Your Hand reports classroom cuts exceeding $98 million and still counting. Feast for charter/contract schools, and famine for public schools.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said “… the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina.” Byrd-Bennett’s colleague at the Broad Foundation Neerav Kingsland, currently CEO of New Schools for New Orleans, has laid out how to develop a portfolio district in the absence of a crisis. In “An Open Letter to Urban Superintendents in the USA,” he advocates not for reform but “relinquishment” to independent school providers. Many of the details may be familiar to CPS parents:

“…take over failing schools from districts and authorize new charter schools. This will give you the pressure and cover your need to be aggressive. Then rigorously approve charters. Give the schools you do approve free facilities. Close failing schools. Repeat for five years. Then utilize alternative human capital providers to grow your talent base.”

The formula for privatizing districts is the same all over the country: Open charters operated by private organizations. Simultaneously defund neighborhood schools, declare them “failing,” and then close them. Fire certified professional teachers and replace them with temporary, unskilled TFA recruits.

But parents do not want a portfolio district. Parents want strong neighborhood public schools. We believe public education is a social service; they should be run more like a family than a business. It is wrong to operate schools as tax shelters or investment opportunities — because the profit motive distorts outcomes for children. If allowed to continue there will be no public school system in Chicago, but a system of several charter school operators whose investors will profit handsomely off of our kids. As a CPS teacher, my hands are tied. But as a parent and taxpayer, I am willing to take drastic action to save my son’s public school.

Parents and students have been calling for a boycott of school this fall. Only parents can stop this madness. A school boycott will be painful for families, but I think it is worth a parent-led debate and discussion. The alternative is too costly. Once the public schools are gone, they are gone for good.

Timothy Meegan is a nationally board certified teacher at Roosevelt High School, a Chicago public school.

The president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, Andrew Broy, shot back with “Setting facts straight on charter schools.”  Mr. Broy responds broadly to many of Meegan’s assertions, pointing to charter schools as a reasonable alternative and one better suited to deal with the “grim reality” of “Chicago’s budget crisis”:

Charter schools are serving more than 50,000 Chicago students, and there are thousands more clamoring to attend.  Much of the rhetoric describing charter public schools as “private” or “privately run” not only misses the mark, it also disrespects the choices of thousands of parents who have decided that charter schools provide the best education. The simple reality is that charter schools exist only because parents choose them. No one in the city is assigned to a charter school. Without parent demand, there is no charter sector.

What do you think?  Is there a conspiracy to “starve” public schools out of existence?  Or are charter schools simply a better alternative chosen by many parents?  Let us know.

CPS Gets Ready for a Bleak Back-to-School

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This week was a tough one for advocates of CPS neighborhood schools.  On Wednesday, a lawsuit filed by the Chicago Teacher’s Union to keep 10 closing public schools open was denied.  Despite recommendations made by independent hearing officers to keep the 10 schools open, the school board shuttered them this Spring, along with 39 other public schools across the city.

The news coincided with revelations that budget cuts to CPS classrooms would vastly exceed the school board’s estimates.  CPS’s preliminary budget predicted $68 million in classroom cuts; take hikes at contract and charter schools out of the equation, and the reduction in funding to CPS neighborhood schools is over $100 million.  According to parent advocate group Raise Your Hand, the hit could total up to $162 million.

“The cut to traditional CPS schools is huge,” said Wendy Katten, co-founder of Raise Your Hand. “It’s not about cutting because they needed to balance the budget, it’s because they chose to redistribute money to areas they wanted to prioritize.”
– Chicago Tribune, 07/31/13

Already, questions are being raised about the cuts.  Mayor Emanuel has denied the use of TIF (Tax Increment Financing) money in closing the schools’ budget deficit, stating that nearly all of the $1.7 billion in TIF-funds is set aside for TIF-related projects.  Further, Catalyst Chicago is calling for the investigation of a three-year, no-bid $20 million contract awarded to a teacher and administrator training program that CPS Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennet used to work for.

Progress Illinois has published an interview with Irene Robinson, a 48-year old African American woman living on the South Side, and her granddaughter Akilra, talking about the effect that the closure of their neighborhood school will have on their family.  Their defiant and perseverant speech mirrors that of parents and students 50 years ago, just as dissatisfied with the quality of Chicago’s public education as they are today.  Read the full story or watch below:


UPDATE:  WBEZ’s Linda Lutton has posted an audio recording of a public hearing on Thursday night that turned into a poisonous confrontation between CPS Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley and community members.  One outraged parent even went so far as to call for a mass boycott:

“I personally feel that voices calling for a boycott sound a lot more necessary and just next to the empty promises of Rahm Emanuel and his handpicked school board.”