Second City Teacher

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By Jim Vail

April 20, 2013


I'm sure many of us have had the great fortune to go head to head with a zealous missionary who claims to hold the key to our salvation.

You see them, Jehova Witnesses holding their Bibles and going door to door, or those two white kids in the white collar shirts and tie biking or busing around in the hood, Mormons on a mission.

I just didn't expect to get whacked with the Truth at a bar in Logan Square the other night.

This missionary happened to be a charter school teacher at the Nobel Charter High School. 

She said public school teachers are greedy and their evil union is keeping bad teachers in the classroom.

Have you ever tried to reason or argue with a missionary?

I don't recommend it.

When I told this person that we would like to unite with charter school teachers to ensure better working conditions and compensation, her eyes only flashed brighter.

"We are doing it for the kids, you are doing this for a career," she snapped matter of factly.

I couldn't argue, I tried, but I couldn't.

Try convincing a Mormon that God doesn't exist.

I tried to make the case that unions have built up the middle class in this country and helped redistribute the wealth.

I tried to say that unions merely provide due process and should not be blamed for management's decision to hire "bad teachers" in the first place.  

No go. Forget it.  It was like I landed from the moon, and I needed to learn how things work on this planet.

"I tried for four years to work for Nobel Charter schools," she said.  "I begged Mike Milkie for a job until he finally relented.  They do an amazing job."

Interestingly enough, like many missionaries whose parents fought the revolution to ditch religion in favor of socialism, this charter school zealot worked for four years at a southwest side public school filled with "bad teachers!"

Noble saved her life.

"You know," she continued.  "The days of working 30 years for a school are over."

I said thanks for the reality check.

By the way, I asked her why she hugged her friend who was just heading to the bathroom.

That was because she had some positive news to tell her that she would be interviewing with a company that works with foreign exchange students in Denver.  Her husband just lost his job as a graphic designer, so she needs to stay positive.

Well, you can certainly say charter school teachers are realistic - despite their dubious mission.



Pope School Closing Hearing for Civil Rights 

By Jim Vail

April 17, 2013


There are many arguments being made against the absurdity of closing so many public schools in the city. 

They include crossing gang boundaries, or major four-lane highways to transferring to a lower performing school, or being forced to consolidate into a building that will see class sizes once again escalate.

I chose to focus on the later at the Pope Elementary School closing hearing last week.

I am currently reading a fascinating book called Family Properties by Beryl Satter about racial exploitation in real estate in Lawndale in the 1950s and 1960s, exactly where Pope school is located.  The book states how black people were forced to live in small sections of the city like the west side because of racial politics, which resulted in cramped living conditions and overcrowded schools.  Even though there were underutilized schools in white neighborhoods, the author writes, the Chicago Public Schools Superintendent Benjamin Willis refused to make them available for the black students.

So I told the hearing, what happened next was nothing short of amazing - 225,000 students boycotted the schools to force the city to relieve the overcrowded black schools and enforce the Brown vs. Board of Ed ruling to de-segregate the schools.  By the summer of 1964, a total of 28 black students had been transferred, according to Family Properties.

Now today, 2013, we are reversing those decrees.  The good people at Chopin Elementary state that class sizes will increase to 40 students when the students at Lafayette transfer to their school, a number CPS says is alright as long as you have your superman teacher leading the class.

Pope students are supposed to head to Johnson Elementary School, a school turnaround run by a private AUSL management company. 

More overcrowded black public schools in Lawndale - let the ghost of Al Raby who led almost daily marches live on in todays dark times.

"We are going backwards," I told hearing officers, who merely stared in response.  "We are reversing everything gained in the Civil Rights era."

Once again at the Pope hearing you had beautiful children read statements in support of their school, their teachers, their family.  Teachers spoke about how children will be forced to cross gang territories.

"Please do not close our school," stated teachers and students over and over.

The real estate twist even came into the fray.

Valerie Leonard, a community activist who ran for alderman, said another vacant school building in the Lawndale community will only further hurt the real estate values of the surrounding area.  She said there are homes built worth more than $400,000 near the school, courtesy of the late Chicago Board of Ed president and real estate mover and shaker Michael Scott, who abruptly ended his life after Chicago lost out on its bid to host the summer Olympics a few years ago.

"What will this do to (Michael Scott's) legacy," Leonard asked the group assembled.

There were perhaps roughly 75 people who gathered at Manley High School on Pope School.



School Closing Sham Hearings BeginBy Jim Vail

April 7, 2013

One name to call the next round of school closing hearings the Chicago Board of Education has announced would be kangaroo court hearings.

The great show trials of Stalin come to mind when thousands of parents, school staff and students beg before their executioner to keep their schools open.

The hearing officers work for the city.  And their boss, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said there is no need to negotiate any further.  The closings are final -  let the show trials begin.

There is nothing more disheartening then to see children cry at past hearings about how the school they love will close. 

But the show must go on.

The current CORE-led union leadership first made its name by fighting the school closings hard.  It actually threw off the old guard - Mayor Daley shortly thereafter announced his retirement and Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart lost the last union election to Karen Lewis and CORE.

Deals were made during the fight, and several schools were taken off the list. 

However, that was then.

Today, the new neoliberal mayor extraordinaire Rahm Emanuel has announced the biggest school closing list in the country to date.

Do you think Emanuel - on behalf of his rich business benefactors - wants to show the country who runs the city after CORE led the first major teachers strike in Chicago last fall?

Teachers I have spoken to in some of the schools slated to be closed on the southwest side said the union should have addressed the school closings during the strike.

Word has it the city demanded the union either give up their pensions, or face major job cuts.

Today is one hell of a fight between the teachers and public schools and the business elite and Rahm Emanuel.

What the city wants is a civil dialogue and peace in the streets to show the country there is no problem.

In order to save these schools and public education in Chicago - something much more radical must happen. 

How much do these communities want to save their schools?  We shall see in these next few weeks. 

Below is a list of the school closing hearings.

> Saturday April 6th
> North:
> 4/6/13, 10:00am - 12:00pm: Belmont Cragin K-8 with Northwest
> Middle (Belmont Cragin preK program remains in current
> location); community hearing at Prosser HS, 2148 N. Long
> Ave.
> South:
> 4/6/13, 10:00am - 12:00pm: Noble-Comer coshare with Revere
> ES, community hearing at Kenwood HS, 5015 S. Blackstone
> Ave.
> 4/6/13, 10:00am - 12:00pm: Montessori Charter of
> Englewood  coshare with O’Toole, community hearing at
> Englewood HS Campus, 6201 S. Stewart Ave.
> 4/6/13, 10:00am - 12:00pm: Close Songhai into Curtis;
> community hearing at Harlan HS, 9652 S. Michigan Ave.
> 4/6/13, 12:30pm – 2:30pm: New KIPP coshare with Hope HS,
> community hearing at Englewood HS Campus, 6201 S. Stewart
> Ave.
> 4/6/13, 3-5pm: Close Yale into Harvard; community hearing at
> Englewood HS Campus, 6201 S. Stewart Ave.
> 4/6/13, 3-5pm: Kwame Nkrumah Charter with Gresham; community
> hearing at Harlan HS, 9652 S. Michigan Ave.
> West:
> 4/6/13, 10:00am - 12:00pm; Close King into Jensen; community
> hearing at Young HS, 211 S. Laflin St.
> 4/6/13, 10:00am - 12:00pm: Close Armstrong and May into
> Leland @ May (new STEM program at Leland); community hearing
> at Austin HS Campus, 231 North Pine Ave.
> 4/6/13, 12:30pm – 2:30pm: Close Ericson into Sumner (new
> STEM program at Sumner); community hearing at Manley HS,
> 2935 W. Polk St.
> 4/6/13, 12:30pm – 2:30pm: Close Garfield Park into
> Faraday; community hearing at Young HS, 211 S. Laflin St.
> 4/6/13, 3-5pm: Richard T. Crane Medical Prep HS with Chicago
> Talent Development HS and Richard T. Crane Technical Prep
> HS; community hearing at Young HS, 211 S. Laflin St.
> Monday, April 8th 2013
> 4/8/13, 5-7pm: Close Stewart into Brennemann; community
> hearing at Amundsen HS, 5110 N. Damen Ave.
> 4/8/13, 5-7pm: Close Peabody into Otis, community hearing at
> Clemente HS, 1147 N. Western Ave.
> 4/8/13, 5-7pm: Close Trumbull into Chappell, McPherson, and
> McCutcheon; community hearing at Amundsen HS, 5110 N. Damen
> Ave.
> 4/8/13, 7:30pm - 9:30pm: Close Lafayette into Chopin,
> community hearing at Clemente HS, 1147 N. Western Ave.
> 4/8/13, 7:30pm – 9:30pm: Close Stockton into Courtenay @
> Stockton; community hearing at Amundsen HS, 5110 N. Damen
> Ave.
> 4/8/13, 5pm-7pm: Close Pershing West into Pershing East @
> Pershing West; community hearing at Dunbar H.S., 3000 S.
> King Dr.
> 4/8/13, 5:30pm-7:30pm: Close Overton into Mollison (new IB
> program at Mollison); community hearing at Dunbar HS, 3000
> S. King Dr.
> 4/8/13, 5-7pm: Close Canter into Harte and Ray; community
> hearing at Kenwood HS, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave.
> 4/8/13, 7:30pm - 9:30pm: Close Ross into Dulles; community
> hearing at Kenwood HS, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave.
> 4/8/13, 5-7pm: Close M. Jackson into Fort Dearborn;
> community hearing at Harper HS, 6520 S. Wood St.
> 4/8/13, 5-7pm: Close Owens into Gompers (new STEM program at
> Gompers); ; community hearing at Harlan HS, 9652 S. Michigan
> Ave.
> 4/8/13, 7:30pm – 9:30pm: Close West Pullman into Haley
> (new Fine and Performing Arts program at Haley); community
> hearing at Harlan HS, 9652 S. Michigan Ave.
> 4/8/13, 5-7pm: Close Bethune into Gregory; community hearing
> at Manley HS, 2935 W. Polk St.
> 4/8/13, 5-7pm: Close Ryerson into Ward @ Ryerson (new STEM
> program at Ward); community hearing at Raby HS, 3545 W.
> Fulton Blvd.
> 4/8/13, 7:30pm - 9:30pm:Close Henson into C. Hughes;
> community hearing at Manley HS, 2935 W. Polk St.
> 4/8/13, 7:30pm - 9:30pm: Dodge coshare with Morton,
> community hearing at Raby HS, 3545 W. Fulton Blvd.
> Tuesday, April 9th 2013
> 4/9/13, 5-7pm - Close De Duprey and Von Humboldt into De
> Diego (new IB programme at De Diego); community hearing at
> Clemente HS, 1147 N. Western Ave.
> 4/9/13, 5 -7pm:  Close Parkman into Sherwood; community
> hearing at Dunbar HS, 3000 S. King Dr.
> 4/9/13, 5 -7pm: Close Mayo into Wells @ Mayo (new IB
> programme at Wells); community hearing at Kenwood HS, 5015
> S. Blackstone Ave.
> 4/9/13, 5-7pm - Close Goodlow into Earle @ Goodlow (new STEM
> program at Earle); community hearing at Lindblom HS, 6130 S.
> Wolcott Ave.
> 4/9/13, 5-7pm:  Close Woods into Bass; community
> hearing at Harper HS, 6520 S. Wood St.
> 4/9/13, 5-7pm: Close Kohn into Cullen, Lavizzo, and L.
> Hughes (new STEM program in L. Hughes); community hearing at
> Harlan HS, 9652 S. Michigan Ave.
> 4/9/13, 7:30pm - 9:30pm: Phase out Attucks over 2 years,
> close into Beethoven Fall 2015; community hearing at Dunbar
> HS, 3000 S. King Dr.
> 4/9/13, 7:30pm - 9:30pm: Close Sexton into Fiske @ Sexton
> (new IB programme at Fiske); community hearing at Kenwood
> HS, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave.
> 4/9/13, 7:30pm - 9:30pm: Close Bontemps into Nicholson (new
> STEM program at Nicholson); community hearing at Harper HS,
> 6520 S. Wood St.
> 4/9/13, 7:30pm - 9:30pm: Close Garvey into Mount Vernon;
> community hearing at Harlan HS, 9652 S. Michigan Ave.
> 4/9/13, 5 – 7pm: Close Herbert into Dett @ Herbert;
> community hearing at Young HS, 211 S. Laflin St.
> 4/9/13, 5 -7pm: Close Calhoun into Cather, community hearing
> at Raby H S, 3545 W. Fulton Blvd.
> 4/9/13, 5pm-7pm:Close Pope into Johnson; community hearing
> at Manley HS, 2935 W. Polk St
> 4/9/13, 7:30pm - 9:30pm:  Close Paderewski into
> Cardenas and Castellanos; community hearing at Manley HS,
> 2935 W. Polk St
> 4/9/13, 7:30pm - 9:30pm: Close Marconi into Tilton (new STEM
> program at Tilton); community hearing at Raby HS, 3545 W.
> Fulton Blvd.
> Wednesday, April 10th 2013
> 4/10/13, 5-7pm: Close Peabody into Otis, community hearing
> at Clemente HS, 1147 N. Western Ave.
> 4/10/13, 5 - 7pm:  Disney II expansion with Marshall
> Middle; community hearing at Schurz HS, 3601 N. Milwaukee
> Ave.
> 4/10/13, 5pm- 7pm: Close Manierre into Jenner (new IB
> program at Jenner); community hearing at Lincoln Park HS,
> 2001 N. Orchard St.
> 4/10/13, 7:30pm - 9:30pm - Close Near North and Buckingham
> into Montefiore; community hearing at Lincoln Park HS, 2001
> N. Orchard St.
> 4/10/13, 7:30pm - 9:30pm: Close Lafayette into Chopin,
> community hearing at Clemente HS, 1147 N. Western Ave.
> 4/10/13, 5- 7pm: Close Dumas into Wadsworth @ Dumas (new
> STEM program at Wadsworth); community hearing at Kenwood HS,
> 5015 S. Blackstone Ave.
> 4/10/13, 5-7pm: Close Banneker into Mays @ Banneker;
> community hearing at Harper HS, 6520 S. Wood St.
> 4/10/13, 5 - 7pm:  New Noble HS coshare with Corliss
> HS, community hearing at Chicago Vocational Career Academy
> HS, 2100 E. 87th St.
> 4/10/13, 5 - 7pm:  Close Lawrence into Burnham @
> Lawrence; community hearing at Harlan HS, 9652 S. Michigan
> Ave.
> 4/10/13, 5-8pm: Close Williams ES and Williams MS into Drake
> @ Williams; co-locate with Urban Prep; community hearing at
> Dunbar HS, 3000 S. King Dr.
> 4/10/13, 5-8pm: Drake with Urban Prep Academy for Young Men
> – Bronzeville; community hearing at Dunbar HS, 3000 S.
> King Dr.
> 4/10/13, 7:30pm - 9:30pm - Close Fermi into South Shore Fine
> Arts, community hearing at Kenwood HS, 5015 S. Blackstone
> Ave.
> 4/10/13, 7:30pm - 9:30pm - Close Altgeld into Wentworth @
> Altgeld (new STEM program at Altgeld); community hearing at
> Harper HS, 6520 S. Wood St.
> 4/10/13, 7:30pm - 9:30pm - New Noble HS coshare with Bowen
> HS; community hearing at Chicago Vocational Career Academy
> HS, 2100 E. 87th St.
> 4/10/13, 5- 7pm: Close Emmet into Ellington and DePriest
> (new STEM programs at Ellington and DePriest); community
> hearing at Austin HS Campus, 231 North Pine Ave.
> 4/10/13, 5- 7pm:  Close Key into Ellington (new STEM
> program at Ellington); community hearing at Austin HS
> Campus, 231 North Pine Ave.
> 4/10/13, 5- 7pm:  Close Goldblatt into Hefferan (new
> STEM program at Hefferan); community hearing at Raby HS,
> 3545 W. Fulton Blvd.
> 4/10/13, 7:30pm - 9:30pm - Close Delano into Melody @
> Delano; community hearing at Raby HS, 3545 W. Fulton Blvd.
> Thursday, April 11th 2013
> 4/11/13, 5-7pm: Close Stewart into Brennemann; community
> hearing at Amundsen HS, 5110 N. Damen Ave.
> 4/11/13, 5pm - 7pm:  Belmont Cragin K-8 with Northwest
> Middle (Belmont Cragin preK program remains in current
> location); community hearing at Prosser HS, 2148 N. Long
> Ave.
> 4/11/13, 7:30pm – 9:30pm: Close Stockton into Courtenay @
> Stockton; community hearing at Amundsen HS, 5110 N. Damen
> Ave.
> 4/11/13, 5 –7pm : Close Canter into Harte and Ray;
> community hearing at Kenwood High School, 5015 S. Blackstone
> Ave.
> 4/11/13, 5- 7pm: Noble-Comer coshare with Revere ES,
> community hearing at Kenwood High School, 5015 S. Blackstone
> Ave.
> 4/11/13, 5-7pm: Close Owens into Gompers (new STEM program
> at Gompers); ; community hearing at Harlan HS, 9652 S.
> Michigan Ave.
> 4/11/13, 7:30pm – 9:30pm: Close Goodlow into Earle @
> Goodlow (new STEM program at Earle); community hearing at
> Lindblom HS, 6130 S. Wolcott Ave.
> 4/11/13, 5 – 7pm: Close King into Jensen; community
> hearing at Young HS, 211 S. Laflin St.
> 4/11/13, 5 – 7pm: Close Herbert into Dett @ Herbert;
> community hearing at Young HS, 211 S. Laflin St.
> 4/11/13, 5-7pm: Close Bethune into Gregory; community
> hearing at Manley HS, 2935 W. Polk St
> 4/11/13, 5pm - 7pm: Close Armstrong and May into Leland @
> May (new STEM program at Leland); community hearing at
> Austin HS Campus, 231 North Pine Ave.
> 4/11/13, 7:30pm – 9:30pm: Close Garfield Park into
> Faraday; community hearing at Young HS, 211 S. Laflin St.
> 4/11/13, 7:30pm - 9:30pm:Close Henson into C. Hughes;
> community hearing at Manley HS, 2935 W. Polk St.
> Friday, April 12th 2013
> 4/12/13, 5pm-7pm: Close Trumbull into Chappell, McPherson,
> and McCutcheon; community hearing at Amundsen HS, 5110 N.
> Damen Ave.
> 4/12/13, 5pm-7pm: Close Pershing West into Pershing East @
> Pershing West; community hearing at Dunbar H.S., 3000 S.
> King Dr.
> 4/12/13, 5-7pm: Close M. Jackson into Fort Dearborn;
> community hearing at Harper HS, 6520 S. Wood St.
> 4/12/13, 5pm-7pm: Close Songhai into Curtis; community
> hearing at Harlan HS, 9652 S. Michigan Ave.
> 4/12/13, 5:30pm-7:30pm: Close Overton into Mollison (new IB
> program at Mollison); community hearing at Dunbar HS, 3000
> S. King Dr.
> 4/12/13, 5pm-7pm: Close Ryerson into Ward @ Ryerson (new
> STEM program at Ward); community hearing at Raby HS, 3545 W.
> Fulton Blvd.
> 4/12/13, 7:30pm – 9:30pm: Close Ericson into Sumner (new
> STEM program at Sumner); community hearing at Manley HS,
> 2935 W. Polk St.
> 4/12/13, 7:30pm - 9:30pm: Dodge coshare with Morton,
> community hearing at Raby HS, 3545 W. Fulton Blvd.
> Saturday, April 13th 2013
> 4/13/13, 10am – 12pm: Close De Duprey and Von Humboldt
> into De Diego (new IB program at De Diego); community
> hearing at Clemente H.S., 1147 N. Western Ave.
> 4/13/13, 10am – 12pm: Close Mayo into Wells @ Mayo (new IB
> programme at Wells); community hearing at Kenwood HS, 5015
> S. Blackstone Ave.
> 4/13/13, 10am – 12pm: Close Yale into Harvard; community
> hearing at Englewood HS Campus, 6201 S. Stewart Ave.
> 4/13/13, 10am – 12pm:  Close Woods into Bass;
> community hearing at Harper HS, 6520 S. Wood St.
> 4/13/13, 10am – 12pm: Close Kohn into Cullen, Lavizzo, and
> L. Hughes (new STEM program in L. Hughes); community hearing
> at Harlan HS, 9652 S. Michigan Ave.
> 4/13/13, 12:30pm - 2:30pm -  Phase out Attucks over 2
> years, close into Beethoven Fall 2015; community hearing at
> Dunbar HS, 3000 S. King Dr.
> 4/13/13, 12:30pm - 2:30pm:  Close Parkman into
> Sherwood; community hearing at Dunbar High School, 3000 S.
> King Dr.
> 4/13/13, 12:30pm - 2:30pm -  Close Sexton into Fiske @
> Sexton (new IB programme at Fiske); community hearing at
> Kenwood HS, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave.
> 4/13/13, 12:30pm - 2:30pm:  Montessori Charter of
> Englewood  coshare with O’Toole, community hearing at
> Englewood HS Campus, 6201 S. Stewart Ave.
> 4/13/13, 12:30pm - 2:30pm:  Close Bontemps into
> Nicholson (new STEM program at Nicholson); community hearing
> at Harper HS, 6520 S. Wood St.
> 4/13/13, 12:30pm - 2:30pm:  Close Garvey into Mount
> Vernon; community hearing at Harlan HS, 9652 S. Michigan
> Ave.
> 4/13/13, 3-5pm: New KIPP  coshare with Hope HS,
> community hearing at Englewood HS Campus, 6201 S. Stewart
> Ave.
> 4/13/13, 3-5pm: Kwame Nkrumah Charter with Gresham;
> community hearing at Harlan HS, 9652 S. Michigan Ave.
> 4/13/13, 10am – 12pm: Close Calhoun into Cather, community
> hearing at Raby HS, 3545 W. Fulton Blvd.
> 4/13/13, 10am – 12pm: Close Pope into Johnson; community
> hearing at Manley HS, 2935 W. Polk St
> 4/13/13, 10am – 12pm: Richard T. Crane Medical Prep HS
> with Chicago Talent Development HS and Richard T. Crane
> Technical Prep HS; community hearing at Young HS, 211 S.
> Laflin St.
> 4/13/13, 12:30pm - 2:30pm -  Close Marconi into Tilton
> (new STEM program at Tilton); community hearing at Raby HS,
> 3545 W. Fulton Blvd.
> 4/13/13, 12:30pm - 2:30pm:  Close Paderewski into
> Cardenas and Castellanos; community hearing at Manley HS,
> 2935 W. Polk St
> Monday, April 15th 2013
> 4/15/13, 5pm - 7pm:  Disney II expansion with Marshall
> Middle; community hearing at Schurz HS, 3601 N. Milwaukee
> Ave.
> 4/15/13, 5pm - 7pm:  Close Lawrence into Burnham @
> Lawrence; community hearing at Harlan HS, 9652 S. Michigan
> Ave.
> Tuesday, April 16th 2013
> 4/16/13, 5pm- 7pm: Close Manierre into Jenner (new IB
> programme at Jenner); community hearing at Lincoln Park HS,
> 2001 N. Orchard St.
> 4/16/13, 5-8pm: Close Williams ES and Williams MS into Drake
> @ Williams; co-locate with Urban Prep; community hearing at
> Dunbar HS, 3000 S. King Dr.
> 4/16/13, 5-8pm: Drake with Urban Prep Academy for Young Men
> – Bronzeville; community hearing at Dunbar HS, 3000 S.
> King Dr.
> 4/16/13, 5pm- 7pm: Close Dumas into Wadsworth @ Dumas (new
> STEM program at Wadsworth); community hearing at Kenwood HS,
> 5015 S. Blackstone Ave.
> 4/16/13, 5pm - 7pm:  New Noble HS  coshare with
> Corliss HS; community hearing at Chicago Vocational Career
> Academy HS, 2100 E. 87th St.
> 4/16/13, 7:30pm - 9:30pm - Close Fermi into South Shore Fine
> Arts; community hearing at Kenwood HS, 5015 S. Blackstone
> Ave.
> 4/16/13, 7:30pm - 9:30pm - Close Altgeld into Wentworth @
> Altgeld (new STEM program at Altgeld); community hearing at
> Harper HS, 6520 S. Wood St.
> 4/16/13, 7:30pm - 9:30pm: New Noble HS coshare with Bowen
> HS; community hearing at Chicago Vocational Career Academy
> HS, 2100 E. 87th St.
> 4/16/13, 5pm - 7pm:  Close Goldblatt into Hefferan (new
> STEM program at Hefferan); community hearing at Raby HS,
> 3545 W. Fulton Blvd.
> 4/16/13, 5pm- 7pm: Close Emmet into Ellington and DePriest
> (new STEM programs at Ellington and DePriest); community
> hearing at Austin HS Campus, 231 North Pine Ave.
> 4/16/13, 5pm - 7pm:  Close Key into Ellington (new STEM
> program at Ellington); community hearing at Austin HS
> Campus, 231 North Pine Ave.
> 4/16/13, 7:30pm - 9:30pm - Close Delano into Melody @
> Delano; community hearing at Raby HS, 3545 W. Fulton Blvd.
> Friday, April 19th 2013
> 4/18/13, 5-7pm: Close Banneker into Mays @ Banneker;
> community hearing at Harper HS, 6520 S. Wood St.
> PLACE AT 125 S. CLARK BETWEEN 4/16 – 5/2/13



Mayor Loves Urban Prep's Low Test ScoresBy Jim Vail

April 4, 2013


You got to love it - the get tough mayor who wants to close "failing" public schools, in fact endorses charter operators who do even worse.

A big headline in screamed out "Urban Prep High School Sends All Seniors to College Again."

The lead to the article proclaimed that the seniors at Urban Prep's West Side campus had a 100 percent acceptance rate to four-year institutions.


The reality is its students score even worse on the standardized tests than the regular public high schools they came to replace. 

Only 17 percent of the charter school students score at grade level, far below the Chicago Public School average of 29%.  The boys in the all boys school score an average of a15 or 16 on the ACT college acceptance test.

That's pretty low.

But this is what the mayor had to say about such dismal results.

"It just goes to show what can happen to our kids when they are given the right support group to succeed because the most important door children can walk through is not at school, but at home," Emanuel said. "So to all the parents and grandparents of Urban Prep students, I say thank you for a job well done!"

What exactly does the mayor mean by "succeed?"

I guess if you are scoring low in a public school, then you are failing.  But if you are scoring low in a charter school, then you are succeeding. 

The next question you have to ask is, what four-year colleges are accepting these guys?

And how many of these Urban Prep graduates can actually last through their first year at a four year college? 

The article read like a press release straight from charter school huckster extraordinaire Tim King. 

Reporters are supposed to at least check out the facts before running something like this.

I sent an email to the reporter Wendell Hutson to check it out.  Let's hope he makes a few calls and answers some of those other burning questions you and I want to know.


Schools Closings a Political Con Job 

By Jim Vail

March 26, 2013



The school closings fiasco is a total political con job.

Let me repeat that - the recent announcement that nearly 15% of Chicago public elementary schools must close due to underutilization issues is a political con job.

The Chicago Teachers Union and president Karen Lewis is calling them out on it, and so  the Chicago Board of Education is trying to whack them hard for saying it.

The Board of Ed wants a compliant company union that would make American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten proud.  You know, union officials who work with upper management and say nothing while their union members see their jobs get axed.

So on the one hand, this latest audacious move by the Board to close up to 60 schools in one fell swoop is to hit hard at the teachers union that isn't keeping its mouth shut like any good company union should do.

On the other hand, it is obvious that it is being orchestrated from above - the political billionaire class led by the likes of Bill Gates and his ruling class cohorts who are demanding urban districts increase charter schools and decrease public schools - Privatization 101.

Lie if you have to, make up stuff as you go along.  You know, like, well, these schools are underutilized.  They are?  Then why would you close Trumbull Elementary on the north side while trying to sneak in a charter school just up the street if the school is "underutilized."

Why would you keep saying you need to close schools because the buildings are "underutilized" and now say the students will go to better schools because these schools were failing?

I have not analyzed the school closings close enough, but I will say this on an initial observation.  Several schools were slated to close in the Pilsen - Little Village area. 

These communities not only fought hard at the closing hearings, they even got Alderman Danny Solis, the patron saint of UNO and charter school mania, to back the public schools officially and demand Chicago Public Schools not close one of their schools in his ward.

Evidently, CPS listened, and they took those schools off the list.

Now, of course you could say, but what about all the other hearings where people fought hard, and still they are on the closing list?

It is obvious the black schools, who got hit real hard, do not have the political backing, as many of their aldermen refuse to fight CPS on this issue (some have, of course).

But the charge of racism?  CPS made sure it included north side schools like Trumbull and others, in white areas.  Former schools chief Arne Duncan did the same thing when he first started closing black schools, by making the forced removal of Edison Gifted School his center piece that he is no racist.  The community led by the likes of Matt Farmer fought hard, packing the Board chambers with over 200 people, but the Board still held its ground and infuriated the community by not listening.

What will it take to make the Board of Ed rescind this latest move to close the most public schools ever in one year in the country?

Total solidarity in the city from all of us connected to the public school system to tell the ruling class - NO!



NLRB Rules that Charter Schools are Private -

By Jim Vail

March 16, 2013


The teachers at Latino Youth Charter High School in Little Village signed on to form a union three years ago to bargain for better wages and working conditions.

The Illinois Labor Relations Board certified the teachers union and thus paved the way for the teachers to be able to collectively bargain for a contract.

However, the Pilsen Wellness Center, which operates a chain of health clinics on the south side and runs the charter school, hired the law firm Tristan and Cervantes that specializes in fighting unionization drives and appealed to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The NLRB ruled this past week that the charter operator, which is mostly subsidized by tax payer dollars, is in fact a private operator.

That means the teachers, who had to wait two years for the ruling, must now conduct a secret ballot to form their union.

The teachers had planned an informational picket at the Pilsen Wellness Center headquarters on the southwest side, but it was cancelled this past week.

"On behalf of the unionized teachers at Latino Youth, I thank you kindly for your desire to help us in our struggle to get a fair contract," Chris Baehrend, Latino Youth teacher and union organizer for the school, wrote to his supporters in an email.  "The legal ground has shifted, and there is a glimmer of hope that negotiations may happen, so we have cancelled the informational picket that we invited you to on 13 March."

Baehrend said they decided to form a union in 2009 because their health benefits were reduced, their employer was not paying into their pension fund and the teachers had to work an extra hour, and at one point did not receive preps to prepare for their classes during the day.

"They cut our health insurance, we had no budget for textbooks, no computers and we couldn't see the budget," Baehrend told Secondcityteacher.

The charter operator also fired almost the entire staff after its first year in existence, Baehrend said.

However, the school is more stable today, and the teachers have received their preps, he said.

Forming a unionized workforce helped create a strong middle class in this country after the last world war in the 1950s and 1960s.  However, it was also a struggle, sometimes resulting in bloody battles during strikes to form unions.

Today big business have been attacking the working and middle class by going on an all-out assault on unions.  Union membership has plummeted, while the gap between rich and poor continues to grow, squeezing out the middle class.

Billionaires such as Bill Gates and Eli Broad have pushed for "education reform" by funding politicians, including democrats who have traditionally backed unions, to push anti-union charter schools where teachers like Baehrend are paid much less than their public school colleagues, but work longer hours.

Apparently, a similar situation happened at the Chicago Academy of Math and Science Charter School in Rogers Park where the NLRB also ruled that the charter school is private, which meant that the teachers who also had formed a union, now have to take a vote.  

However, the Illinois Federation of Teachers who represents the teachers, decided to withdraw the petition requesting an election, according to the website reported that it wasn't clear if the teachers would in fact vote to have a union. Many of the teachers who fought to first form a union have left, and many new teachers may have been intimidated into possibly voting against a union due to management pressure, the website stated.

The Chicago Teachers Union, which has been fighting charter schools, announced that the infamous Latino charter operator United Neighborhood Organization or UNO, which is currently being investigated for awarding no-bid contracts to family members, signed onto an "organizing neutrality agreement" last week, CTU President Karen Lewis wrote in an email.

"After years of anti-union attacks from top UNO management, the agreement provides staff an opportunity to organize without pressure from supervisors and allows union organizers to talk to UNO employees during breaks and lunch inside all their 13 schools," Lewis wrote in an email to teachers.

The UNO staff who choose to organize will be part of Local 4343, the Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (Chicago ACTS), a sister union of the CTU under the American Federation of Teachers.

Lewis acknowledged the obvious in the email; the road will not be easy to unionize one of Mayor Emanuel's top union-busters.

It should also be noted that the Illinois Network of Charter Schools has argued that charter schools are public schools, which led to introducing a bill to fully fund charter schools with tax dollars last year.  The bill, which was backed by many Chicago machine democrats but opposed by many downstate republicans, was defeated last fall.

However, these recent rulings from the federal labor department has in effect ruled the opposite, that charter schools are in fact private.



Saying Good Bye to a Little, Smiling Friend 

By Jim Vail

March 10, 2013


Some things are not supposed to happen in this world.

The Sandy Hook massacre was not supposed to happen.  A gun man shooting and killing twenty little first graders last December should not have happened.

The Beslan school massacre in Russia where 186 children were killed in 2004 was not supposed to happen.

And little fourth graders are not supposed to attend a wake to see their dear friend and classmate laid out in a casket, who will no longer play, read, joke around or grow up.

Can you imagine the grief of a family and friends who see their little 10-year-old son, their little brother or their little classmate say good bye to this world?

You cannot.  We can try, but we cannot.  

The great Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn said it best - 'A warm man does not know how a cold man feels.'

When we heard about the Sandy Hook massacre, our lives continued.  We watched, we discussed, and maybe we cried.  But we were not the family and friends where it happened, who truly suffered.  

When a tragedy strikes, you cannot be in that person's shoes, no matter how hard you try. 

And then it hits you hard.  

I can't imagine anything more horrible to happen in my life.

Anothony Arroyo was a little student at Columbus Elementary School who was always smiling, joking around and having fun.  He was a cute little guy who my son Leo was friends and classmates with beginning in kindergarten.

But two years ago while in the second grade he was diagnosed with brain cancer.

A little child diagnosed with brain cancer?  I couldn't believe it, and I didn't want to think about it.  And my life went on.

It went on, of course, with the hope in the back of my mind he would overcome it.  He would treat it and beat it.

And then my son comes home with the news that little Anthony died last weekend at the precious age of 10.  

The cancer prevented him from attending school.  He was home schooled, and fighting the cancer with chemotherapy.  So he had a shaved head and gained weight from the drugs.

Leo told me Anthony visited their school one year ago for the Christmas assembly.

Little Anthony taught Leo how to play the game Battleship.  I remember running all over town looking for the game to buy for Christmas.  I had no idea why he wanted it.

Little Anthony taught one classmate how to tell time after his friend taught him.

Little Anthony loved to joke around.  He introduce Leo to Family Guy.

Little Anthony was always smiling, and jumping and playing.

That was before he had brain cancer.

His best friend Eric would drop by Columbus weekly, Leo said, to update his former classmates on how Anthony was doing.  When he hadn't dropped by for a few weeks recently, Leo knew something was wrong.

And then the news came.  

You are not supposed to see little school children attend a wake to see their fellow classmate layed out in a casket.

I haven't been the same since.

Now I cry, and try to go on, knowing a little child who was once so alive, that shared his life with my son, is suddenly gone.

I cannot explain it.  I am in those shoes.  I feel it.

They say 2,000 children die each year from brain tumors in the United States.

So the likelihood that a child will die from brain cancer is about as unlikely as dying in a terrorist attack.

But it happened, again.  Only this time, it happened to me.

I knew this little boy through my son.

Rest In Peace - little Anthony Arroyo.  May your memory never be forgotten by those around you.

You were too young.

Forever Young!

Anthony Arroyo, 2003 - 2013! 



UNO Problems Shows Rift Up Above 

By Jim Vail

March 4, 2013


In a strange twist of fate, the charter empire that is working furiously to destroy public education and a unionized teaching force, suddenly finds itself on the defensive.

The United Neighborhood Organization, or UNO, was on a roll.  The charter operator had amassed a whopping 13 charter schools, received a $98 million grant from a bankrupt state to build more sparkling charter schools and even came out with their own list of public schools to close (which for some reason didn't include their very own failing schools).

They even championed recently a bill in the state legislature to receive another whopping tax payer give away that would have amounted to UNO students receiving about $5500 per students, and Chicago public school students receiving $85.

But the chair was suddenly pulled out from under them in the midst of charter mania, and school closings.  The corrupt charter operator became front page news when the Suntimes broke the story about their no bid contracts awarded to family members connected to the charter operator and funding House Speak Michael Madigan's election, who in turn writes bills to give more taxpayer money to the latino group.

Suddenly, the darling of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's privatized school dream looks like the mud it always was.

But the question that has not been asked is why?  Why has the ruling class suddenly pulled the plug, or at least doused this latino charter operator with a deluge of water while it had been on fire?

I asked this because I covered its corrupt latina sister, charter operator Aspira.  Aspira had fired several whistle blowers who all won their cases against a similar non-profit Puerto Rican operation, that oversaw poorly run schools, illegally strip searched students, and payed off state senators to shamelessly promote a corrupt charter operator.

It got so bad that even former Chicago Public Schools chief Arne Duncan had to make a statement about Aspira's problems before Obama named him education secretary in 2008.

Aspira was front page news when the students' parents filed a federal lawsuit for strip searching three students.  The Suntimes had written an earlier editorial before it received its first charter warning that this group was too corrupt to be awarded any charter schools.


I asked this because I covered its latino corrupt sister charter operator Aspira.  Aspira had fired several whistle blowers who all won their cases against a company that saw poorly run schools, illegally strip searching students, paying off state senators to shamelessly promote a corrupt charter operator.

That got so bad that even former Chicago Public Schools chief Arne Duncan had to make a statement about Aspira's problems before Obama named him education secretary.

Aspira was front page news when the students' parents filed a federal lawsuit for strip searching three students.  The Suntimes had written an earlier editorial before it received its first charter warning that this group is too corrupt.

What UNO and Aspira represent to the ruling class is two-fold - organizing votes in the minority neighborhoods and privatizing city assets so banks and other corporate interests benefit.

Think of them like the powerful drug gangs, where it's all about business and money.

But who benefits whom?

Aspira should be in the grave, and instead they are actually seeking to build another charter school in the Logan Square neighborhood against the public's wishes.

UNO is being given taxpayer dollars and told to open more charter schools, while the ruling class says they must close regular public schools.

We can only speculate about some rift at the top.  The democratic party machine is fully on board to support charters and destroy the Chicago Teachers Union.  But are groups like UNO and Aspira, with ties to the hired truck scandal and patronage jobs corruption, expendable in the quest to privatize city assets?

I love to see those near the top get whacked.

I remember back in Russia several years ago there was some billionaire oligarch who threw a lavish party that supposedly cost $1 billion, to open a new hotel in Turkey.  Russian TV showed images of party goers scrambling to catch $100 bills falling from the ceiling (Great Gatsby anyone?).

This infuriated Russian president Vladimir Putin, and suddenly this oligarch was on the run, being hunted down by Russian enforcement agencies (not to mention that all his loans were called in).

So, what's up with UNO.  We the people know how bad UNO and Aspira are, we complain, protest, file lawsuits, etc., but that doesn't stop them.  

But suddenly this happened.

So no matter if you are a student, teacher or parent wondering if your dear school is going to be closed, or you're a smiling Juan Rangel earning hundreds of thousands of dollars and getting your picture next to the mayor, we are all a heart beat away from getting the final hook.

Perhaps there is some consolation here, but as the great poet Robert Frost wrote, we still have many miles to go before we sleep.



Charter School Moratorium Fight Back 

By Jim Vail

February 22, 2013


The battle between the Illinois Network of Charter Schools and its privatization agenda, and the Chicago Teachers Union, which is defending public education, erupted in a resolution signed by 33 aldermen to "establish a moratorium on charter school expansion for the 2014-2015 school year allowing CPS parents and community members time to fully understand the impact of pending school closures.  Furthermore, the Board should adopt a policy that prohibits any charter expansion when neighborhood schools are being closed."

The resolution was filed Feb. 13th and sponsored by 19th ward alderman Matt O'Shea, 3rd ward alderman Pat Dowell, 20th ward alderman Willie Cochran and 22nd ward alderman Ricardo Munoz.

However, instead of assigning the resolution to the city council's education committee, it was assigned to the rules committee, where according to the Sun Times, the mayor made sure it would die, and not get out of committee.  33rd Ald. Dick Mell, who has not signed on to the resolution, heads the rules committee.

The need for the resolution comes during community battles to save neighborhood schools.  The Chicago Board of Education has threatened to close 129 schools, though fierce opposition at community hearings throughout the city will surely dwindle that number.

However, while a number of charter schools were put on the original list of underutilized schools, they have all been removed from the current 129 threatened closures.

Interestingly enough, 6 AUSL schools are still on the list of possible closure.  Mayor Rahm Emanuel has touted AUSL, a private management group that takes over a school after firing its entire staff due to low test scores, as a proven model to "turnaround" schools.

Of course, the question everyone should ask is, if according to Chicago Public Schools money is the reason to close and consolidate public schools, why then should more charter schools be opened.

It doesn't make sense, unless you understand the bigger picture.  The privatizing forces are backed by billionaire neo-liberal groups like the Gates and Walton Foundations, who want to pay less taxes that fund teacher's livelihood and regular public school expenses.

Gates has given CPS $20 million to fund 60 new charter schools over the next five years.

The battle shaping up in the neighborhoods is an interesting one.  In the 33rd ward, Ald. Mell has not signed onto the resolution because according to an office spokesman, they received over 200 emails from pro-charter people against the resolution (pro-choice), but only four calls in support. 

This comes after several CTU members met with state rep. Deb Mell, his daughter who is seeking to succeed her father to be the next alderman, to support public education.  Deb Mell said she supports charters because there are two good ones run by CICS in her district.  She also agreed there are good public schools, and charters are only supposed to offer a choice if there are "failing" public schools, which there are not in the 40th district.

But the cold hard fact is Chicago's machine democrats support charter schools because that is where their funding is coming from.  When Larry Ligas, who ran as an independent candidate against state senator Iris Martinez, railed against the corruption of Aspira Charter schools, his criticism of charter schools fell flat on many in the democratic party.

While the CTU is calling for the moratorium resolution to be called up in the education committee, there is no guarantee it will get out of the education committee and voted on on the floor of the city council.

Several years ago 24th ward alderman Michael Chandler sponsored the Chandler Resolution that would have put a moratorium on all school closings until further research was done to ensure its negative impacts on the children were addressed.  When it came time Chandler to bring his own resolution out of the education committee and to the floor, he was nowhere to be seen.



House of Horrors for Teachers Today

By Jim Vail

February 10, 2013


From the longer school day to space utilization decrees, the power elite is telling teachers everywhere they must work longer hours and they must close many public schools because they are underutilized.

"They're closing 37 schools in Philadelphia saying they're underutilized," Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis told the House of Delegates this past week on Feb. 6.

Lewis told delegates last year that union presidents from across the country were being told the same thing that Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel was saying here, their schools have the shortest school day.

Now the problem is everyone is underutilized, whether you are in Ypsilanti, Michigan, or Kodiak Island, Alaska.  

In fact, we hear reports that across the Atlantic, teachers in Poland are being told the same thing - you're schools are "underutilized."  (The Poles are also being told in the next 10 years they will need to build more schools, so go figure).

The comedy of horrors is played out before the delegates each month about the growing demands and chaos coming out of 125 S. Clark Street, headquarters of the Chicago Board of Education.

Lewis in her remarks to the delegates stated that the union will fight the demands the Board is making on teachers whose high schools are suddenly adopting international baccalaureate program and being told they have to reapply for their jobs.  Others are being told they should sign a paper stating they will agree to work longer hours with increased demands, with no increase in pay.

Sound familiar teachers?

Lewis noted in her speech that Chicago Public Schools chief of instruction Jennifer Cheatham, has just accepted the top job of heading the Madison, WI schools.  

Cheatham, who hailed from California, entered CPS a couple of years ago as the chief of Area 9 - now divided into networks.  Cheatham, whose sing-song demeanor, will smile and put people at ease, however, she is responsible for implementing many of the harsh school reforms, which include kindergartners getting up to 14 standardized tests.

Rumor has it, Lewis said, the current Response to Intervention or RTI, the process used before students can become elgible to receive specialized education services, will be changed to another name, such as the multi-tier support system, Lewis said.

Lewis also noted that the Board is upset many teachers are taking sick days on Mondays and Fridays - "Well, what do you expect when you make them work a much longer school day," Lewis said.

Several CTU motions were made and unanimously passed, including approval of the CTU  legislative agenda, support for the Seattle teachers refusing to give the MAP test and the West Chicago teachers who are on strike.

The CTU legislative agenda includes TIF reform, a financial transaction tax, defense of pensions, CPS transparency and accountability bill, an elected school board, high stakes testing restrictions, class size caps, and revive the school closing moratorium bill.

While much of the legislation appears to be pie in the sky at a time when big money trumps everything else in the political arena, the school closing bill is a bit cynical on the union's part.

The so-called Soto bill (sponsored by Rep. Cynthia Soto who helped CPS gut the school facilities bill by extending the school closing deadline) had the heart of it ripped out by the speaker of the house Michael Madigan when he removed the school closings moratorium.

The CTU endorsed Madigan in his last election.



Teachers Blamed for City's Escalating Violence 

By Jim Vail

February 4, 2013


The Chicago Sun Times in its weekend edition wrote an alarming story by reporter Fran Spielman that the city of Chicago's escalating murder rate and gang violence could take down a perky mayor with aspirations to rule the world.

"Mayor Rahm Emanuel struggled for the better part of last year to control a spike in homicides that became a media obsession in Chicago and around the nation.

"Now that the bloodbath fueled by gang violence on Chicago streets has a beautiful face in 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, it spells political trouble for Emanuel and Police Supt. Garry McCarthy."

So the connection is made between an ambitious politician who represents the business elite - and the responsibility he has to fighting escalating gang wars wrecking havoc on the streets of Chicago.

Remember Rule No. 1 in the media business - you owe your allegiance to your sponsors.  Whoever pays the piper, calls the tune, right?

The Sun Times is controlled by a board of directors with close ties to the mayor the business community who fund his political aspirations - as long as they don't cross their bottom line.

So Ms. Spielman, who faithfully served the previous Mayor Richard Daley by rarely challenging the mayor's press releases, goes at it again.  

She quotes Uncle Tom himself - the Rev. James Meeks who ran against Emanuel in last election.  

Of course, here is a credible source - someone who once called the Chicago Teachers Union the biggest gang in the city, equating teachers as the more nefarious type to the murderers and rapist.

Meeks said the reason our murder rate is up is because of failing schools, in addition to a proliferation of firearms on the streets.

So teachers - not only are you worse than gang bangers, you the reason gang bangers exist in the first place.

Meeks is merely a clown when it comes to our political system.  Politicians like him with their outrageous statements keep people tuned into electing politicians who merely represent the 1%, not the rest of us (think Santorum and Gingrich on the federal level).

Spielman, who faithfully wrote puff pieces about the previous mayor Richard Daley, does not even think to challenge any of the reverend's sweet musings.  In fact, all her sources in the story have been vetted by the power elite.  She quotes former and current aldermen, a close adviser to President Obama, and even the former disgraced schools chief Jean Claude Brizard (who said the mayor is very "pragmatic and he wants results.")

Not one cop on the beat, people on the streets of rough neighborhoods or community organizations - the 99%. 

One point to consider about the city's escalating murder rate is the role drug gangs play in our post-industrial economy.  Before the explosive growth of drugs and gangs and prison seats, there were once factories employing thousands of people.  Who replace those jobs?

But if you read the Sun Times, it's the teachers fault.   



Obama's Race To The Top Drives Nationwide Wave of School Closings, Teacher Firings


Among Obama supporters, the gap between popular perceptions of the president's policies and the actual content of those policies is nowhere wider than in public education. While the president pays lip service to the centrality of public education, teachers and parent input, his Race To The Top is paving the road to privatization, closing more public schools and firing more teachers than any president in US history. 

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon 

Februrary 2, 2013


A nationwide epidemic of school closings and teacher firings has been underway for some time. It's concentrated chiefly in poor and minority communities, and the teachers let go are often experienced and committed classroom instructors, and likely to live in and near the communities they serve, and disproportionately black. 

It's not an accident, or a reflection of changing demographics, or more educational choices suddenly becoming available to families in those areas. It's not due to greedy unionized teachers or the invisible hand of the marketplace or well-intentioned educational policies somehow gone awry. 

The current wave of school closings is latest result of bipartisan educational policies which began with No Child Left Behind in 2001, and have kicked into overdrive under the Obama administration's Race To The Top. In Chicago, the home town of the president and his Secretary of Education, the percentage of black teachers has dropped from 45% in 1995 to 19% today. After winning a couple skirmishes in federal court over discriminatory firings in a few schools, teachers have now filed a citywide class action lawsuit alleging that the city's policy of school "turnarounds" and “transformations” is racially discriminatory because it's carried out mainly in black neighborhoods and the fired teachers are disproportionately black. 

How did this happen? Where did those policies come from, and exactly what are they? 

Beginning in the 1980s, deep right pockets like the Bradley and Walton Family Foundations spent billions to create and fund fake "grassroots movements." They churned out academic studies and blizzards of media hype, first for vouchers, later on for charter schools and what’s become a whole panoply of privatization-oriented "education reforms" ranging from teacher merit pay to common core curriculum and more. 

Those billions paid off with the 2001 passage of the No Child Left Behind Act which made the right wing corporate agenda of undermining and ultimately privatizing public education national policy. Though standardized test scores were long known to prove little aside from student family income, they suddenly became the gold standard for judging teacher & school performance. School districts were required to purchase & give dozens of costly meaningless tests and to publish lists ranking their own schools and teachers as "failing" when test scores were low, which again, was mostly wherever students were poor. 

Amid torrents of "blame the teachers" propaganda, so-called "failing schools" were required to hire expensive contractors with cockeyed "run the school like a business" remedies and more crackpot tests. Thus it was that NCLB spawned almost overnight an entire industry of jackleg educational consultants and test suppliers guaranteed a market with dollars diverted from already tight public school budgets. Those industries attracted capital investors, and began doing what every other industry does in the US ---- make big campaign contributions to politicians to get sweeter contracts and more favorable regulation. When test scores still didn’t rise, NCLB required many schools to close, making openings for chains of charter schools, often highly profitable charter schools, bringing the blessings of "choice" and free market competition to the educational "marketplace." 

It was an unequal sort of "competition" though, because charter schools have always been allowed to pick and choose their students, to turn away those with special needs, and to hire teachers and principals with little or no relevant training. 

Results in the classrooms of poor neighborhoods around the country were devastating. Where in 1987-88 the modal year for teacher experience -- that’s the number of years the largest cohort of teachers had been in the classrooms --- was ten years, by 2008 the biggest block of teachers were in their very first year, by definition --- the least confident, the least experienced and the least effective. 

This was the state of public education when President Obama walked into the White House door. What did he do? Did he turn it around? Or did he double down? The answer is that in the spirit of corporate bipartisanship, president Obama sided with the charter school sugar daddies instead of black teachers, black parents and their children. 

President Obama appointed Chicago Schools CEO Arne Duncan Secretary of Education. A champion of privatization, Duncan had closed dozens of Chicago schools, many on short notice, some at the apparent behest of gentrifying real estate developers. Duncan fired so many veteran black Chicago teachers to, fill their slots with mostly white rookies, that teachers sued him for racial discrimination in federal court and won. Duncan even introduced military charter schools in Chicago, in one case handing a west side middle school to the US Marine Corps. 

No Child Left Behind had been passed by a Democratic congress in the first days of the Bush administration. Opposition to its policies was widespread, and much of that opposition was among Democratic constituencies. So President Obama's signature education policy initiative, would bypass Congress and the opportunity for public debate on the disastrous effects of existing pro-privatization policies. 

Secretary Duncan at his side, President Obama introduced Race To The Top, drawn up by the Bill & Melinda Gates, the Eli Broad, Boeing, Walton Family and other foundations. Under Race To The Top states and school districts are forced to bid against each other for many of the same education dollars they used to receive as a matter of course. The winning districts are those who apply Race To The Top's four official solutions to their so-called "failing schools."

Race To The Top's four federally mandated "solutions", which are never spelled out by corporate media news outlets, are "school transformations," "school turnarounds," "school restarts," and "school closures." 

Race to the Top defines a "school transformation," its first remedy, as firing the principal and up to 50% of teachers, replacing them with temps and newbies, hiring expensive consultants, often the same folks who drafted Race To The Top guidelines or their cronies, to redesign curriculum and personnel policies. "Transformed" schools tie teachers jobs to test scores (that’s what caused the national epidemic of cheating scandals) lengthening school days with no extra pay, cutting wages & benefits and of course lots more costly and useless tests. 

Race To The Top calls its second remedy "school turnaround." Turnarounds are exactly the same as school transformations, with high priced “run the school like a business” consultants, increased reliance on standardized tests, sanctions for teachers and all new hires sourced from Teach For America type agencies, except that transformations fire up to 50% of school staff, but to be called a turnaround schools must fire at least 50%of school staff. 

"School restarts," are the third Race To The Top solution. In a "restart" you close the public school and reopen a new school with new staff and the same connected consultants used for transformations and turnarounds, but all under the management of a private corporation. In other words, you close the public school and open a charter school in the same building. Charters of course can use public money to hire even less qualified teachers, pick and choose the students it serves, and often to generate handsome private profits. 

Race To The Top's fourth remedy is "school closure." You fire the staff, padlock the school doors and let families take their chances on the free market, or find another public school if they can. 

The states and school districts quickest to carry out the most transformations, turnarounds, restarts and school closings are the ones who get to keep or increase their levels of federal funding. Those who drag their feet lose federal education dollars. That's why it's a race, but not exactly to the top. 

Clearly there's no broad support for these insanely destructive educational policies. But since news media never report what Race To The Top's actual requirements are, or even that a nationwide wave of school closings and teacher firings is underway, much of the public, and even many teachers and their unions are unable to make the connection between federal policies and their local school crises. Corporate media point helpfully instead to corrupt local officials, greedy organized teachers insufficient reliance on the invisible hand of the free market. News reports in many areas are full of stories about school districts whose certification is imperiled because of looming loss of federal funds, but the public is offered few clues as to exactly WHY the funds are lacking or WHAT measures the district will have to take to get them restored. The fact is, Race To The Top is consciously designed to punish school districts that try to protect their educational assets, and rewards those who eviscerate and sell them off. 

President Obama's Race To The Top then, is the direct cause of our national wave of school closings and mass teacher firings from Philly to Atlanta and Los Angeles to Rhode Island. It was local implementation of Obama's Race To The Top mandates that forced Chicago teachers out on strike last fall, and it's reluctance to carry out these measures that now imperils education funding in cities as large as Las Vegas. 

The Chicago teachers class action lawsuit is a good thing. But the courts have been captive to the far right wing for a long time now, and are not likely to issue quick and sweeping rulings that upset things as they are. In the end, the only thing that will begin to save public education, that will halt the wave of school closings and teacher firings is mass mobilization on a scale not seen in fifty years. Right now, that seems almost as unlikely as corporate school reform being reversed or halted by the federal court. 

What passes for black leadership these days, the descendants of the old line "civil rights" organizations are firmly on the corporate education reform bandwagon. Bill Gates, for example, delivered the 2011 keynote at the National Urban League's annual meeting. The NAACP and similar outfits are no better, all preferring to do the bidding of their funders and their president, over the interests of ordinary black families and their children. Even teachers unions are handicapped. Unlike the Chicago Teachers Union most haven't spent the last few years forging deep ties with organized forces in their school communities, and lack even a tradition of standing up for their own members they way labor unions ought to. 

In human history, the notion that everybody is entitled to a quality public education is still relatively new, and has powerful enemies. President Obama is one of these. It was the insistence of newly freed slaves that led to the first universal public education laws in the South. African American leaders till now have always been stalwart champions of public education. Until we raise up a new crop of leaders and movements not beholden to corporate funding, not disposed to uncritical worship of corporate power wielded by a black face, public education will continue to wither and die. 

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him via this site's contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at) 


By Jim Vail

January 19, 2012


There was certainly a bit of tension in the air when Chicago public school delegates met last week to hear their president's state of the union address.

When the word strike was mentioned, the euphoria of last fall fell flat on most of the teacher delegates.

One Chicago Teacher delegate challenged the order of the agenda, asking why the question and answer period did not take place before the committee reports.

CTU President Karen Lewis said there would be enough time for the question and answer period, but she became visibly upset when several teachers with affiliations with the United Progressive Caucus or UPC, which ran the union for the past 40 years before Lewis and the CORE slate upset them in the last election, challenged the agenda order.

Of course, union election time is around the corner.  The next election to determine who will lead the Chicago Teachers Union will be held May 17, and Lewis in her state of the union speech cited her union's accomplishments. 

CTU VP Jesse Sharkey was blunt in his analysis of the current situation facing Chicago public school teachers.

"The strike didn't stop the board's madness," he told the delegates.  "But we're gonna keep fighting."

Lewis noted that her approval ratings during the strike more than doubled among Chicagoans from 20% to 44%, while mayor Rahm Emanuel's numbers dropped to 30% favorable.  She also said 67% of the parents supported the teachers' strike.

School closings, a longer school day and more demands on teachers and paraprofessionals amount to continuing attacks on public education.

Lewis implored the membership to unit to fight the school closings, because "when you threaten the livelihood of a few, you threaten the livelihood of us all."

The CTU legislative report noted that pension reform was taken off Springfield's agenda for now, while a bill to fund UNO Charter Schools $35 million and the Chicago Public Schools $35 million failed.  The bill would have given about $5400 per student to the charter students, and only about $89 to CPS students, the CTU said.

Teachers asked a range of questions, from what to do with a shortage of substitute teachers, paycheck problems and what to do with new principals making life hell for the teachers.

One high school delegate noted that 90% of the problems could be resolved with the new principals if they were properly trained.

Lewis responded that this is a topic that the head of the CPS schools agrees should be addressed via new principal training programs.

A motion passed to support the Robin Hood Tax which would tax 50 cents on every $100 of Wall Street trades, and use the revenues to fund such critical needs as education, student debt relief, job training, public sector jobs, green jobs, low income housing and expanding and improving Medicaid and Medicare.

It should be noted that this would be a federal tax and is unlikely to pass given the enormous lobbying power of Wall Street.  New York City has a similar stock transaction tax that generates billions in tax revenue, however, no proposal was made to tax locally the Chicago Board of Trade.

The second motion to pass unanimously was the Passage of Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, which would support the marriage equality bill.  Two delegates spoke in opposition, including one who said he could not support such a resolution because he is a Catholic and the Pope has declared his opposition to gay marriage.



Pensions On the Ropes for Public School Teachers 

By Jim Vail

January 13, 2013

Pensions were supposed to help workers live a decent life after they retired, rather than a life of poverty.

But the pension system, punctuated in the New Deal era with the passage of the Social Security Act, did not come without a massive fight.  Huge protests and rallies in the 1920s and 1930s forced the ruling elite to offer security to workers after retirement.

Today it is all being taken back.  Following in the footsteps of US corporations that have been shedding their worker pension plans through bankruptcies and other shenanigans, legislators are now devising pension relief plans to alleviate state and municipal budget woes.

What the mainstream media will not tell you concerning this so-called pension reform battle, is that corporate America does not want to pay the taxes to maintain this system the people fought for.   

So what does that mean for us teachers and other public servants who have been paying into our retirement?

The Chicago Teachers Union, along with many other unions, has been updating its members and lobbying Springfield to stop what appears to be a Tsunami on the horizon. While the state has put pension reform on the back burner for now, believe me, it will hit us hard in the near future.

Already, new teachers who plan to retire have to wait until they are 67 years old.  While current teachers can retire as early as 55 with more than 30 years of service, and most at age 62, the state is looking to increase this retirement age for current workers to 67.

The politicians, most of whom keep their jobs thanks to corporate sponsors, are currently proposing that they cut the cost of living adjustment for retirees whose retirement earnings stay flat as prices rise, or take away retiree health benefits.  

So far a deal has not been made downstate. 

"There is a disagreement of the method to kill our pensions," CTU VP Jesse Sharkey told the delegates this past week.

He outlined the CTU plan to do media buys, unit with the other unions and inform members to be politically active.

However, Sharkey had to admit the obvious - "We're up against very powerful political forces."

It would probably take nothing less than a full-scale revolt from every member receiving and planning to receive a pension to fight what the 1% has determined must go.

The Chicago Board of Education members have told the CTU that school closings are necessary because the union will not bargain away the enormous pension payments the Board claims will amount to nearly a $1 billion budget deficit in the future.

Lose your job, or lose your pension?

That reminds me of the analogy CTU staff coordinator Jackson Potter once used to illustrate to the Board of Ed trustees about the choice they are asking us to make - you can either have your right hand or your left hand chopped off.

Even though the Illinois state constitution guarantees our pensions - which our corporate-sponsored politicians constantly, via referendums, try to amend and get around, it still will not matter.

A recent Democrat sponsored senate bill proposed a three-tiered approach to cut pensions - 1) increase teacher contributions about 4% to keep current retirement benefits, 2) calculate benefits based on the last eight years of service rather than the current last four years and retire at 67 to keep current pension, and 3) choose a self-managed 403-B that would eliminate a guaranteed pension.  

My colleague said his father who retired as a teacher in Michigan a couple of years ago would have been hit hard with this last option when the market dropped during the crisis. His defined guaranteed teacher pension kept him afloat during the calamity.

And the well-managed Chicago Teachers Pension Fund which hasn't missed a retirement payment in its over 100 plus years existence, will eventually cease to exist thanks to the last option by losing contributors. 

This is another reason corporate America and the Chicago Public Schools love charter schools - they no longer have to pay into anyone's pension.

I guess just as long as they don't bring slavery back, we're still free.


Is the Political Process too Rigged? 

By Jim Vail

December 10, 2012


Is there any hope to participate and make a difference in today's political arena?

That was the question posed by the Albany Park, North Park and Mayfair Neighbors for Peace and Justice at a meeting to discuss participatory democracy at the Mayfair Library last week.

Many reform candidates have been elected over the years, participants noted, only to disappoint people once they enter office and must bow down before the money interests if they plan to stay in office.

People agreed that the biggest problem in politics today is the money.  Politicians who plan to run for office must raise a great deal of money, and when businesses write checks, their agenda usually runs contrary to the constituents who vote.

There are some publicly funded elections in the country, noted organizer Neal Resnikoff, which would limit the influence of special interests that today dominate the political field.

During a time when austerity cuts are dominating the political agenda, it is essential to elect people who would adhere to the people's agenda, which would be against cutting welfare, medicare, pensions and other vital government services.

It should be noted that when Occupy Wall Street started to gain steam, while attracting the fury of the police who had a problem with people exercising their constitutional rights, they refused to endorse any candidates.  

Progressive groups like, while advocating for a people's agenda that includes ending bank bailouts and foreclosures and cutting jobs and pension, endorse democrats like president Obama who is currently proposing an austerity budget that plans to slash medicare and social security.

Libertarian groups like the Teaparty, which initially opposed goverenment bailouts to the banks, were likewise co-opted by the republican party and its similar pro-corporate agenda.

So is it possible to run for office in this seemingly rigged system dominated by big money?

Kathy Cummings told the group that the Green Party encouraged her to run against state representative Cynthia Soto several years ago because of her strong advocacy for the environment.

Cummings said she grows native plants, uses solar energy in her house and recycles, while the Green Party said Soto was weak on the environment.

It wasn't easy, she said.  For example, the democrats brought in a handwriting expert to challenge her signed petitions, and many people who signed her petitions backed off once the democrats started contacting them and challenging their signatures.

"It was a good and a bad experience," Cummings told the group.

She said people quickly voiced support for her candidacy when she explained that she wanted to change the charter of corporations so that people's rights were not being violated, and the environment would be protected.

Larry Ligas, who ran as a write-in candidate against state senator Iris Martinez in the past election, said he has been a community activist for over 20 years.  He said he ran on the issue of challenging Martinez's support for the corrupt Aspira Charter schools.

"But when I said charters, lots of my support backed off," Ligas said.

The democrats are big supporters of charter schools, which are private companies that run public schools.  While the charter school advocates argue for more public funding (and less accountability) because they say they are public schools, some charter schools are fighting unionization of its staff by arguing they are private companies.

One person who ran and almost beat the machine backed candidate in the last election said he worked full-time to raise about a $100,000, calling everyone he knew in the book.

However, Resnikoff said money is not the only factor in elections. Getting a lot of people enthusiastic about an election and knocking on doors can be an effective tool, he said.

And even if you lose, Betty Resnikoff said at the meeting, you can still win by educating the people about important issues.

The group decided to put together an agenda or platform that would determine what are the important issues a candidate should support, such as saying no to privatization and cutting city services.

People will then decide if they should run on the people's agenda in either a local, state or federal election.  




Neighborhood Groups Working Hard for Whom? 

By Jim Vail

November 27, 2012


The Albany Park Neighborhood Council joined up with the Chicago Teachers Union to support the teachers first strike in 25 years two months ago.

Today they hosted a community forum about the upcoming school closings, which has parents, teachers and students up in arms over the fact that up to 100 neighborhood schools have been threatened with closure or consolidation.

The APNC invited state senator Iris Martinez to be its guest speaker at the event about three weeks ago.  Sen. Martinez, who is closely connected to the corrupt Aspira Charter Schools, told the crowd that closing schools is actually not a bad idea.

"She told the crowd that there are some schools that need to be closed," said Neal Resnikoff, of the Albany Park, North Park and Mayfair Neighbors for Peace and Justice.  "They did not allow the audience to pose questions or challenge Martinez's comments."

The Albany Park Neighborhood Council earlier teamed up with Martinez to back the Aspira Charter school takeover of the newly built Haugan Middle School in 2008 against the wishes of the community.

In fact, when it comes to powerful non-profits that receive grant foundation money from corporate and city services, the word on the street is to look out.

While APNC fights for immigrant rights and bilingual educational services, it also supports politicians like Martinez who sometimes go against the wishes of the community.

The Albany Park, Mayfair Neighbors for Peace and Justice, on the other hand, do not receive foundation grant monies from city or corporate sources.

While they also backed the CTU teachers strike, and host weekly Saturday noon anti-war demonstrations on the corner of Kimball and Lawrence Avenues, they have always backed the community they serve and the neighborhood public schools under attack via privatization.

They are currently involved in the fight to demand the city open a temporary library after the Albany Park library (Kimball and Foster) was closed for two years for reconstruction in September.

This Wednesday at 5:30pm there will be a demonstration in front of the library before the city begins demolition.  The city told residents they can use the Northeastern Library.  However, friends of the Kimball library said the university does not provide services for teenagers or children.


Right Wingers Quote Secondcityteacher 

By Jim Vail

November 3, 2012


I guess you know your website is starting to get traction when the right wing media pick up a story and feed it to their readership.

Two weeks ago I wrote a story lamenting the fact the Chicago Teachers Union endorsed the president of the United States Barack Obama.  The same guy who gave us Race to the Top and made teaching in the public schools pure hell.

The Chicago public school teachers went out on strike in September against the president's educational policy, and then our union endorsed him?  Does not make a lot of sense to me, and as a member of the CTU's political action committee and executive board, I argued against an endorsement.

Well, a good charter school teacher and friend told me at the union's legislative dinner last month that a conservative media outlet called reprinted part of my Obama endorsement story.

I have to admit, at first I felt flattered, then a little annoyed that any constructive criticism of our union's poor decision to continue playing a rigged game with the democratic party, would automatically be played by the Romney camp.

Kyle Olson wrote in his October 25th column, mistakenly entitled Chicago Teacher Union's Rank and File Refuse to Endorse Obama, "So much for finding favor with the hometown crowd.  President Obama managed to gain an endorsement from the Chicago Teacher's Union last week, but it took some quick maneuvering by the union's executive committee to make it happen."

Olson then reprinted my account (which he said was "sometimes incoherent" - thank you very much!) of how the vote went down to endorse the president.  The reason the house of delegates did not vote on the endorsement was because a quorum was called in which there were not enough delegates present at the October meeting to make an endorsement.  Therefore, the executive board's decision to endorse Obama stood.

I wanted to make sure people understood the irony of this.  The Chicago Teachers Union leads an internationally recognized seven day strike against White House's Race to the Top policies, then decides to endorse the president.

Well, that would include the Romney camp and their conservative mouthpieces like and - kind of the Huffington Post equivalents for the democrats.

So Olson concludes by questioning CTU President Karen Lewis's commitment to democracy.  But saying the CTU leadership ignored the rank-and-file to avoid a "potentially embarrassing situation," was wrong because members who called the quorum at the delegates meeting decided to not vote on an endorsement, not the leadership.

That's not to say I need to defend our union leadership against the right-wing attacks. is an independent website in that I can criticize power.  

It all comes down to money.  The wonderful Chicago educational news website that I used to write for is headed by George Schmidt, who is a paid CTU consultant.  His coverage is obviously biased toward union leadership decisions, and I can't blame him.

Before becoming a teacher, I was a journalist all my life.  I always believed the role of an investigative journalist is to criticize those in power.  Whether you have a republican or democrat running the government, or Core, PACT or UPC leading the Chicago Teachers Union, it is the role of the journalist to hold those in power accountable. 

That means when I see a dirty deal go down, like I saw with the mistaken endorsement of a president who represents the 1% against the rest of us, I have to question and criticize and point out the facts.

If that means the right wingers need to hitch onto the bandwagon and use it for their own mistaken propaganda to endorse the other clown Mitch Romney, the billionaire venture capitalist who is proud of firing workers and stuffing millions into his offshore accounts and people supporting that, well then, jeeze, you get the point.

So be it!



Obama Will Win Re-election; Do you Care?

By Jim Vail

October 23, 2012


President Barack Obama will win his re-election for a second term next month.

Would anybody like to bet?  

Why do I think this?

Well, first of all, I don't think it really matters to those who are investing lots of money into this election (each election seems to be spending record numbers in cash).  Like any good investor, they hedge their bets on both parties.

But more than that, those at the top want the rest of us to feel we have a say.  They call it here a democracy where we go and vote for Candidate A or Candidate B.  But like a wise Greek said recently, do you think they would they let us vote if elections really mattered.

Obama made history and a lot of people very teary eyed when he made his inauguration speech in Grant Park four years ago in Chicago.  

Here was the first black man elected to the president.  Amazing when one thinks only 150 years ago black people were shipped here in chains and our high court of the land ruled these dark creatures from another land were not even fully people.

So why end the reign of this historic figure so abruptly?

But believe me, corporate America and its gazillions of lobbyists sure as heck ain't about to let no election determine the fate of this country.

The historic election of Obama did not stop business as usual - the big banks were not broken up, real reform of Wall Street after the financial debacle did not happen, the wars continued, jobs shipped over seas continued, foreclosures continued, while the banks got bailed out.

The republicans talk their talk, and the democrats talk their talk, but at the end of the day, it's business as usual in Washington D.C.

It's money that rules the day for Congress and our President.

When people proclaim, as one teacher did at a delegates meeting, that President Obama supports the middle class, ask them for specifics.  I do not believe either candidate supports the middle class in any meaningful way when they both continue to support policies that have enriched the 1% at the expense of the 99% (for example, both do not like unions, and unions are the lobbyists for the middle class, and both support free trade deals that ship our jobs out of the country).  

I used to think how powerful the new mayor Rahm Emanuel was when he could raise millions and become a chief of staff to the president, a congressman or now the mayor.

But the reality is, he is beholden to the money interests.  He was able to raise a lot of cash with the promise to deliver.  That means attacks the unions like the Chicago Teachers Union, cut corporate taxes and public services, while giving the impression you stand firmly with the taxpayer.

That is no different on the federal level.  President Obama no longer speaks about the Free Choice Act which he once promised to enact for the unions to ensure easier access to joining a union.  

As even Mr. Romney pointed out, Obama had his chance immediately after his election with a democrat-controlled Congress to enact his legislation, such as taxing the rich, but he did not.  In fact, when it comes to attacking social security and medicare, Obama says he and his opponent are in agreement.

But heck, if you can say very little, and get re-elected, you must be doing something right.

I would ask the millionaires and billionaires like Penny Pritzker, one of his big fundraisers, what exactly it means to get Obama re-elected.

I mean, you have a mayor in New York, Mr. Bloomberg, who is worth $20 billion dollars.  

Can I repeat that - $20 BILLION DOLLARS!

Those are the people who rule the day and decide the fate of this country.  

There will be third party candidates, like the Green Party and the Libertarians, to also choose from.  And any red-blooded American will say they ain't gonna win, despite talking about the real issues that affect the people.

And I guess suckers like myself who believe in a better world not corrupted by our two party duopoly will want to vote for one of them who support issues dear to the 99%, such as stopping foreclosures, punishing and regulating big business and stopping insane policies like Race to the Top which is destroying the pubic school system.

But if you want to go with the winner - it will be Mr. Obama.  But who else wins in this election will be the big question.




Obama Endorsement Sidetracks Vote 

By Jim Vail 

October 14, 2012


Democracy can be a tricky thing for those in power.  On the one hand it sounds great, let the people decide who should be their leader and what decisions should be mOade.

On the other hand, when the people want something those in power do not want, measures must be taken to circumvent that.  Democracy suddenly becomes an uncomfortable reality for those in power who are beholden to money interests, not the people’s will.

The Chicago Teachers Union decided to endorse President Barack Obama for another four years last week. 

The question any thinking person would have to ask is – Why? 

The Chicago teachers just completed their first strike in 25 years protesting the president’s Race to the Top policy, the cornerstone of a harsh educational reform plan to mostly destroy teachers unions and public education across the country.

How bad is the president’s education plan that necessitated a strike in the country’s third largest city?  The contract, which the mayor proudly declared contained most of what Race to the Top demands, makes teachers the scapegoats by imposing huge penalties for those with low test scores, never mind the fact that children in mostly low-income schools in the city begin school far behind their wealthier suburban counterparts.

How unfair is the new evaluation system now for Chicago teachers?  In terms of grades, if you get two C’s, average grades, they automatically become an F, and for all practical purposes you can kiss your teaching career good bye.  Granted, there is an appeals process, and certain score improvements that can circumvent this.

What is the teacher’s crime?  Choosing to teach in an inner city school where children need more than teachers – they need social services, counseling, anger management, remedial help, etc.  But according to the president’s plan, you are just graded on the test scores.

We started with President Bush’s No Child Left Behind starting the massive privatization drive.  But the joke back then was an unfunded mandate.  The democrats then proved they could go one step further in the game to close public schools and demonize unionized teachers by putting tax payer money into pushing privatization, more charter schools and decreasing pension payments.

First, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) decided to endorse Obama, no questions asked.  The reason being a possible president Romney would be so much worse.

The reasoning is based on rhetoric, not facts.  The republicans scream they hate anything public (except when it comes to military spending and public projects benefitting their sponsors), they want to abolish the department of education (is this a bad thing?), they want vouchers, etc.  But they love Obama’s education plan to destroy public education.

Liberals say Obama is better than the republicans because of health care, and women’s rights.  The fact is the Chicago Teachers Union represents teachers, not health care or women.

The president’s health care plan is suspect anyway since it was almost entirely underwritten by the health insurance and pharmaceutical companies.

So here is how the Chicago Teachers Union endorsement went down.

First, the Obama endorsement was discussed in the union’s political action committee (for the record I am a member of the pac committee, the union’s executive board and my school’s delegate). 

The pac committee voted to endorse the president, based upon the arguments listed above – the republicans are so much worse.

The endorsement then went to the executive board to debate.  Several members expressed concerns with endorsing someone tied to Race to the Top.  However, the CTU leadership said until there is an alternative, teachers really have no choice but to endorse the president.

Weak ruffled yeas were then recorded, barely eeking out some strong no’s.

While it was on the house of delegates agenda to vote yes or no to support the executive board’s decision to endorse Obama, a quorum was called and the delegates did not vote on an endorsement..

So the weak executive board vote in favor of endorsing a president whose policies aim to destroy this very union, stood.

The debate in the delegate’s house would have been vigorous, perhaps contentious, as some were predicting.  Some, including the leadership, were probably worried a bitter debate could

have divided the house.   

So the CTU endorsed President Obama.

Many have said the excitement, the vigor, the emotions to get out the vote and elect the country’s first black president are mostly gone today.

The economy continues to worsen, the attacks on public workers continues and the fall of the middle class continues as well.

And to endorse the president will do nothing to stop any of this.




New contract - victory or sell out? 

By Jim Vail 

September 30, 2012


Chicago public school teachers will be voting this week in their schools on whether or not to ratify a new three year contract with the Board of Education.

The teachers went on strike for the first time in 25 years to get a better contract and demand more respect during a time when education reform raining down from above is demanding more accountability from teachers.

Many believe that the teachers strike was a moral victory in that serious issues in the city’s public schools – like more than 40 children in a classroom or excessive standardized testing that results in less critical and creative learning – became local, national and even international news.

In other words, the strike inspired people to fight back against a mayor and his corporate sponsors who - via education reform - would like to privatize the schools and fire many unionized teachers.

What are the key selling points the union leadership is using to make the case for teachers to endorse this contract?

Perhaps the biggest win the Chicago Teachers Union is proclaiming is that the teachers will not be compensated in a merit pay scheme.  This plan, heavily promoted by corporations, is an incentive where teachers whose students make gains on the test scores will be paid more. 

Merit pay has been denounced by leading academic researchers who note that teachers do not enter the profession to make a lot of money, and such a scheme does not encourage collaboration, which the Chicago Public Schools expects of its teachers.

The next big win was restoring steps and lanes, a pay scale that rewards seniority, a cornerstone of a union contract.  Teachers in charter schools have complained that teachers are paid arbitrarily, feeding resentment among the staff.  One charter school teacher said the school hired a relative with no teaching experience and paid this person more than a science teacher with 15 years experience.

Other points include winning a freeze on health care costs after the union agreed to enter a wellness program in which teachers need to regularly log into a computer system with their health information.  This also was no small win as unions across the country are getting hit with huge health care cost increases.

However, the other issues that resonated in the communities has not been addressed.   The union won no concessions on lowering class sizes, stopping the onslaught of a future threat to close over a hundred city public school or ensuring better working conditions in the schools.

Job security will be in danger in this contract as President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top education reform agenda will punish more teachers due to a harsh rating system that the union warned could see up to 6,000 teachers fired in the first two years. 

My school voted to not end the strike when they read the details of this contract.  But I explained before the vote that power does not concede without a great fight.  It would only get much uglier if we were to continue to strike and seriously challenge the contract’s harsh provisions (the corporate media was demanding an end to the strike, similar to its shameless praise to support the war when General Bush decided to invade Iraq) .     

Mayor Rahm Emanuel threatened the teachers with a court injunction to stop the strike because he said many of those issues are not strike permissible.  The teachers could technically only strike over pay and benefits (thus feeding anti-teacher sentiment that teachers are only concerned about themselves).

That was after an education reform bill called SB 7 passed which allowed the mayor to increase the time children spend in school, gutted seniority and tenure for teachers when jobs are cut due to “economic reasons” and demanded teachers get an unprecedented 75% strike vote (imagine demanding that politicians can only be elected if at least 75% of the people voted, which they never do.)

The tragedy for the teachers was that the union signed onto this bill.    And again, this new contract for the teachers is another bitter pill to swallow.

The CTU leadership has been hitting the schools to drum up support to pass this contract.   Many feel there should be enough votes to pass a simple majority of the roughly 29,000 CTU members.

But the fight will continue, and hopefully people will see that what the 1% say – people like billionair Penny Pritzker, a Board of Ed member whose Hyatt hotel received a $5 million in city TIFF taxes at a time when the schools say they are broke – should no longer be taken at face value.

Long live the fight – and power to the TEACHERS!



 Vigorous Teacher Strike Ends with a Wimper

By Jim Vail

September 20, 2012


Teachers, parents, students and city residents across the city were shouting at rallies, cheering in picket lines and honking with both thumbs up as the Chicago Teachers Union completed the first week of its first strike in 25 years.

The strike captured the imagination of what the Occupy Movement termed the 99% who want to fight back against the 1% represented by Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel who was demanding major concessions from the teachers.

But then it all suddenly ended as quickly as it began, with a majority vote by the teacher delegates to call off the strike Tuesday afternoon, so classes could resume on Wednesday, September 19th.

Not surprisingly, both sides declared a victory, of sorts. 

CTU president Karen Lewis said certain concessions were gained by the strike, such as preserving pay scales that the Board of Education sought to eliminate and ending merit pay, where teachers would be compensated based on their students’ test scores.

The mayor said a reasonable contract that keeps intact the accountability he is demanding from Race to the Top has resulted in the city’s children being able to return to their classes.  He again said extending the school day from the shortest to one of the longest in the country was preserved in this contact (he actually had it already preserved in the state law that passed the previous year that the teachers could not strike over).

As a teacher delegate on the southwest side of the city, I can say with certainty that both sides worked together to end this strike. 

Teachers were fired up last Friday to continue striking until our demands would be met.  The CTU president agreed to let the delegates look over the parts of the proposed contract with their members, thus prolonging the strike for two more days.  But then, a complete turnaround on Tuesday showed the delegates were fired up to end the strike without even a debate.

How did everything change so quickly?

The mayor via the city’s major media told everyone the strike must end.  Teachers and parents across the city felt the pressure with the news suddenly showing parents picketing to end the strike, and solid grassroots middle class parent groups like Raise Your Hand demanding that the strike be called off. 

Raise Your Hand in general supported the strike because the teachers raised the issues of concern to parents, such as smaller class sizes, more books and other resources, and hiring more music and art teachers to enrich the education of the city’s children (My school currently has no art or music classes despite the city's promise for all schools to have enrichment classes.). 

Teachers were suddenly expressing fear, and their desire to avoid facing irate parents and would prefer to get back into their beloved classrooms.

I will say my doubtful self looked on a bit suspiciously when the TV cameras were focused on parents holding up professionally printed signs to end the strike.  Last year it turned out that the mayor via several black ministers paid protesters to support school closings, against the community’s wishes, who wanted to see their schools kept open. 

Groups like Stand with Children, which are funded by the billionaires and millionaires to promote education reform, are what we term astro-turf groups that pretend to be community based, when in fact there are merely paid lobbyists or pr specialists.  This is common in corporate America; for example the tobacco industry would fund so-called independent scientific groups that disputed smoking leads to cancer.

You also had the news media constantly saying an agreement is eminent and so people knew the end was near, at least according to the daily pundits.

Then you had the CTU feed this sentiment from their side.  During the beginning of the strike Lewis said the CTU and Chicago Public Schools were far apart in the negotiations.  But Lewis suddenly said only a couple of days later that she was “happy” with the negotiated contract, and felt it was “90%” strong.

Really?  How come so fast?

As someone who has been in the teaching trenches and helped get Karen Lewis elected to lead the Chicago Teachers Union, I understand, somewhat, that power has to give, in order to take.  But I also know that my school voted against suspending the strike because the teachers say a contract with too many questions, that was very heavy on draconian punishment measures for teachers, where many concluded our days are numbered as public school servants, could not be supported, and our main weapon, the strike, that we would use to meet our demands, had to continue.

Case in point – the evaluation system in this proposed contract states that if a teacher receives two "needs improvement" ratings, that would in term become an unsatisfactory rating, and the teacher’s career in Chicago would essentially be over.   Sources say the district has told principals to lower teacher ratings across the board and to tell teachers that a “needs improvement” rating is actually good.

As former CTU president Debbie Lynch pointed out in an interview last week, simply put, public school teachers are being scapegoated for the problems of teaching in high poverty city schools.

Another concern was that the teachers were fighting to preserve public education which is under assault by the privatization forces, currently embraced by both the democrat and republican parties.  That meant lowering class sizes, with reports of up to 50 students in kindergartens on the south side (and to think of my good old friend Kay Valone [a former Greek Star columnist and Chicago public school teacher] who told me she taught 50 kids in my former school in the late 1960s was a thing of the past!)   The teachers were fighting for more resources, such as books and air conditioning, more counselors (outrageous is not the word to describe the fact that only about 350 counselors service the entire Chicago public schools and its 400,000 children, and 160 schools have no functioning library).

Alas, all was surrendered in this contract.

Any pragmatist would tell you this strike had to end, the job of teaching and children learning should be back up and running as soon as possible.

But any idealist like myself is foolish enough to say we had the world looking on and the moral high ground to fight back the onslaught of the 1% that is eviscerating the middle class, public service and servants (Greeks, we're right with you here in the US - we feel your pain!). 

I did tell my teachers when we took the vote on whether or not to suspend the strike that if we choose to fight on, it would be a very ugly fight, because power never concedes anything short of a vicious war.

But, while our school and a bunch of others (I'm not sure how many) agreed to continue the fight, the powers that be on both sides pulled the plug and called victory speeches all around.

I wrote, amongst my many emails across town, that I thanked the Chicago Teachers Union for inspiring us all to dream of a better world in an inspirational fight.

And I added that we can only pray now that one day it will all come true.



Why we are Striking! 

By Jim Vail 

September 12, 2012


As we head toward the end of the first week of the first Chicago teachers strike in 25 years, it is important to reflect on what it is the teachers want that demanded such drastic action to walk off the job.

I can see the general public sort of scratch their heads when Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis keeps talking about respect for teachers and an enriched day, with air conditioning to boot. 

How do both sides come to an agreement on that in a contract?

The best insight into what exactly it is that the teachers want, came this week from former Chicago teachers union president Debbie Lynch.  She was interviewed on Channel 11’s Chicago Tonight program with the former Chicago Public Schools CEO Terry Mazany, who filled in after Ron Huberman quit last year.

Like I wrote before, this battle in Chicago is a fight between the teachers and the 1% - represented by Rahm Emanuel – who are forcing a harsh education reform program called Race to the Top which blames the teachers, and harshly evaluates the teachers.  The union estimates with the new evaluation system 5,000 to 6,000 teachers will lose their jobs in the near future.

“This is turning out to be a huge indictment of urban educators by requiring  educators to carry on their shoulders the burden of educating urban children,” said Lynch, who noted that 86% of children in the Chicago public schools live below the poverty line.  “So we turn away from our traditional neighborhood local schools, and shift to school closures, turnarounds, school charters and a sense of scapegoating the front-line professional.”

I challenge anyone to go into an inner city school and tell me how easy it is to teach.  But rather than support teachers, the mayor and the business community are instead saying the teachers are bad and need to be fired. 

Imagine how stressful a teacher’s job is today when you are trying to work with children who have serious problems, and then told you are a failure because they keep pointing to data that proves this (never mind that the research shows the higher a child’s parents’ income, the higher the child’s test scores).  

“They throw out teachers whose only crime was educating children in a high poverty school,” Lynch said.  “They don’t see the front-line teachers as assets to be developed, they look at them as liabilities.”

Another interesting perspective was Mr. Mazany, who is president of the Chicago Community Trust.  The moderator asked Mazany if he would have continued on as chief of the public schools if Mayor Emanuel had asked him.

He said absolutely not.

“The elephant in the room is respect for the teachers,” Mazany said.  “It is very important to establish a collaborative relationship with the union.  It’s either collaborate or Armegeddon.”

For example, Mazany said as chief of the city’s schools, he would have worked with the union to develop the new teacher evaluation system that the current CPS team has chosen not to do.  The teachers union is livid about how draconian and confusing it is. 

So, Mazany is saying he thinks the mayor is doing a poor job of working to solve the contract dispute.   He said Emanuel is moving a lot of reform agenda “quickly.”

Some have speculated that there is a split in the ruling circles of Chicago – a battle between the fast-talking, fast-moving neoliberal reformers and their star Rahm Emanuel, who want to totally destroy the unions and provoke this war against the teachers, vs. the old guard exemplified by Mazany who do not like the idea of Chicago playing host to the biggest strike in this country.

Lynch pointed out that the teachers’ issues, such as scarce resources, huge class sizes and poor conditions, is only now being talked about in the media because of the strike.

Interestingly enough, the president of the United States, Mr. Barack Obama, has come out in support of his former chief of staff, judging by what he did not say.

Many teachers marching in the streets of Chicago are baffled that the president, who they supported when he won his historic election four years ago, is not supporting the teachers.

That’s because his education reform agenda is Race to the Top, which the teachers are striking against today.   Race to the Top bashes teachers, destroys the teachers unions, increases privatization, and eliminates public education.

And while teacher unions across the country continue to bow to this neoliberal agenda, one last stand is taking place in the city that gave birth to the workers movement and the birth of the 8-hour work day.

As we chant on the picket lines – “The teachers united, will never be divided!”

Chicago Teachers Set to Strike – Why? 
By Jim Vail

September 4, 2012


The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has set Sept. 10th as possibly the first time in 25 years the city’s public teachers will not report to their classrooms, but instead go on strike.

The CTU says it wants a fair contract that includes a pay raise, a better teacher evaluation system and job security.

As the delegate at Hammond Elementary School on the southwest side of the city, I would like to give a little more insight to the general public as to why the teachers feel it is necessary to strike.

For one, this fight is clearly following in the footsteps of the Occupy Wall Street movement that burst on the scene two years ago to protest the massive bank bailouts as people across the country lost their jobs and their homes.

The big picture in this country mirrors the rest of the world – the continuing impoverishment of working class people everywhere.  It is a fact that the middle class is being squeezed.  As this country loses more and more union jobs, and more and more concessions are made – the middle class continues on a downward spiral. 

That seems to be the agenda of the new mayor Rahm Emanuel.  He was elected with plenty of corporate cash, and with that a mandate to squeeze the unions, cut corporate taxes and “reform” education = privatization.

So true to form, the minute the mayor moved to Chicago he went to war against the Chicago Teachers Union.  He said he knows the teachers got a raise, but what did the students get?  They got the “shaft.”   

So what did he do immediately?   He canceled the last year of the teacher’s contracted pay raise.  If there is anything I have learned about Chicago politics having been an active union member for the past several years, it is do not believe politicians when they say they have no money.  They have plenty of money to fund charter schools (mostly non-union), set up contingency schools during a strike, pay the police from the school’s budget and give raises to the board officials recently hired, like schools chief Jean Claude Brizzard, but they have no money to pay what the teacher’s contract stipulated.

Well, suddenly they had an extra $50 million lying around to pay for 477 art and music teachers recently, perhaps because 90% of the teachers voted to authorize a strike. 

Then Emanuel tried to once again pretend there is no contract between the teachers union and the board of education, and immediately tried to implement a longer school day.  Anybody who knows or has spoken to a teacher, knows that teachers work long, long hours.  Recent research out of the University of Illinois at Chicago showed that teachers work a typical 58 hour workweek with all the school grading, lesson preparation time and classroom work.  But Mr. Emanuel said Chicago had the shortest school day (by the way, that is what every urban school district around the country was being told).


We want better teacher evaluations.  If anything, this possible strike is about respect.  Suddenly, the Bill Gates foundations and hedge funds want to attack the teacher unions, implement a new teacher evaluation system that ties a teacher’s rating to the student’s test scores.  So if teachers cannot perform, out they go.

Never mind that teaching really cannot be quantified with a number.  Teaching children to critically think, and become passionate learners, cannot be quantified.  Teaching in rough urban neighborhoods where drugs and alcohol and gangs are a way of life cannot be quantified.  How can you compare a student’s test scores in Englewood, where drugs and violence and murder lurk on street corners, to the children in New Trier?

What the Chicago Board of Education is setting up is a corporate model to instill fear and fire teachers.  I have seen many great colleagues get the ax because they cannot adopt to this new stressful system that is demanding more and more from the teachers.  Many great teachers are now being rated much lower because of this new system being implemented that has confused principals, and forced many of them to retire.


We want a pay raise.  I know there are plenty of people out there saying how dare those teachers think they can demand a 24% pay raise in today’s economic climate.  First, the fact finder’s report, which was supposed to provide a compromise between the teachers union and the board of education to negotiate the contract, said if you want the teachers to work a longer day, then you have to pay for it. 

So if Mr. Emanuel and his corporate backers think the teachers should work a longer school day and school year -  up to 24% longer – then logic says you should pay for it.  But the city is just offering 2% cost of living raises, and the final year of merit pay in a four-year contract.  So if you cannot afford it, don’t make the teachers work even longer hours than they already do.    

Perhaps this is why corporations do not like unions, because unions tell them you cannot just pay people less and expect more.


We want job security.  Everybody wants some form of job security.  The mayor has plans that he outlined to a bunch of venture capitalists to close another 100 schools and open more charter schools.  Eventually, the idea outlined by the CTU is to have 350 traditional neighborhood schools, and 250 charter schools. 

Never mind the fact that charter schools do no better than regular public schools, and pay their teachers much less in terms of salary and benefits.  But through attacking the public education system and implementing privatization, business people with connections to City Hall via contracts and political contributions, can reap some profitable deals.  I do not see how the city’s children stand to gain anything from this (dare we say they will again get the “shaft.”)

So I’ll come back to the point I made in the beginning.  If the Chicago teachers go out on strike next Monday, the whole country will be watching to see how one of biggest teachers unions in the country dared to stand up in the face of the 1% and demand respect for the teachers and public workers.  It is a visible response to the fact that people are getting angrier and angrier as they work longer hours for less pay, while the portfolios of the billionaires and multi-millionaires continue to rise.

So this possible strike offers some hope for the middle class to fight back, and say, enough is enough, you treat teachers who educate the city’s children with respect, which in turn will respect the middle class and working people who have helped make this country the envy of the world.



New Principal Tries to Turnaround Top School

By Jim Vail

August 30, 2012


In a leafy, suburban looking northwest corner of the city stands Norwood Park Elementary School.

The school mirrors its surroundings – neatly manicured lawns and well swept porches of middle class dwellings where urban professionals reside.  The neighborhood school is one of the top performing schools in the city.

About 20 years ago the school was shunned by the community and was in disrepair.  But like many schools in gentrified areas of the city, families down the street began to send their children to their neighborhood public school. 

As a result, many of these schools changed for the better as more money, parental  and community involvement turned around the culture of these schools. 

But an abrupt change came to Norwood that has hit many Chicago public schools across the city recently – a new administration, and an abrupt change that has shocked the school culture.

In the case of Norwood, the change was the result of a new principal who a divided local school council chose to put in place.

Some would say the changes implemented immediately were quite harsh.

“She has been emotionally abusive,” said teacher assistant Toni Scavo, who was fired abruptly after working for 17 years at the school.  “Teachers have been crying, and she refuses to take phone calls from parents and LSC members.”

The new principal is Rene Blahuta, who served as the assistant principal to the infamous Erin Roach at Prescott Elementary School.  Roach’s problems stemmed from immediately battling veteran teachers and dismantling special education and other programs at the school that infuriated the community. 

Roach’s controversial ways, that eventually succeeded in eliminating almost the entire tenured staff, resulted in massive protests that put Prescott on the list to be closed.  He was voted out by the LSC at his previous school Ravenswood for similar actions.

It appears Blahuta is following in his footsteps.

Scavo believes she was fired because she was on the LSC and she stood up to the new administrator that many of the teachers were afraid to confront.

“One day she comes up and says these kids are too loud to an assistant teacher, can’t you get them under control, right in front of the kids,” Scavo said.  “I went into her office and I told her that you do not talk this way.”

Scavo said Blahuta, who is also a practicing attorney with an office in Lombard, was very rude and condescending to staff members at the school.

“People are afraid of her,” Scavo said.  “She asked me to rat on one of my co-workers.  I told her I’m not comfortable talking about one of my co-workers with you.”

According to Scavo, about 60% of the staff has left since Blahuta took over, being either fired, retired or just left.  Many of those who remain are looking to get out, Scavo added.

Scavo filed a grievance with the union to get her job back.  In fact, there are many similar cases across the system where teachers are being fired by the new principals who are trained in the corporate style of firing workers.

Scavo knows a lot about Norwood Park.  She has lived in the community for 25 years and worked at the school for 17 years. 

Why then would this school choose such a controversial figure?

According to Scavo, it goes back to when the past principal Bill Meuer came to the school 20 years ago and helped turn it into the successful neighborhood school it is today.  The parents helped organize massive fundraising for the school that raised “hundreds of thousands of dollars” and with that, questions about the money began to be raised.

It resulted in a crescendo.  Those parents who did not trust how the school was spending the funds then went against the wishes of many of the parents and staff, and voted to hire Blahuta, Scavo said.

“There were two factions of parents,” Scavo said.  “Those who were questioning and those who were not.”

Scavo said the LSC said there were no other qualified candidates. 

What Blahuta did next was what appears the Chicago Public Schools has ordered principals to do across the city – lower teacher ratings and fire staff.

“We had one first grade teacher who was a golden apple teacher in the making, and she was clicked off, which really upset the parents,” Scavo said.  “We also had an outstanding music teacher.  My son went to school here and he had her, and now he is a musician.  She was also fired.”

If the teachers choose to go on strike, the case of Norwood Park is an example of how the schools are being turned upside down and infuriating communities across the city.  Perhaps a strike will force CPS to back off, or at least get the board to take notice that more and more people are upset about such changes being implemented across the city.



Biden’s Speech to Teachers Focuses on Rich

By Jim Vail

August 6, 2012


Vice President Joe Biden defended the 1% at the American Federation of Teachers conference in Detroit on July 29, and did not mention one word about Race to the Top, the Obama education reform policy that has accelerated the privatization of public education by promoting charter schools, and standardized tests to punish public school teachers.

“I never play class politics,” Biden told the crowd of mostly AFT teacher delegates wearing blue Obama/Biden election shirts.  “The rich are just as good, but nobody is asking them to help.”

Of course Biden doesn’t play class politics, because who would vote for someone who represents the interests of the top class against the interests of the majority of mostly working class people in this country.  The latest attack from the top is on the teachers unions, orchestrated by both the republican and democrat parties.

The whole idea behind the AFT conference in a city decimated by globalization and outsourcing union auto worker jobs (with signs dispersed around vacated buildings ‘Outsource to Detroit’) was to get out the union vote to re-elect President Barack Obama.

So throw out the threats about how terrible the Republicans are, how presidential challenger Mitt Romney wants to totally blow up public education, and destroy our way of life, in the words of a politician with close ties to the credit card industry and whose brother owns a chain of for-profit charter schools that help eliminate union teacher jobs.

“Romney puts you as only caring about yourself,” Biden said, to whistles of boos throughout the convention hall.  “But nobody goes into teaching to make a lot of money.”

The AFT convention hearing Mr. Biden’s speech, or rather plea to vote for him and Obama, had all the makings of a tea party revival with blue and white clad teachers cheering loudly and madly waving their Obama/Biden posters.

“The Republicans decided there is no need to invest in public education,” Biden said, his voice getting louder the more he talked.  “They say we don’t know how to do this anymore.”

But certainly Obama does, by dangling federal money to states via “Race to the Top” competitive grants that mandates they cut teacher union jobs and close public schools, and open charter schools by implementing more punitive testing measures.

Remember when Obama released stimulus funds to save all those teaching jobs a few years ago when the economy first imploded?  Well, even though the Chicago Public Schools received the money, about 1500 teachers were still fired due to the budget woes.  So much for saving those jobs.

Biden made his connection to the crowd by surrounding himself with his wife – a full-time instructor in a community college (lucky her since those retiring in Chicago are mostly being replaced by part-time instructors) – and his granddaughter.

“My name is Joe Biden and I’m in love with a teacher,” he said.  Ha, ha, ha!

Then, later he went into his veiled attack on public education by stating that the US is ranked 16th in the world in how many students graduate from college.  Of course, he did not mention that the US also has one of the highest infant mortality and poverty rates among the developed nations, but his speech was written under the approving eyes of hedge fund managers, not realists.

Then he got into the laughable White House position that suddenly a tax on the rich isn’t a bad idea after all (election time).  The democrats, he said, proposed a .05% tax on any income over a $1 million, but those dawg gone republicans said no.  Heck, even multi-“millionaires” (billionaires Gates and Buffet specifically), support such a tax, Biden said.

Man, you listen to these people and you feel they’re speaking your language.

But when Obama was elected he had a chance to roll back former president Bush’s wealthy tax cuts and did not even try.  He did, though, bail out the billionaires and honor CEO contracts (not workers of course), and refused to jail any of his Wall Street masters whose antics to bring down the economy were certainly felonious.

The next line from Obama’s side kick made me perk up a little.

“We’ll build up the middle class,” Biden thundered.  “And if there’s a middle class, the poor will do better, but the wealthy will do very, very, very well.”

Thank God there’s still hope for the rich who have gotten so desperate that they have to raid middle class coffers to increase the worth of their investment portfolios!

“We don’t see you as the problem,” big bad Joe concluded to the teachers.  “We see you as the solution.”

The solution to Wall Street’s current drive to privatize education, and help the millionaires and billionaires, who are, of course, our friends.



over the years due to the proliferation of charter schools on the Westside.

Penn implemented a plan that netted almost 100 more students to increase its enrollment to over 400 students, Munoz.  How did they do this? 

Promotion, just like a charter school.

Munoz said they first made a website.  They passed out flyers and the principal worked with the parents.  They promoted their after school programs and Penn’s test scores went up.  They went to the day care centers and flyered the community.  They had after school care.  And they would teach art, culinary or sports classes for the community.

They also built a relationship with key community groups like the Reverand Robin Hood, a powerful activist minister on the Westside who once sat on the Ren 2010 commission with the Chicago Teachers Union as part of the CUE coalition.

Hood worked with the teachers union to stop the privatization of public schools and worked with Ald. Chandler who sponsored in 2006 the “Chandler Resolution” to put a moratorium on school closings and charter takeovers.  However, the alderman fled the scene when it came time for him to put his resolution forward in the education committee of the City Council, despite the fact that 40 aldermen at the time signed on in support of the resolution.

Today, Chandler and Hood are once again on the same side working to keep Penn Elementary school safe. 



Facilities Bill Turns into Big Joke

By Jim Vail

July 23, 2012



Local school communities across the city fought hard for the Facilities Bill to take control of their schools in the face of massive privatization.


The law, also known as the “Soto Bill” because it was championed by Rep. Cynthia Soto, was enacted when Carpenter Elementary School tried to fight the Chicago Board of Education’s plan to close the neighborhood school.


The fight pitted the community of teachers, students and parents against the corporate plan to close many public schools and replace them with politically connected charter schools or privately managed “turnaround” schools, run by a venture capitalist.


The talk then was Chicago mayors Richard Daley, and Rahm Emanuel fought hard against the bill that would give school communities more control and say before plans were implemented to consolidate, phase-out, close, privatize or change in any other way neighborhood schools.


About three years ago house speaker Michael Madigan removed the school closings moratorium that would have saved Carpenter and other public school victims of CPS privatization.


However, community school activist groups like KOCO and Designs for Change, along with the Chicago Teachers Union, fought on to keep the bill alive before governor Pat Quinn signed it into law last year.


So, did this bill save any of the 17 schools that the Board of Education planned to close or turnaround this past school year?


Nope, not one. 


This, despite paid protestors, massive community rallies and hundreds of people opposed to the closings speaking out at board hearings, the Board of Ed trustees voted unanimously in favor of the mayor’s plan to privatize them all. 


The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) plan to turnaround ten schools, using dubious statistics, claimed they did not even have to hold two facilities bill-mandated community hearings, like the schools that were slated to close, because it did not alter the facilities of the building.


The mayor said a big part of his school privatization plan is to turnaround 40 schools in his four years in office, where the entire staff, including teachers, administrators, janitors, cooks and other workers are fired and replaced with a new, mostly younger crew.


The facilities bill should have also helped schools like Gallistel Elementary on the far south side that has been fighting for a new building because of massive overcrowding and the need for major building repairs.


The community has spoken out at Board of Ed meetings, with hundreds of parents and students and the aldermen at their side over the last several years.  All to no avail.


So has the facilities bill helped Gallistel?


“No,” said Gallistel parent and activist Elena Rios, at a CPS board meeting earlier this year.  “The only thing CPS has done is set up a facilities department.”


While it is understandable that there is not enough money to fix all the schools in the city with leaky roofs or crumbling walls, the fact is millions of dollars in renovations have gone to what the city is pushing – charter schools, military schools and privately managed turnarounds, at the expense of many needy schools like Gallistel.


Then, just last week, Schools chief Jean Claude Brizard was supposed to address the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force at UIC. 


However, the event was cancelled because the university obtained information that several groups were planning protests and potential disruptions of the Task Force meeting, the General Assembly’s Chicago Educational Task Force announced in a press release.


“We deeply regret the inconvenience to the public and to Mr. Brizard and his staff,” Task Force chair Rep. Soto said in the press release.  “This last-minute cancellation will inconvenience families and community members who had looked forward to attending tonight’s meeting.  We are already working with CPS to re-schedule the meeting with Mr. Brizard for the earlier available date.  The new location and date will be announced to the public as soon as possible.”


Now, here’s the next question. 


Wasn’t the facilities task force set up to represent those protesting the event because CPS has been able to basically ignore the law to hold the Board of Ed accountable when closing schools and disrupting communities?


Since when is the safety of Mr. Brizard suddenly taking precedence over the communities who are upset with the Board’s continued attack on neighborhood schools.


Brizard himself has said – of course he’s just repeating what the mayor wants, who in turn is just repeating what corporate America and private investors want – that the neighborhood schools are not giving students enough options, thus privatizing and closing them should continue.


So, is the Task Force now open about who it really represents?  Does it really support Brizard, and corporate attacks on local community control over neighborhood schools?


Or is it proving once again, that no matter how hard you try, you just can’t win at this game of politics when we the community try to play by the rules.


Unfortunately, this is how our political system works – taking so-called pro-democracy, community accountability legislation, and letting the money interests that oppose it, determine its true fate.




American Idol - Elections as Auditions!


by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA


I’ve used this example before—that elections in the U.S. are like a very complicated audition. Complicated audition in the sense that it’s like the popular shows where people get on and perform, like “American Idol.” In these situations, secondarily you’re trying to get the approval of the audience, but primarily you’re trying to get the approval of the panel of judges. Even in terms of getting to perform, getting your chance to be out there before the audience—and in terms of how the audience is influenced—you have to get the approval of the judges. Now, part of getting the approval of the judges is showing that you can move the audience in a certain way—but in a fundamental sense it comes back to the judges. It’s the same thing in elections.

In these elections, under this system, the “audition” (in other words, participation in primary elections to determine who the final candidates will be) is geared primarily to the panel of judges—to where the big money is to finance a campaign, to where the people are who control the media and other major institutions—you have to win their approval, above all. But part of auditioning for them is to convince them that you can influence the “audience” (the public) in a way they want it influenced. That is a big part of the way you audition, of what this audition is really for—not for “the public” but for the “panel of judges”—for those people who are in a position to decide whether they will (or will not) get major finances funneled into your campaign, and will (or will not) cast your “audition” (your efforts as a candidate) in a favorable light in the mass media, and so on.

The “deciders,” in fundamental and ultimate terms, are not “the American People,” as they like to pretend, but that small part of “the American people” which dominates the economy and therefore the politics, the media and in general the means of molding public opinion, and every other sphere of social life: the capitalist-imperialist ruling class and its political and literary representatives.

How does this “panel of judges” decide whether your audition is any good—or, on the other hand, when to bring out the Simon Cowell type to tell you: “You stink, get the hell out of here!” [audience laughter] This is based on their calculation of their strategic interests and how what you’re doing, and what you stand for, a) will (or will not) serve those interests directly; and b) will (or will not) serve them, so to speak, indirectly—by influencing the populace in the way they want it influenced. That’s what makes the audition complicated. You’re not just auditioning for them, to see if they like “the key that you sing in,” but this is also, in a real sense, about whether or not they think you can influence the audience, the electorate (“the American people”) in the way they want to influence it.

Both things are part of the audition—but it’s all on the terms of the dynamics of this system. And what happens if you get outside of the dynamics of this system? For example, if you start saying: “It’s ridiculous that we spend so much on the military when people are so hungry in the world—we should cut the military budget in half and use that money to feed the people in the world—I was just listening to Bono the other day, and he convinced me.” [audience laughter] Well, you could run that out, but you’re not going to be a serious candidate for any significant elective office in the U.S., and certainly not for president, if you’re saying that. Why? For all the reasons I was discussing earlier: because that does not conform to the underlying dynamics of this system, and to the superstructural expressions—politically and militarily and geo‑strategically—of those underlying dynamics. You would be totally out of line with the way things actually work, to put it in simple terms, and you would get nowhere. Maybe you’d get an article in The Nation, or something [audience laughter], but you will get nowhere in terms of actually getting close to exercising any power or any significant influence on the direction of government and society in an overall sense. Because you’re “wack”—or you’re “out of whack”—you’re out of line with what the actual dynamics are and how that expresses itself in terms of the political and geo‑strategic needs of the people who are the dominant, ruling class within this system of capitalist-imperialist production relations—those who control this system and who fashion and use elections to function as a key part of the political structures to reinforce that system.

They have found this, up to this point at least, to be a convenient and actually a brilliant device as they have developed it—to do this in the form of elections. It serves their interests all the better, at least up to this point, to rule through a political system that involves “popular elections”—but popular elections in which and through which they exercise fundamental and ultimate control. That is what is really going on, and not something else. And that is why programs that may conform to what a lot of people would like, but are not in the interests of the ruling class, will get nowhere under this system. For example, if you took a poll and you asked people to indicate, up or down, how they felt about what I just articulated about cutting the military budget in half and using the half that was cut to end world hunger—probably a majority of people who identify as “Democrats” would be strongly in favor. But that has nothing to do with what the Democratic Party will adopt.

Why? That’s a question that people should be challenged to seriously engage. Why that discrepancy, what does that flow out of, what does that reflect, what does that tell us?


Revolution #263, March 25, 2012


Editors’ Note: This is taken from the talk “Why We’re In the Situation We’re In Today...And What to Do About It: A Thoroughly Rotten System and the Need For Revolution,” one of the 7 Talks given by Bob Avakian in 2006. Audio of the 7 Talks, plus the Question and Answer Session, with Concluding Remarks, is available on in the Audio and Video listing for Bob Avakian, and at The author has edited this for publication here.



Chicago Delegates Meeting Fires Up Teachers

By Jim Vail

March 27, 2012


A specially called delegates meeting last Friday, March 23 was a jam packed sea of red, who were teachers fired up to fight the mayor’s attempt to push a new contract that would take away many of the hard fought rights of the teachers.


“The only way we win is when we stand united,” said Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union.


Her words were met with a round of applause, as the union leadership helped fire up the teachers to know that if they do not like the fact a new five year contract the Board of Eduction and Mayor Rahm Emanuel are proposing will force the teachers to work much longer and not be compensated, then they can fight back.


The meeting was called after 10% of the delegates signed a petition to call for a special delegates meeting to discuss the contract. subject area teachers would be paid differently, Lewis said.


One delegate noted that the Board is proposing to eliminate the current option for teachers to cash out their accumulated sick days like they are with all its non-union employees.  Lewis said that this is an issue the teachers can decide to fight as well.


“Everything we got in this contract came from walking picket lines,” said Jesse Sharkey, CTU vice president.  “A credible strike threat is our most important bargaining tool.”


The union leadership seemed to be supportive of leading a strike should negotiations between the Board and the CTU not be resolved.  That strike would most likely come in the beginning of September of the new school year when all the schools should be session.


One of the stumbling blocks to being able to strike is a new law – Senate Bill 7 – which mandates an unprecedented 75% strike vote from every member, even if they are sick.  The union said the rules and election committee is putting together a plan on how to conduct the vote, which would include being able to vote over a certain number of days.


A strike authorization vote by the membership can be taken at any time, Lewis said.  A fact finding committee comprised of a CTU and Board rep and one more rep chosen by both the CTU and the Board begins April 1, and a report made in July.  The CTU then has 15 days to accept or reject the board’s offer, Sharkey said.


The Board is currently proposing a 5 year contract, while the CTU is proposing a 2 year contract.


The longest CTU strike was 19 days. 


It is important that the teachers work with the parents to ensure that they understand the need for a strike should it be necessary, delegates said at the meeting.


After getting heat from her own party after signing on to SB7 Bill which was sponsored by Stand for Children, a corporate astro turf group committed to curbing the rights of unions, Lewis told a delegate who asked if the union could go back to the legislature to change the strike vote threshold that the 75% vote will not be a problem.


A high school delegate said that the credit union was not returning calls to come out to her school.  However, CTU finance secretary said this was actually a good sign to show how many teachers are signing up to save money if a strike should occur.  Mayle said she will make sure a rep comes to their school with more than 200 teachers.


If teachers go on a legal strike (it should be noted many of the important strikes in the beginning were ‘wildcat’ or illegal), then the American Federation of Teachers or AFT would guarantee 0% loans to teachers.





Write Your Letters About Longer School Day!

I must admit that I for one have never been  a big supporter of writing letters to the editor.  But, there are certain issues that those at the top need to get the message - and writing a letter to the editor questioning why Chicago needs a whopping extra 90 minutes every day, an extra two weeks of school, a 7.5 hour school day, when the state average is 6.5 hours.  Feel free to cut and paste my letter below to the Sun Times who appear interested in printing it.  Below my letter are some addresses to send it to by email.  Michelle Bever from the 19th Ward against the longer school continues to question the mayor's wisdom behind this latest concoction.  Cheers!    

Jim Vail, Editor, Second City Teacher


Dear Editor: 

I am opposed to the current proposal from the Chicago Public Schools to extend the school day to an extra 90 minutes everyday and an extra two weeks.  The following concerns should be noted in your publication:

1)  longer hours will cut into after school activities (kids getting home without a break after 6 or 7 at night?)
2)  safety issue in schools where the later dismissal time will be getting dark and older siblings or the children walk home alone
3)  CPS has no extra funding - so there is no enriched day with more art or music than many CPS students are currently denied.

It is simply dishonest and unfair for the media to not have a fair discussion about this topic with the public before deciding how this proposal should be enacted.  Bringing CPS in line with the state average of 6.5 hours would be much better, the current proposal of 7.5 hours is crazy and that should be noted.


Jim Vail 


[Send to: Kate Grossman, Deputy Editorial Page Editor, Chicago Sun-Times,;;;;;]


Is the Mayor an Educator?


Why has a public school education become a political fight?  Why is the Mayor of Chicago dictating how schools should be run?  Last time I checked Rahm Emanuel is not and has never been an educator.  Yet he has imposed education reform, not for a quality day, not for anything that will actual improves the education of our children, just for a longer day.  Bigger is not better.


Throughout the city, schools are lacking the basics.  For example, 160 schools do not have libraries, text books that are 15-20 years old or not enough for each student in a class, only 25% of students that attend a neighborhood school have both music and art, and our children only receive gym once a week even though the state mandate states they should have P.E. daily.  All schools have to fund raise for what CPS considers extras.  We have to fund raise for basic items like copy paper.  And let’s not forget that classroom sizes in Chicago are higher than 95% of the state.  Yet, our mayor doesn’t care about any of that.  He just wants to supersize the day.


As a parent, voter, and tax payer I want a quality day for my children.  We should not have to fight with CPS and the Mayor. We should not have

to get in line at 4:00am on the fourth Wednesday of the month at 125 s. Clark like cattle to get our voices heard to an appointed school board that doesn’t care.  This system is ridiculous and with a $700 million to $1 billion dollar deficit projected for next year how can they extend the day with any benefit to our students?


As a parent I want to see smaller class sized that mirror the suburban schools.  I want to see Art, Computers, P.E., Music, and Library in every school, every week!  When every school in CPS can say they have that then by all means spend the money and increase the day.  But until you can reduce class size across every school and give schools the adequate funding to have a quality 5 hour and 45 minute day don’t dare try and extended the day!


Thank you,


Michelle Bever




Washington Principal Finally Quits

By Jim Vail
May 6, 2012
The George Washington High School principal who inspired student protests and numerous faculty lawsuits over wrongful terminations and discrimination, has decided to call it quits and retire at the end of this school year.
According to John Whitfield, the schools fiery teacher delegate who like many of his colleagues he defended, was fired last year for being an unsatisfactory teacher, principal Florence Gonzales will retire in June.  
Whitfield filed a wrongful dismissal case against principal Florence Gonzales for political retaliation, which is currently being litigated.
The school is currently interviewing candidates like many other schools for a new principal.  It has been estimated that anywhere from 120 to 160 principals are planning to retire this year, along with almost 3,000 teachers.  The mass exodus, many believe, is a result of the attacks on public educators and the public schools.  
Gonzales first went to battle against the students and staff when she became principal of Washington in 2008.  She first started firing many teachers and other staff and slowly eliminating the African American population in the majority Latino school.  These moves prompted a one-day student walkout in solidarity against the principal's heavy-handed tactics.
Her supporters claimed she increased test scores and security at the school, while her vociferous critics disputed the claims, and said she fired those who got in her way, making up cases against her detractors.
The Chicago Teachers Union issued a report on the numerous grievances against Gonzales, and several teacher lawsuits were filed for discrimination, wrongful termination and harassment. 
According to the attorney representing some of the teachers' lawsuits, Gonzales was suspended before.  However, it was never clear what she was disciplined for.
Gonzales was also accused of using her high-level political connections to do what she did and not be removed.  Court records indicated she was named as a co-defendant in a civil lawsuit with former city streets and sanitation Al Sanchez who was convicted for patronage hiring last year, and she made political hires at the school with ties to the alderman's office.
She even hired some with criminal pasts, including a security guard who was fired as a police officer earlier for allegedly having a criminal past, and a basketball coach who was convicted of sexual harassment.
Gonzales tentacles allegedly even extended into the Chicago Public Schools inspector general's office where cases against corruption are launched.  It appeared, according to sources, she was able to launch cases from the IG office against those who opposed her actions.
Whitfield filed many grievances against Gonzales before being fired last year.  He spoke to the Board of Education about her terrorizing teachers and not following the contract, however no action was taken against Gonzales, nor was an investigation conducted despite the flood of accusations and problems.
 Longer School Day Cut to 7 Hours - Still Too Long!
By Michelle Bever
April 11, 2012 
Rahm Emanuel announced today that next year the elementary schools will have a school day of seven hours, and high schools will be seven and a half. As this is a first step in the right direction, it is still unacceptable. The extension to the current schedule is still unfunded and unprecedented. This is simply a change in time with no details about funding. We need to keep up the fight for our children. A 7.0 or 7.5 unfunded day is no better for our children's education.
A few things to remember:
  • The national average is 6.64 hours
  • Common Core standards are in place in 40 states and none of them included more time for learning
  • CPS has not indicated any new source of funding. In fact, they are projecting a $600 million - $1 billion deficit for 2012-2013
  • CPS has not indicated what will be cut from the current day to pay for this initiative
Rahm Emanuel is not compromising. He is trying to add spin to his battle. This is real life, not Spin City. In the beginning of all this Mayor Emanuel stated 90 minutes. Then he went to 7.5 hours, which is 105 it is 75 more minutes. No matter how he spins the number, he has yet to add quality to the day. He is only addingquantity.
CPS needs to be honest with the parents, teachers, students and tax payers. There is no plan for added quality, there is no plan for improvement. This is just an example where the leaders of CPS and the Mayor think that if they make something bigger everyone will think it is better. We are not fools!

2 Chicago lawmakers had desks at crooked contractor



Chicago Sun-Time

June 11, 2012


Two of the most powerful legislators in Springfield ran their private businesses out of the offices of a crooked government contractor, according to documents obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

State Rep. Edward Acevedo and state Sen. Tony Munoz won’t say why they had desks and computers for their businesses in the Southwest Side offices of Azteca Supply Co., whose owner and her husband await sentencing in a minority-contract fraud scheme.

The two Chicago Democrats — who each hold the title of assistant majority leader in the Illinois Legislature — have never listed the 4500 S. Kolin Ave. address on any business filings with the state of Illinois. Nor have they reported any business ties to Azteca on the financial disclosure forms that they are required to file each year with the legislature.

But an Azteca employee-turned-government-informant told the FBI that Acevedo and Munoz kept the desks and computers for their businesses at Azteca’s offices, according to a recently unsealed search warrant that led to the indictment and convictions of Azteca president Aurora Venegas and her husband, Thomas Masen.


The informant told federal investigators that the two lawmakers “acted as consultants/lobbyists” for the crooked contractor, according to a sworn statement FBI Special Agent Julia E. Meredith wrote to obtain the search warrant for the July 17, 2008, FBI raid on the offices of Azteca, which got millions of dollars in work from the city of Chicago and was the largest female-owned subcontractor on Mayor Richard M. Daley’s O’Hare Modernization Project.

FBI agents searched Azteca’s desks, computers, credenzas, file cabinets and vehicles, but they did not search the two desks and computers belonging to Acevedo and Munoz, according to the records, which had been kept under seal since 2008.

The FBI didn’t search the legislators’ desks or computers because they were “not believed to maintain business records of Azteca,” Meredith wrote.“These computers will not be searched or seized.”

Asked why the FBI didn’t seize the legislators’ computers four years ago, FBI spokeswoman Joan Hyde says investigators “did not have probable cause to be looking” at the two men’s computers nearly four years ago.


“It was an Azteca Supply issue,” Hyde says of the search.

Acevedo wouldn’t talk with a Sun-Times reporter seeking comment. Munoz didn’t return messages left for him.

Neither has been charged with any wrongdoing.


Acevedo and Munoz are both 48 and both are cops on leave from the Chicago Police Department while serving in the Illinois Legislature. Both men were leaders of Daley’s now-defunct Hispanic Democratic Organization.

Venegas and her company had given money in the past to both politicians’ campaign funds. Munoz got $10,470. Acevedo got $1,050, and Venegas also hosted campaign fund-raisers for him.


Venegas falsely represented that she owned and ran Azteca giving the company a leg up on obtaining government contracts set aside for businesses owned and operated by women, according to federal prosecutors and City Hall’s inspector general. Her husband admitted lying to the FBI about his role in the company.

Azteca did little if any work, acting instead as a “pass-through” for other companies that used them to meet government requirements to include minority- and women-owned subcontractors.


Prosecutors initially accused Azteca of fraudulently receiving more than $9.5 million tied to contracts between 2001 and 2008.

Venegas, 63, pleaded guilty last year to a charge involving a $57,000 landscaping contract with the village of Orland Park. Masen, 67, pleaded guilty to lying to federal authorities when he denied he was helping his wife run a phony woman-owned business to win government contracts, with other companies actually doing the work.

Azteca had other government deals to provide everything from concrete pipes at O’Hare Airport to chemicals to treat Chicago’s drinking water, as well as deals to dispose of feminine-hygiene products at O’Hare and work on the reconstruction of the Dan Ryan Expressway.


Azteca let Acevedo and Munoz “use a portion of its office space to operate their consulting businesses,” according to the FBI search warrant, which doesn’t say whether they paid rent.

Azteca leased the space in the office and warehouse building on South Kolin from developer Calvin Boender, who has since gone to prison for bribing then-Ald. Isaac Carothers (29th).

Venegas gave Munoz a desk to operate his company, Urban Risk Management & Consulting Services Inc.

Acevedo used his desk to operate his company, Vallarta Consulting Group, according to the search warrant. When the FBI raided the offices on South Kolin, there were two names on the door — Azteca Supply Co. and Vallarta Consulting Group.

Acevedo listed himself as president of Vallarta on his most recent legislative financial disclosure statement, filed last year. He didn’t say what Vallarta does.

Vallarta’s current address is listed as the South Loop condo of attorney Meribeth Mermall, who founded the company in December 2003 while working as an assistant Cook County state’s attorney.

Mermall, who now works as a lobbyist for Commonwealth Edison, is also a manager of Vallarta, according to state records. Her daughter works for Acevedo’s legislative office, according to the daughter’s Facebook page.

Mermall, 53, did not return messages.

Acevedo wrote a letter on his official state letterhead on Sept. 12, 2006, encouraging City Hall to certify Venegas and her company as a woman-owned business,

“She is one of the finest, most well-rounded individuals I know,” Acevedo wrote, singling out “Aurora’s ethics and willingness to go one step farther.”


At the time he wrote that letter, Acevedo was suing the city, claiming that his civil rights were violated by a fellow Chicago police officer who arrested the lawmaker during a scuffle at an auto pound in August 2001. City Hall paid a private law firm $132,363 to fight Acevedo’s suit, which was thrown out by judge, reinstated by the appeals court and then rejected by a federal jury in September 2007.




Administrator Wins Million Dollar Case against Board of Ed 

By Jim Vail

June 23, 2012


Kenneth Taylor, a former assistant principal at Goodlow Elementary School in Englewood, thought he was doing his job when he reported an alleged abuse of a student by another teacher.

It was reported that a teacher at the school tripped a student who then hit his head on the ground.  So Taylor immediately took corrective action as outlined in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) handbook and reported the incident to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and his principal, said his attorney David Hemenway.

Apparently this upset his principal who later lowered his ratings before firing him, Hemenway said.

Last week a jury agreed that Taylor’s dismissal was retaliation and awarded him $1.05 million for lost wages and benefits and suffering, Hemenway said.

Robyn Ziegler, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Board of Education, told Second City Teacher that CPS is appealing the case and has no comment at this time.

According to Hemenway, the teacher who allegedly tripped the child was modeling bad behavior and disputed the fact that the student hit his head.  He said the principal agreed with the teacher that this was an unfounded report of abuse.

The question was not whether or not the teacher was guilty, Hemenway said, but whether Taylor followed the Chicago Board of Education’s policy. 

Hemenway said the incident occurred on May 16, 2007, and the following year Taylor’s evaluation rating was lowered, with mishandling the DCFS case listed as one of the reasons.

In 2008, Taylor was out on medical leave after being injured when breaking up a student fight.  He was then notified that his position was closed out.  After contacting the legal dept., Taylor was reinstated, but was then fired at the end of the school year in 2009, Hemenway said.   

Taylor had filed a complaint in 2008 with the Labor Relations Board, Hemenway said.  The Board of Ed’s legal department investigated the case and concluded that Taylor was not retaliated against and had made a false statement of suspected abuse, his lawyer said.

However, the investigators never interviewed Taylor or the teacher about the incident, Hemenway said.

“I’m amazed how it got this far,” Hemenway said by phone.  “They lower his rating, yet the law department tells him he had to report the incident.  The Board backs the principal, but this was clear retaliation.”

After a seven day trial, the jury awarded the million dollar verdict against the Chicago Board of Education on June 13th, Hemenway said. 

The award included $600,500 in lost wages, benefits and pension, with the rest awarded for emotional distress for the discharge, including $100,000 for other retaliatory actions from the discharge, Hemenway said.

Hemenway said this retaliation case did not fall under the whistle blower act which became law in January, 2008, after the Taylor incident occurred.

Taylor has worked for the Board of Education since 1990, became an assistant principal at Goodlow in 2001, having served two four-year terms with the principal, and previously received excellent evaluations, Hemenway said. 

Taylor is currently substitute teaching in the city and the suburbs, Hemenway said.  Taylor’s dismissal is currently listed as an honorable termination and he is not on the infamous Do Not Hire list, his lawyer added.

“This was an unusually high award,” said Hemenway, a labor lawyer who previously worked in the Chicago Board of Ed’s legal department.  “It’s frustrating.  The Board of Ed has the right policies in place and trainings.  Mr. Taylor did what he was supposed to do, and yet this still happened.  It was just clear out retaliation.”



New Orleans Katrina School Firings Illegal

By the Black Agenda Report
July 5, 2012
A federal judge ruled that local and state officials acted illegally when they fired 7,500 New Orleans public school employees to make way for charter schools, in the wake of the 2005 Katrina disaster. Seven of the former employees won cash awards ranging from $48,000 to $48,000, and the total owed to the entire class of plaintiffs could run in the tens of millions. "From the beginning it was a wrongful takeover" based on "manufactured evidence of failure," said Willie Zanders, lawyer for the plaintiffs. "Many people saw this as an opportunity to privatize public education." Eighty percent of New Orleans schools are now charters.
The Technocratization of Public Education
Subverting educational practices

Global Research
June 28, 2012

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is directing $1.1 million to fit students in seven US pubic school districts with “galvanic skin response” bracelets. The devices are designed to measure students' receptivity to teachers’ lessons through biometric technology that reads and records “skin conductance, a form of electrodermal activity that grows higher during states such as boredom or relaxation.” [1, 2].

The funding is part of the Gates Foundation’s $49.5 million Measures of Effective Teachers project that is presently experimenting with teacher evaluation systems. As Melinda Gates put it on the PBS NewsHour, “What the Foundation feels our job is to do is to make sure we create a system where we can have an effective teacher in every single classroom across the United States.” [3]

The effort of extraordinarily wealthy elites to further subvert educational practices through “neuromarketing” techniques is the latest example in a long sequence of educational reforms dating to the early 1900s. Indeed, the Gates Foundation’s fixation on stimulus-response measurement and data collection is a fitting chapter of this history....


1. Valerie Strauss, "$1.1 Million Plus Gates Grants: “Galvanic” Bracelets that Measure Student Engagement," Washington Post, 11 June 2012,

2. Diane Ravitch, "Just When You Thought It Couldn’t Get Crazier,”, 9 June 2012,

3. PBS NewsHour, "Melinda Gates on the Importance of Evaluations in Shaping Effective Teachers," 4 June, 2012,

4. Paolo Lioni, The Leipzig Connection (Sheridan, OR: Heron Books, 1993).

5. General Education Board, Occasional Papers, Issues 1-9, New York, 1913, 6,

6. Lioni.

7. Erich Fromm, Escape From Freedom (New York: Avon, 1969 [1941]), 276.



 Off We Go - Second City, the second week - teachers and principals unite!

By Jim Vail  

March 30, 2012 


Thank you to everyone who is reading this and would like to learn a little bit more about how our city works and what goes on beyond the headlines, the screaming lights and glitter that this society throws at people to believe in a dream.

I understand that now there will be about 120 principals retiring from the Chicago Public Schools and about 3,000 teachers.  These are record numbers, and with the current crazy environment, it certainly appears that those at the top are pushing for this to happen.

The Board seems to be focused on the bottom line when it comes to the teaching profession - hire young, cheap teachers, and get rid of veteran, expensive teachers.  This is the business model being followed to the T in the charter schools.  The teachers hired in these schools are young, and working for less pay and benefits and much longer hours, many leave after one or two years, essentially de-professionalizing this noble endeavor to educate our future.

We teachers and parents know how important teaching, and experience, is.  But business people see dollars via privatization and charters and turnarounds, so they look at the best bang for their buck.  

So lets look at one example of why it is a bad idea to fire all the veteran teachers at a turnaround school.  I ran into one teacher who was fired in a turnaround at Phillips High School.  This guy, who fought hard against the turnaround, said he is now working at Hirsch High School.  But he said he does not have the relationship with the kids like he had at Phillips. Most of the students come from impoverished neighborhoods, where drugs, homelessness, violence, etc. are a way of life, and school for many is a haven where certain social issues have to be addressed first before focusing on the academics.  Relationships with these children are more than crucial when many come from broken homes. But no, let's further destabilize their lives, when a children moves to another school he loses on average 6 months of his education. 

Then we have all the principals retiring as the demands increase, and the corporate model seems to be what is needed, with education experience taking a back seat to a business background - because you know, schools are a business, and children and teachers should be held accountable by a standardized test score.  

Now teachers, when your school is looking for a new principal, be smart.  Be proactive, get involved and ask questions.  Ignore our consumer culture that ingrains in us to just look at the surface, and be wowed by the packaging.  That's what happened at Prescott Elementary School, where the new principal candidate smiled and wowed his way into the school, and the teachers there were all hopeful for the best.  Well, now we know that hope turned into a nightmare, and now about 4 years later, everyone except one from the original teaching staff is gone.  Yes, many had tenure, many embraced Mr. Roach, but he demeaned the teaching staff he inherited and got them all out one by one.

How did this happen?  Why did the teachers and staff embrace this tyrant?  All they had to do was look a bit northwest to find he was dumped at Ravenswood school where he terrorized the teachers and made life a living hell for those who worked there.  Of course, there is more to the story.  But let the moral of the story be this - in this day and age of corporate fascism invading our lives (Invasion of the Body Snatchers comes to mind), don't believe in people, check it out.  Do your research, gather your facts, and stop believing in a false world with promises even our children know are silly.