Chicago school closure battle intensifies with hunger strike

29 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A Group Of Chicago Residents Are Starving Themselves To Save A School.

A group of Chicago residents finished the 11th day of a hunger strike Thursday in an attempt to move the Chicago School Board to make a decision over the fate of a local school, Dyett High School.Hunger strike protesters trying to save a high school ratcheted up the pressure on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to meet their demands on Thursday, with supporters delivering a letter to City Hall detailing the health dangers to those who say they’ve gone without solid food for 11 days.What will it take to balance the city’s budget; put the pension funds of municipal workers, laborers, firefighters, police and teachers on stable footing; patch the operating deficit in the Chicago Public Schools budget; and continue to make debt payments on time?In the Bronzeville neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, a dozen parents and community members have gone 11 days without eating to protest the closure of their neighborhood school.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s school board on Wednesday unanimously approved a budget that relies heavily on borrowed money and the hope of a nearly $500 million bailout from a stalemated Springfield, with the specter of disruptive cuts in January if that help fails to materialize. Around the same time the letter was delivered, Emanuel told reporters that Chicago Board of Education President Frank Clark met with the hunger strikers Wednesday. The $5.7 billion spending plan contains another property tax hike — an estimated $19-a-year increase for the owner of a $250,000 home — as well as teacher and staff layoffs. The protestors — part of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School — want the board not only to take immediate action, but also to accept their proposal to reopen the school as a district-run one that focuses on science. Msall has argued that it is “financially risky” for CPS to count on Springfield for help when there is no end in sight to the state budget stalemate and said he’s “deeply concerned CPS could fail, with devastating consequences” for the city and state “if stakeholders don’t come together to develop a multi-year plan.” The Civic Federation further demanded that CPS spell out the nature of the devastating mid-year budget cuts — including thousands of teacher layoffs and soaring class sizes — that would be necessary if Springfield doesn’t come through with pension help.

On Thursday, Emanuel responded to those concerns by reiterating his longstanding demand that the General Assembly end the double-standard that forces Chicago taxpayers to pay twice: once for the pensions of their own retired teachers, then for the pensions of retired teachers outside the city. “I agree with Laurence about fiscal rectitude [and] making sure budgets are balanced and doing things in a responsible way. But CPS has continued to push back discussions of the community’s proposed Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology Community High School, most recently moving the public hearings from early August to mid-September. It is not a sustainable approach long-term.” The sizable hole in the spending plan — it amounts to more than 8 percent of the operating budget — means Emanuel and new CPS chief Forrest Claypool will continue to pressure state lawmakers and Gov.

What I don’t believe is that we should continue to ask our students and teachers to bear the burden when the political leaders are not standing up to their responsibility,” Emanuel said. “When it comes to . . . using the term ‘irresponsible,’ it’s irresponsible to not have a budget at the state level. It’s also irresponsible to keep an inequity in the system that actually puts a further burden on the taxpayers, the children and the teachers of Chicago.” Without mentioning Richard M. Please list separately the additional amount required of each taxpayer due to all the borrowing, stalling and the interest on the debt — interest that is tens of millions of dollars more due to the schools’ and the city’s junk bond status.

It also allows the mayor to try to pass the blame for mid-year CPS budget cuts to Springfield if state leaders don’t deliver and divert focus from decades of financial mismanagement at the state’s largest school district. At a press conference Thursday, Emanuel said there are a lot of schools in the Dyett area, so it might not make sense to “talk about another one when even some of the high schools within the three-mile radius are not at capacity yet,” according to DNAinfo. Daley by name, Emanuel has repeatedly accused his predecessor and political mentor of “kicking the can down the road” and postponing Chicago’s financial day of reckoning. There is sympathy in some quarters at the Capitol for a CPS aid package, but it remains tied up in the stalemate between Rauner, who is trying to use the issue to negotiate his pro-business, union-weakening agenda that also could include a property tax freeze, and the Democrat-controlled General Assembly that is holding firm. “If I were them, I am looking at a state that doesn’t even have a complete budget for the fiscal year, I wouldn’t say this was a really good bet,” said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, a top lieutenant to Speaker Michael Madigan, of Wednesday’s CPS vote. “I would not be betting real money on any kind of quick bailout from the state.” Emanuel stayed out of public view Wednesday, and his office did not respond to questions about the budget vote.

But that didn’t stop Emanuel from giving his handpicked school team the green light to kick the can until the middle of the school year and assume that a pension bailout from Springfield will avert the need for devastating budget cuts. In addition to looking to Springfield, the mayor has tried to frame CPS’ financial woes as a problem shared by the school district and the Chicago Teachers Union. We respect the community’s passion for Chicago’s children, and we will make the best possible decision to give all the children of the city a good education.” He continued, “They just ignore us because they were hell-bent on closing this school and several other schools in this neighborhood, as if there’s no hope for black kids in neighborhood schools, and that’s just not true.” The protestors have gained the support of those in the community. How does the mayor justify that risk? “Every leader I’ve talked to individually has acknowledged that the inequity . . . will be addressed, needs to be addressed. But in October, after a series of demonstrations that included protesters chaining themselves together outside Emanuel’s office and chanting to disrupt City Council meetings, the district agreed to accept proposals from private community organizations to run the school for CPS.

The Dyett closure is the latest chapter in a long-running saga that has defined Chicago during the mayoralty of Rahm Emanuel, who in 2013, in the name of school reform, announced a plan to close 49 schools, almost all in poor, black neighborhoods. On Wednesday, the president of the nation’s second-largest teachers union, Randi Weingarten, joined the protestors. “These hunger strikers are pursuing justice — not for themselves, but for our children,” Weingarten said. “And they’re not simply saying to the mayor or the school board ‘Do something.’ They have a plan that they have worked on. Clark and school board members declined to answer reporters’ questions after Wednesday’s lengthy meeting, but a CPS spokesman later put Clark on the phone for a brief interview. “You quickly have to step back and look at your spending and ask yourself ‘Where can I cut spending?’ ” Clark told the Tribune. “We are driven primarily by payroll costs. Both the Republican leaders in the House and Senate said this has to be dealt with, and they’ve said it both publicly and privately,” Emanuel said. “That’s why, unlike past years, I am confident that Springfield is finally going to come to terms with 40 years of inequity because it’s breaking the back of the finances of CPS.” Emanuel reiterated his offer to raise Chicago property taxes by as much as $225 million for schools, but only if teachers accept the equivalent of a seven percent pay cut and the state reimburses CPS for “normal” pension costs.

That’s, I’m sure, the single largest component of our expenses — and that means teachers.” “I’m not going to go there yet until I have no other option. She envisions enrolling up to 650 students at what would be a “comprehensive four-year visual and performing arts” high school, according to her proposal. To ease the blow, he’s offered to phase out the “pension pick-up” over a three-year period. “I’ve made a proposal that would have all the parties work together equitably, meaning the teachers would contribute. To fight what many see as Emanuel’s determination to privatize Chicago’s schools, there have been peaceful protests and City Hall sit-ins and now, finally, the refusal of food for almost two weeks. When we touched on the issue of finances, Axelrod suggested Emanuel and other elected officials should not be so focused on debt that they neglected education and social services.

The dozen strikers, several of whom have been hospitalized (one immediately after speaking at a CPS meeting), remain sitting in front of Dyett all day. CPS said a small group of personnel is reviewing each proposal submitted to revive the campus, and will make a final recommendation to district CEO Forrest Claypool and Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson after a scheduled public hearing next month. “We can’t give them a decision now, I wish we could,” Jackson said of the demonstrators Thursday. “But I also want to make clear that our goal as an administration is to really solve problems — and we can’t do that by creating additional problems. They’re vowing to continue consuming only water and light liquids, like vegetable broth, until they see some resolution to their fight for an open-enrollment school in their neighborhood.

The story of Dyett is remarkably parallel to the one Jelani Cobb tells in this week’s New Yorker, about the closure last year of Jamaica High School in Queens, Cobb’s alma mater and not so long ago a crown jewel of the New York City public school system. Such a dedicated levy existed in Chicago before 1995, and Claypool said restoring it would be the last component of a bargain with lawmakers to have the state pay more into the pension fund and with teachers to eventually make their full pension contributions.

Also on Thursday, the City Council’s Progressive Caucus issued a news release demanding that CPS restore cuts that stand to eliminate roughly 500 special-education teachers and support personnel. “There’s a reason we call it ‘special’ education,” rookie Ald. Like “busing” and “integration,” the language of today’s reformers often serves as a euphemism for poverty mitigation, the implicit goal that American education has fitfully attempted to achieve since Brown v. The across-the-board reductions are based on a new and crude per-pupil allocation method of calculating each school’s special-needs funding, rather than on the details.” Ald. Ahead of the meeting, the business-funded Civic Federation urged the board to reject the spending proposal and called for “a budget with a detailed contingency plan.” Meanwhile, the disability rights organization Access Living lamented the district’s cuts to its special education program.

John Arena (45th) warned that special-needs parents and disability-rights groups “are likely to file multiple lawsuits to recover services and support personnel” that students desperately need. “The settlements will be expensive and could be avoided if CPS followed the letter and spirit of the law,” Arena was quoted as saying in the release. Josh Radinsky, whose child attends the Vaughn Occupational High School for students with mild to moderate cognitive disabilities, said the school was set to lose crucial paraprofessional classroom workers who assist teachers. Leslie Hairston added, “These layoffs will specifically target the teachers and aides who work with the system’s most vulnerable students, many of whom require one-on-one assistance in order to attend classes. Ginger Ostro, CPS’ chief financial officer, said Wednesday the district restored some funding at 30 schools for special education services to provide 10 additional teachers and 50 paraprofessionals.

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