by Ben Joravsky - Chicago Reader | June 19, 2013
Over the years I've heard just about every conceivable explanation and defense of the $450-million-a-year mayoral slush fund known as tax increment financing.
On Friday I heard a new one: it's "a wash," financially speaking, for the Chicago Public Schools.
I found that conclusion in an editorial in my Sun-Times, home delivered as always. Reading this over my morning coffee was a truly disheartening way to start my weekend.
In any regard, the editorial ran under the headline "How CPS got into its financial mess."
The basic premise is that the schools have been broke, are broke, and probably always will be broke. At the moment, Mayor Rahm's dealing with this state of brokeness by closing schools, raising the maximum class size, firing teachers, and replacing older, higher-paid teachers with younger, lower-paid ones who can look forward to being fired just as soon as their salaries rise.
In short, the mayor's divesting in public education at the very moment that everyone—well, almost everyone—wants him to invest in it.
Back to the Sun-Times editorial.
After talking about big pension bills, declining state and federal aid, and the property tax cap, it had this to say about TIFs.
"And if there are revenue losses caused by TIFs, CPS partially makes up for them by raising property tax rates. The presence of TIFs triggers a bump in state aid. A portion of TIF money also goes for school construction—$920 million to date, CPS says. TIFs, in the end, are likely a wash for CPS."
Oh, my Bright One—my beloved Bright One—how could you write this?
OK, let's break it down. Follow closely, people—especially members of the Raise Your Hand Coalition and other groups who are gearing up to go after TIF money to keep Mayor Emanuel from gutting your schools.
What you have to keep in mind is that whoever fed this line to the Sun-Times is likely to feed it to you. So you can learn from this . . .
When the City Council—at the mayor's urging—creates a TIF district, it freezes the amount CPS takes from property taxpayers in that district for up to 24 years. If CPS was getting $100 in taxes when the TIF was created, that's all it will get for as long as the TIF exists. That forces taxpayers throughout the city to pay more in property taxes to compensate for the tax dollars CPS isn't getting from the 160 or so TIF districts the mayor and City Council have felt compelled to create.
In effect, a TIF is a tax hike where the mayor raises property taxes in the name of something you presumably want—like schools or parks—so he can spend it on something you don't need. Like a basketball arena for DePaul University, to cite one recent example.
Over the last 30 years, we, the taxpayers, have paid roughly $5 billion in TIF taxes. Of which about 54 percent—or $2.7 billion—was taken in the name of CPS.
Of that $2.7 billion, Mayors Daley or Emanuel have spent $920 million on various school-construction projects, according to CPS (let's assume this is one of the rare instances where the mayor's people are telling the truth).
That means the schools gave the mayor $2.7 billion in property taxes and the mayor gave the schools $920 million, which means the schools lost about $1.78 billion in the process.
Which causes the mayor's school board appointees to fall to their knees and say: "Thank you, Mr. Mayor, for giving us a third of the property tax dollars we originally gave to you."
It's like Stockholm syndrome on steroids.
Thus, the mayor's free to spend billions of tax dollars intended for the schoolchildren of Chicago on virtually anything he wants in the name of eradicating blight in low-income communities.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that TIF handouts are supposed to be reserved for the poorest of the poor. A definition the city of Chicago manages to stretch to include handouts to the richest of the rich—Hyatt, Grossinger Auto Group, United Airlines, MillerCoors, and now DePaul.
You know, I'm getting depressed just thinking about this.
Anyway, now you know why you keep paying more and more and more in property taxes for the schools only to see the schools go more and more and more broke.
As the Sun-Times editorial points out, CPS does get more money from the state because of the money they lose to the TIFs. This is not something of which to be proud. Instead, it's a tax scam that's almost as cynical and fraudulent as the TIF program itself. As hard as that is to believe.
If you want to know the details, read this.
Essentially, the state sends educational dollars to Chicago to supplement the property tax dollars the city's taking from the schools to give to United, Grossinger, Hyatt, MillerCoors, and DePaul.
And you wonder why the state's broke.
Does the state give CPS enough money to fully compensate for that $1.78 billion lost to TIFs? The last time I looked the answer was no. But really, who the hell knows? It would take a dream team of CPAs with subpoena authority to get to the bottom of this financial quagmire that resembles something concocted by Bernie Madoff.
So, in review . . .
You, the taxpayers, have paid CPS $2.7 billion in property taxes, which CPS gave to the mayor, who returned $920 million to CPS. Then the state presumably gave CPS $1.78 billion to compensate for the TIF money the mayor gave to Hyatt, United, et al. Which means you, the taxpayers, have paid about $4.48 billion in various taxes for schools. Of which the schools got to keep $2.7 billion—tops.
Any way you look at it, at least $1.78 billion—intended for schools—flew out the old TIF window. That's not a wash, my friends—it's a hosing.
In short, the schools are broke 'cause we don't spend enough money on them. And we don't spend enough on them in part 'cause the school taxes we do pay are diverted to things having nothing to do with the schools. As far as I know, it's legal, though it's criminal that it's not a crime.
Here's another stat you might want to consider. At the moment, CPS says its per pupil expenditure is about $13,600.
In contrast, the great private schools in the city—Latin, Parker, Lab School—charge upwards of $30,000 in tuition.
That means the richest of the rich spend twice as much on their students as the public schools do on theirs. That's why they can afford lower class sizes, art, music, theater, and all the other things we say we want but can't afford.
You can't have it all, Chicago. You can't afford afford a top-flight public school system—or even a decent one—while throwing away billions to gazillionaires.
I say, spend the school money on the kids and let the DePauls, Grossingers, Hyatts, Uniteds, and MillerCoorses of the world fend for themselves.
by Ray Salazar - Chicago Now | June 19, 2013
I bought a ticket to the TribNation's Chicago Forward conversation between the Tribune's Editorial Page Editor Bruce Dold and Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Bryd-Bennett yesterday thinking, "This should be interesting."
The Chase Auditorium had lots of empty seats when I arrived minutes before it started. Many people greeted familiar faces. Most of the audience was white, many looked to be in their 50s. Why, I thought, are they here?
Dold began his conversation asking Byrd-Bennett about growing up. An easy one for her to answer:
- Grew up in Harlem
- Parents did not graduate from high school: father a U.S. postal worker, mother stayed at home and worked at a shoe store
- Graduated high school at fifteen; was a student who "could not wait for the bell to ring"
- Ninth grade economics teacher taught her that classroom has freedoms of democracy and she should always behave as if parents were on both sides of her
- Realized the only stable places were schools and churches
- Was going to be a lawyer but decided best place to make an impact was in schools
Byrd-Bennett explained how she received a degree in English, not teaching, and taught in East Harlem. Successful in the classroom, she later moved on to write curriculum and then, when a principal needed throat surgery, she took over and opened a school, which she led for eight years.
Had she always found success? I thought.
When someone accepts to lead a troubled school district like ours during a contentious time when she could, probably, retire, I wonder if having the opportunities she's had convinced that she cannot fail.
Dold should have asked, "What, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, have your life experiences made you realize about success and failure?"
Shortly after, when school closings came up, he asked her how CPS got to fifty schools. Easy answer. She outlined the process, something I'm sure she's done a million times. However, I wanted to know what she thought and what she felt when she walked the path that students from closing, or as she said "consolidated," schools would walk.
Dold should have asked, "What did you see?" I remember one time that when the mayor visited a school I worked at, people showed up hours before him and spray painted the bushes green. Had city services brushed away the broken glass?
Byrd-Bennett mentioned her two grandchildren who, she recognized some would say, live a privileged life.
Dold should have asked, "What if the children you love had to make that walk each day from a closed (or consolidated) school to a receiving one?"
On at least three occasions during the conversation, Byrd-Bennett used the future tense:
- Students "will have what they deserve and need."
- She "will set up a process to re-purpose empty school buildings."
- She "will have a student advisory panel in the fall."
Near the end she outlined her logic:
- If we believe in children,
- If we provide resources,
- If we remain true to our five pillars and core values,
- If we are transparent,
"We should," she ended, "be able to move the performance of consolidated schools."
Why didn't she use the future tense, we will, there? Dold should have asked her why not?
Perhaps this is why Byrd-Bennett is determined. She's created a plan for her leadership that will succeed no matter what. "We should be able to" she says, but if they aren't, the wording will still tell a story of success.
Dold ended by saying that people want her to succeed. People should want her to. As a former teacher, she should be able succeed in this leadership role. She should be able to make decisions that are undeniably good for students. She should.
But she hasn't. She should, instead, recognize that closing schools is disrupting families. She should recognize that transplanting or transitioning children from school to school carries the same risks. She should recognize that per-pupil funding sounds like autonomy but is creating more limits for schools. She should recognize we know Chicago politics, too. Her humble origins story, she should recognize, has gotten old.
And, she should recognize, if her plan fails, then so will schools, and communities, and kids. Only then might she be able to accept, much too late of course, that she should have listened to what the people most affected by her decisions had to say.
CTU President calls on CPS, mayor to take advantage of existing new revenue streams to erase budget deficit
by ctu communications | June 18, 2013
CHICAGO—As the target of Chicago Public Schools chaos and unaccountability shifts from the closing of neighborhood schools to the mass layoffs of teachers, clerks, paraprofessionals and other school support staff, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen GJ Lewis revisited her childhood love of baseball in a speech before the City Club of Chicago today. In comparing the dedication needed to public education to the devotion bestowed upon the Chicago Cubs by their legions of loyal fans, Lewis proposed effective collaboration between the Union and leaders in City Hall, the state capitol and the Chicago Board of Education, and suggested a litany of fiscal improvements to CPS’s massive budget crisis.
In response to a request from CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett for revenue solutions to the district’s financial woes, Lewis called for fair taxation, the renegotiation of “toxic” swap deals between CPS and predatory bank lenders, the reallocation of tax increment financing and the revival of a Financial Transaction Tax bill in Springfield.
“This is a start,” Lewis told a capacity audience at Maggiano’s Little Italy in River North. “Now the only questions remains—when will CEO Bennett and Mayor Emanuel join with CTU to lobby for these important reforms?”
Lewis also continued to expose the poverty, racism and inequality hindering the delivery of an effective education product both nationally and in Chicago’s public school system.
“One out of nine African-American children in this country has an incarcerated parent,” Lewis said. “One out of nine…that is outrageous [and] we should be ashamed of this.”
“We are locking people up on a regular basis, not paying any attention to how it devastates the communities…if the wherewithal is there, we have the best minds in this city that can come together and really deal with these issues. But we can’t do it if we have such disrespect for people who are not of our ilk. We have to get past that.”
Last Friday, the Chicago Board of Education abruptly announced the layoff 850 public school employees—nearly 500 teachers—as a result of school closings and turnarounds. This announcement came on the heels of large reductions in the budgets of area high schools and elementary schools as the CPS proposes a new school-based budgeting model. Schools throughout the district are experiencing cuts of more than 20 percent in operating expenses, adding to the strife of a year taxed by a record number of school closings and an ongoing state pension crisis.
As students say tearful goodbyes to their schools for the last time and principals scramble to do more with less, Lewis called for CPS and the mayor’s office to be truly innovative in their efforts at education reform. The CTU president wants the Union to be partners in making Chicago’s school district one of the strongest in the country.
“There’s nothing radical about me, other than I want each and every student in Chicago to get the best education we have to offer,” Lewis said.
Click HERE for a link to the full text of Lewis' speech.
by ctu communications | June 14, 2013
INJUNCTION HEARING TO STOP SCHOOL CLOSINGS – COME ONE, COME ALL TO PUBLIC HEARING
This is a huge proceeding in terms of efforts to stop the CPS, the Board of Education and Mayor Rahm Emanuel from a record number of school closings. We need your support!
July 16-19, 2013
Courtroom of Federal Judge John Lee
Dirksen Federal Building
219 S. Dearborn – 12th floor
If you have any information you would like to share with our lawyers in opposition to the school closing, or believe you have testimony as to why the closings are harmful to special education students, are racist or are otherwise improper and harmfu, please call CTU lawyers to participate.
Robin Potter or Patrick Cowlin (312) 861-1800
Tom Geoghegan or Mike Persoon (312) 372-2511
Mayor, CPS to impose massive cuts on school budgets; refuse to advocate for other accessible revenue streams
by CTU Communications | June 13, 2013
Hundreds of music, art, world language and core content teachers added to school rolls to enhance Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s program for a longer school day will likely be cut as a result of the new school-based budgeting model proposed by Chicago Public Schools (CPS). The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has found that schools from across the district are seeing cuts in the magnitude of 10 percent to 25 percent as the district continues its bad governance in adding to the chaos of the 2012-2013 school year amidst a record number of school closings and an ongoing state pension crisis.
While planning massive budget cuts, the district has failed to provide concrete plans for generating revenue—either by redirecting tax increment financing (TIF) surpluses back to public schools, ending tax loopholes or raising a new tax levy for pensions that would stabilize the CPS budget and allow the district to pay the full $600 million cost instead of pushing for another pension holiday. A fair tax structure and financial transaction tax would provide more than $6 billion in revenue for schools.
“There is a literal wealth of revenue that the district has ignored,” said CTU President Karen GJ Lewis. “CPS claims to act in the interest of the children, but by cutting budgets up to 25 percent in lieu of going after potentially billions of dollars, one has to ask just how much are they really doing?”
“Recently they announced a plan for a ‘quality, 21st century education’,” the nationally board certified educator continued. “Their 21st century plan looks more like a 19th century plan. They are leading our district and students in the wrong direction.”
At Kennedy High School, last year’s budget for the 2013 fiscal year was approximately $14.97 million. The FY2014 budget is $12.85 million, nearly a 13 percent overall decrease. The cuts will require an 80 percent dropped in the number of counselors—from five to one—and the elimination of the librarian position, a clerk position and a sizable loss of special education positions.
Schools that focus on special education may lose the most. At Blair Elementary, seven special education teachers, one general education teacher and close to eight paraprofessional positions will be slashed by a nearly 75 percent cut to their budget. At Northside Learning Center, a school that serves students with cognitive disabilities, eight special education instructors and 14 teacher aides will be lost.
In a district that is already under-resourced by 160 libraries, CPS is planning the elimination of countless librarians. In addition to Kennedy, the CTU has learned that Wacker Elementary School and Robeson, Alcott College Prep, South Shore, Hubbard and King College Prep high schools are all planning to eliminate librarian positions. At Nancy B. Jefferson Elementary School, the school has been unable to buy books or fulfill department orders for two years and will experience even more drastic supply and position cuts this coming school year.
“The district spent $37 million less on textbooks in 2012 than in 2009 and has asked teachers for more than $100 million in concessions in each of the last four years via moves like mass layoffs, rescinded raises, and pension relief,” said CTU Policy Researcher and Budget Committee member Kurt Hilgendorf. “The wave of mass school closures that tore apart school communities was justified as a money-saving action, while at the same time, unproven “reform” efforts like new testing systems and constant administrative reorganizations receive more funding.”
One of the CPS’s central arguments to justify school closings was the need to eliminate split-level classes where two elementary grades are merged into one classroom due to staffing shortages. The proposed budgets, however, will likely require a proliferation of split-level classes throughout the district.
One such school, Mitchell Elementary, has a budget shortage of approximately $780,000—7.8 positions—compared to last year. There is only one class per grade at Mitchell, and 7.8 positions amounts to 1/3rd of the school’s faculty and staff, which will likely require split-level classes to function. A number of other elementary schools have reported to the CTU that their administrations are preparing for split-level classes and massive losses of special education personnel next year.
The CTU has also found that the following schools will see a large reduction in their budgets:
- TEAM Englewood Community Academy High School— (-) $400,000
- Steinmetz High School—(-) $700,000, which equals 10-12 teachers/paraprofessionals
- Taft High School— (-) $3 million
- Roosevelt High School— (-) $1.1 million
- Eberhart Elementary—(-) $1.5 million
- Foreman High School—(-) $1.7 million
- Gage Park High School—(-) $1 million
- Jamieson Elementary School—$200,000
- Kenwood Academy High School—(-) $1.76 million
- Lincoln Park High School—between (-) $900,000 and (-)$1 million
- Mitchell Elementary School—(-) $788,000
- Social Justice High School—(-) $800,000
In closing a record 50 campuses and cutting budgets at schools citywide, CPS continues to balance its budget at the expense of Chicago’s children in an approach that has created instability, uncertainty, and unsurprisingly, uneven educational outcomes.
“The district’s solution has been to aggressively cut resources that benefit students and spend scarce resources on unproven initiatives rather than identify and forcefully advocate for new revenue,” Lewis said. “This year’s budget portends more of the same.”
by Sarah Jaffe - @SarahLJaffe | June 12, 2013
The announcement on May 24 that the Chicago public school system and Mayor Rahm Emanuel would close 50 schools - out of the 54 they'd wanted to close - shook the streets of the US' third-largest city, but was largely met with silence outside of the state of Illinois.
Chicago's students were the subject of much hand-wringing last fall when their teachers went on strike, demanding textbooks, air-conditioning, and smaller classes. Nicholas Kristof spent one of his New York Times columns giving his "expert" opinion on school reform; on Twitter, he declared: "About 85% of children in Chicago public schools are from poor families; they're the big losers in the strike."
As the Chicago school board voted to send kids walking through gang territory to unfamiliar schools, Kristof was busily touting the value of "girls' education" and combating poverty and complaining about American Airlines, but not a tweet was to be found about those children he supposedly cared so much about. Nearly 90 percent of the children who will be forced to attend new schools are black, but nary a pundit clutched their pearls about that.
It was the same in many places: Too much silence as the largest school closings in Chicago's history were voted on, as parents, teachers and students filled the streets and halls with protest and song, sat in, were arrested, and vowed to keep fighting.
In the case of Time magazine, reporters who should have known better took Mayor Emanuel's side, declaring that he's "fighting failing schools" without an understanding of what it means to fight failure by closing up shop and disrupting students' lives even more. The mayor cares, we are to understand, because he says he does - never mind how many children, parents, and yes, unionised teachers tell him that his policies hurt. But the public school teachers and parents, who not only say that they care but back it up with action, are never taken at their word the way the rich are.
Perhaps they didn't want to be on the same side as the union on this issue. Karen Lewis and the Chicago Teachers Union have led the charge to save the schools, filing federal lawsuits to try to stop the closings, arguing that the closures violate the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Illinois Civil Rights Act.
MSNBC's Chris Hayes and Melissa Harris-Perry did feature the story on their programmes - Hayes hosted Lewis herself, along with NYU education professor Pedro Noguera. Harris-Perry hosted nine-year-old Chicago student Asean Johnson and his mother Shoneice Reynolds, a school worker and participant in last fall's strike, along with reporters Allison Kilkenny and Daniel Denvir, Philadelphia Student Union activist Sharron Snyder and former Virginia governor Douglas Wilder.
by Jackson Potter - Staff Coordinator | June 12, 2013
Recently, Texan Governor Rick Perry blitzed Illinois with advertisements and appearances to try and lure business away from the Land of Lincoln. While Mayor Rahm Emanuel responded by depicting Texas as provincial and extolled the cosmopolitan advantages of Chicago as a global city, our mayor failed to remark on the key differences between the Prairie State and the Lone Star State: the unions.
Every year, inadequate workplace safety regulations take the lives of 4,500 Americans. The United States has only 2,200 OSHA inspectors for 8 million workplaces and can only inspect a work site -- like the fertilizer plant that recently exploded in Texas -- once every 129 years. It is both terrifying and ironic that Perry mentioned lower workers compensation requirements for injured employees and a workforce that is 67 percent less unionized than Illinois’ as competitive advantages.
It is a well-known fact that Texas has the highest rate of workplace deaths of any state in the country, and this is directly related to its low levels of unionization. Workers are hesitant to file OSHA violations when they have no rights and are likely to face retaliation by employers.
As the death toll from a collapsed garment factory in Bangladesh reaches more than 1,200 people, we are faced with an important choice: We can go back in time to an era where workers were expendable and their injuries, deaths and poverty were considered acceptable; or we can embrace the virtues of state government that respects workers’ rights, holds employers accountable and refuses to permit work-place abuses. The recent efforts by downtown workers to support their families and earn $15 an hour is an admirable and important example of an alternative vision.
It is incumbent upon Illinois' political and business leaders to reject the race to the bottom promoted by the unethical boosterism of Perry and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Instead, we can recognize the rights of workers and the importance of their unions to mitigate negative externalities in the workplace and beyond.
by ctu communications | June 10, 2013
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis released the following statement regarding today’s announcement by the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) on its proposed five-year action plan:
“Our school communities do not lack inspiration, they lack revenue. It doesn’t matter what new initiatives CPS concocts from year to year if it has no way to appropriately fund them (i.e., the longer school day). Chicago has to break its addiction to tax breaks and find ways to generate revenue for our schools. This so-called five-year plan is once again done in the silo of CPS without any stakeholders at the table. It is still widely driven by testing and a complete lack of democracy.
“It is amazing that CPS’s first impulse, no matter who heads it, is towards an autocratic, top-down approach that people who actually work with kids are expected to implement without the appropriate resources or tools. When will CPS understand that having a ‘plan’ that never includes the voices of parents, students, CPS workers and a realistic blueprint on how to generate revenue will continue to foster mistrust, alienation and lowered expectations, especially after the tragic closing of 50 schools?”
by Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah - Chicago Tribune | June 07, 2013
Chicago Public Schools touted a smooth start to the school closing process this week by announcing that 78 percent of students at schools being shut down have been enrolled at another school, most at the one designated for them by the district.
But the district's figure may be inflated, as administrators at some closing schools said that because they were under pressure to get children signed up, they went ahead and enrolled students whose parents could not be contacted.
Tanya Saunders-Wolffe, a counselor at Owens Elementary on the Far South Side, said her school's administration was told by officials with the district's regional network to enroll children whose parents had not participated in an early enrollment program.
She said about two-thirds of the school's students were enrolled that way for next year. Owens was one of 12 schools that CPS records show have 100 percent of their students enrolled for the coming year.
"We did what we were told," Saunders-Wolffe said. "We were told by the network to automatically enroll students in welcoming schools where parents did not respond."
Read the rest of this story at Chicagotribune.com.
by Lauren Fitzpatrick and Becky Schlikerman - Chicago Sun-Times | June 07, 2013
As she made her case for closing dozens of Chicago Public Schools, Barbara Byrd-Bennett promised that each child whose school disappeared would be saved a place in a higher-performing school.
The CPS CEO also guaranteed new science or arts programs in 19 of the schools taking in those displaced children and great investments in all the receiving schools: air conditioning, libraries and iPads.
But after the dust settles, and many school boundaries are redrawn, not all children living in the shadow of a closing school will reap these benefits.
Boundaries are being redrawn for 12 of the 48 schools closing this month, so some children new to the neighborhood will not be sent to the receiving school, but to another nearby neighborhood school. In three of those cases, that neighborhood option is academically worse than what CPS calls the “designated welcoming school.”
Children already enrolled in Paderewski Elementary Learning Academy in the Little Village neighborhood, Henson Elementary School in the Lawndale neighborhood or West Pullman Elementary School on the Far South Side will be sent to the better receiving schools. Some children currently too young for school or who move into those areas will instead be sent to schools worse than the receiving schools — and without the guarantees of the extra investments.
“This is just messed up, it’s really upsetting,” said Laronda Smith, 30, who has two children at West Pullman and smaller kids at home. The family lives on the north side of 119th Street, a borderline determining where her children could be sent. “I don’t know where my kids are going to go.”