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Education Wed Sep 07 2011
by Matt Farmer
Like some ne'er-do-well nephews whose rich aunt just died, the bosses at CPS headquarters are suddenly flush with cash. And from the looks of things, that newfound dough is rapidly burning holes in the pockets of the folks who occupy the corner offices down on Clark Street.
Talk about a sudden reversal of fortune. On June 15, Mayor Emanuel's hand-picked Board of Education voted (unanimously, of course) against paying CPS teachers the 4% contractual raises they were scheduled to receive this year. At that time, the board claimed it did not have "a reasonable expectation" of finding the money -- roughly $80 million -- to cover those raises.
What a difference a couple of months make. On Tuesday, CPS CEO J.C. Brizard became a one-man stimulus package, offering to pay each of the city's 482 elementary schools $150,000, if the teachers at those schools quickly agree to extend the length of the school day by 90 minutes. If all the schools sign on, Brizard's so-called "incentive" payments will add up to about $72 million.
But just in case $72 million isn't enough to seal the deal, Brizard is also offering each of the roughly 13,600 teachers at those elementary schools a lump-sum payment of $1250 -- you know, just to show he cares. That's another $17 million in newly discovered greenbacks.
As you can see, things change in a hurry around here. One minute, the board can't come up with $80 million for previously-agreed-to raises; the next thing you know, Brizard and his team are gearing up to hand out $89 million as if they were CIA agents stationed in Kabul, using cash-filled suitcases to curry favor with local officials. (Condolences to the city's high school teachers, who get left out in the cold this go-round. Maybe you guys are just affiliated with the wrong warlords.)
Who knows how our cash-strapped city suddenly found all this money? Maybe Emanuel and Brizard had a big night at one of Indiana's casinos during a recent fact-finding mission. Perhaps City Hall finally sold some well-connected Hollywood agent the movie rights to "Vanecko: The Man From UNCLE." For all we know, Brizard may be taking a page from the Rufus Williams/Michael Scott playbook and putting the whole $89 million on his CPS credit card.
But why quibble over details like the source of this money. After all, isn't $89 million a small price to pay for giving the mayor another item to check off of his Accenture-prepared list during the upcoming "Mayor Emanuel: The First 150 Days" tour?
Of course, even the gang at Accenture might start asking questions if they looked carefully at the cash handouts. For starters, each grade school has been offered $150,000 to sign on to the extended-day program. That means Eberhart School, which has an enrollment of roughly 1700 students, would reap about $88 per student while Skinner North, which has an enrollment of roughly 100 students, would take in an extra $1500 per student. (Enrollment figures are taken from the CPS website.) Details, details.
The consultants might also wonder what teachers and kids around the city will be doing with the extra 90 minutes each day. To date, no one from CPS has bothered to tell the principals how that time will be spent. It's not clear, for example, whether individual principals will get to decide what's best for their kids, or whether CPS will mandate a one-size-fits-all approach, as it recently did with school breakfasts.
Just imagine if the Lab School announced tomorrow that it planned to extend its school day by 90 minutes, starting later this month. Do you think Emanuel and his fellow Lab parents would bother to ask the Lab administration how it planned to use that extra time? Do you think the mayor would sit quietly if he learned that the school was going to fill that time with standardized test prep or remedial work that his kids didn't need?
Aren't we entitled to some answers from the mayor before he drops $89 million of our newfound money to check off another box on his to-do list? Actually, he'll be checking off two boxes: (1) lengthen school day; and (2) continue union-busting activities.
Matt Farmer is a Chicago lawyer and musician. He currently serves as a member of the Local School Council at Philip Rogers Elementary School.