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Education Wed Sep 07 2011

A One-Man Stimulus Package

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.

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CitizensArrest / September 9, 2011 12:59 PM

Add to this the mayors lies about step and lane raises every year and the attack on Chicago teachers and their unions by a DINO like Rahm is clear. Step changes run out, and lane changes are the result of professional development the teachers must pay for themselves. Each step requires more credits than the last if I recall, and it gets to the point that the small increase in pay is a lousy ROI for the time and money needed to get there. These days, the ROI is likely to be in the negative range at the upper levels. I'd welcome additional factual input on this from those with experience on the front lines. Yes, teachers! Thanks to you all for all you do. Some of us understand.

classical mom / September 9, 2011 2:10 PM

Skinner North currently has approximately 240 students for the 2011-12 school year. The enrollment numbers listed on the CPS website are outdated (although clearly marked as 2009-2010 school year enrollment).

Alexandria / September 9, 2011 8:09 PM

@ classical mom: $625 vs. $88 per student? I think the point of the article stands regardless of actual 2011-2012 enrollment.

And just to add on to the article: agreeing to a longer school day means that teachers sign a waiver that essentially destroys our contractual rights. We are emotionally blackmailed into agreeing to a stimulus package in order to help our students and our school; but signing this waiver signs away our contractual rights and leaves us powerless.

@ Rahm & Brizard: If you do have that money and you care about the students the way you say you do, why are you holding it hostage and only giving it to certain schools that do your bidding? Why wouldn't those funds be distributed equitably throughout CPS automatically? You can still screw the teachers by not giving us the 4%, but at least the kids get something out of it...unless you DON'T care about the kids the way you claim.

Finally, security spending in CPS is over $70 million, with $7 million allocated for new 360 degree security cameras in a dozen schools so we can suspend, expel, and arrest even more poor black and Latino kids. They do this instead of following the recommendations of the High HOPES Coalition, which advocates investing in a proven transformative Restorative Justice model and represents thousands of Chicago residents and CPS students. If the mayor and the school board really cared about kids they would invest money where it really matters, not where it best serves their political agendas.

Monica / September 10, 2011 6:05 PM

I agee that they do not care about the kids as they say they do and I am tired of seeing ministers (since when does any religious organization have a say in a public school?) talking about an extended day to keep kids off the street. It is NOT acceptable to extend the day to keep kids off the street. We need to stop letting those people and the parents think that looking to the teacher, police and fire to take care of the kids that they had is acceptable. The PARENTS ARE TO BLAME!!! They are letting down their own flesh and blood as well as society and bringing this whole country down with their lackluster job at parenting. I am ok to extend the day if that means another 30 minutes with less homework for those schools that have a lot (we are only about 15 minutes shorter than NY schools) and the raises that the teachers deserve. My children come home from the CPS school that I love with a passion with at least an hour of homework that I sit down with them and do and then band and sports and evening events at the school occur after that. Parenting means sacrificing for your children and you need to sacrifice more than you expect anyone else to do so why anyone would expect the teachers to now literally raise a city of children for nothing is beyond comprehension. I would like Rahm or Brizard to go into a classroom in an underperforming school and try to teach and mange the 32 or so kids that may be in there. No media, no fan fair, just do it. If you make it into a circus that is what you will have so just do it Rahm or Brizard - teach for a day or two and you will not learn from it at all. Thanks and sorry for the rambling it just irks me so....just a parent

r.vanecko / September 17, 2011 7:36 PM

Never mind all that DINO talk, its 2011, who in here really believes there's any qualitative difference between the dems and repugs?? Sure the repubs will stroke the egos of the bible thumpers and warmongers, and the dems will pander to ethnic minorities via sweetheart contracts and media access to a small cadre of self appointed "leaders", revrends, and assorted snake oil salesmen. Yet the golden rule still holds true, he who has the gold makes the rules. So everyone gatherround the country clubs and steakhouses to view in awe as the rich comprimise and conspire how to most effectively plunder our collective wealth, while still cooing to their base about whatever hobby horse non issues they need to be distracted with.

Rahms a farcking scab, what did you people expect? After all, we essentialy traded him for JPMORGAN Daley. (Bill not richie)

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