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Chicago Public Schools Fri May 31 2013
By David Stieber
Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Becky Carroll, the CPS spokesperson, have used the justification (among many others over this year) that we must close schools that children are in under-utilized schools. They have even blasted the Chicago Teachers Union saying that, "union leadership remains committed to a status quo that is failing too many children trapped in underutilized, under-resourced schools."
As a high school history teacher in Englewood for the past six years, I agree that we must break the status quo. We (parents, teachers, and tax payers of this city) must break the status quo that CPS and our mayor allow to go on. The status quo of having a mayor control the school system. If as a mayor you have to close any schools you obviously are failing at running the schools. If as a mayor you have to close the most schools in the history of our country you have obviously failed at running the schools.
The status quo that allows the mayor to give lucrative deals to his friends — like dodgy head of UNO Charter Schools Juan Rangel, who in turn has had millions of dollars of state funding cut off, because he was caught giving tax payer money to his relatives businesses.
We have to break the status quo of having the dubious distinction of being the only school district in the entire state with an appointed — handpicked, not elected — school board. The mayor not only controls the schools, but then he gets to pick who will be on his school board. The appointed school board is made up of people who do not send their children to public schools and in some cases do not even live in the city. As I teach my students this is called Paternalism. An outsider who claims to know what is best for everyone.
Speaking of outsiders and the status quo, we also are on our fourth CEO in five years. Barbara Byrd-Bennett — who replaced Brizard, who replaced Manzany, who replaced Huberman in 2009 — is not even from Chicago. In fact she is still a registered voter in Ohio. So like the school board, someone not from Chicago is telling Chicago parents and students what to do. To see Byrd-Bennett's true policies just look at her brief but damaging time spent in Detroit.
The notion that students are trapped in under-resourced schools is partly true. I disagree with the trapped part of the statement, but the under-resourced part I strongly agree with. CPS and the mayor say to get more resources for our schools we must close 50 of them. Yet the status quo is allowing some schools to be fully funded using TIF money while other schools like mine and many in the black and brown neighborhoods of this city languish.
You see, with TIFs the neighborhoods with more political clout are allowed to keep their TIF money and have it used for the purposes it was intended, such as funding schools. In other neighborhoods the TIF money that is supposed to be used locally is actually be siphoned from the neighborhoods that really need it, and that money is taken downtown for building things like the $100 million River Walk, $300 million to build a new stadium for a private university, $55 million for the new Maggie Daley Park.
The status quo allows the mayor to take from the poor and give to the rich. The status quo allows school board members like Penny Pritzker to use TIF money to build new hotels while having her bank accounts located in the Bahamas. This means that the status quo allows her to make decisions for schools, take money earmarked for schools, and then not pay taxes that in part should be helping schools.
So when the regurgitated rhetoric comes from our schools CEO, mayor or anyone high up in CPS about the Teachers Union wanting to keep kids trapped in the status quo, remember that the Teachers Union is made up of and run by 40,000 people who work with students and have committed our professional lives to improving the opportunities for our students. We want our kids to have every opportunity and resource possible. We have a plan for education [PDF] in this city, unlike the mayor. We demand that instead of closing schools to get the resources our kids should have had all along that the status quo of how the resources are allocated be changed.
Since teachers are forced by law to live in Chicago, unlike the appointed school board and certain higher ups in CPS, these are our children. Barbara Byrd Bennett, while talking a good game and using catchy soundbites, is really just pretending to care about other people's children, because like her CEO predecessors she will be gone shortly, too.
David Stieber is a father, husband, CPS teacher of History. Dave is passionately committed to promoting and improving urban public education, while simultaneously improving the lives of his students. He recently earned his masters in Urban Education Policy Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago.