Austin – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop http://www.newstips.org Chicago Community Stories Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:31:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.13 On school closings, West Siders offer alternatives http://www.newstips.org/2013/04/on-school-closings-west-siders-offer-alternatives/ http://www.newstips.org/2013/04/on-school-closings-west-siders-offer-alternatives/#comments Sat, 06 Apr 2013 02:44:23 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7091 West Side parents and educators have called for a boycott of CPS’s school closing hearing Saturday morning and will hold an alternative community meeting instead (April 6, May Community Academy, 512 S. Lavergne, starting with a press conference at 10 a.m.) where they’ll present a community school plan.

Perhaps Mayor Emanuel ought to go.

He’s the one who recently said, “What I won’t accept is when people are asked, what’s your alternative, what’s your idea, and there’s silence.”

In fact several communities have developed their own plans, including strategic visions developed by six Community Actions Councils sponsored by CPS to improve communications with its stakeholders.

“They all fall on deaf ears,” said Elce Redmond of the South Austin Coalition.  “The mayor has said his decision is final, and he doesn’t care what people have to say about it.”

“It’s a waste of time to go to the CPS hearing,” said Dwayne Truss of the Save Our Neighborhood Schools coalition.  “Nobody that can make any decisions is going to be there.  It’s a dog-and-pony show.”

As for CPS staff, he said, “They’re sticking to their talking points.”

CPS has proposed closing four schools in  Austin, impacting 2,000 students, according to Austin Talks. Saturday’s official hearing is for Louis Armstrong Elementary.

Reducing truancy

SONS will present an alternative plan that will minimize school closings and save CPS money, Truss said.

The plan is based on the strategic educational plan developed by the Austin CAC, which Truss co-chaired with Ald. Deborah Graham (29th).  The council included 25 elected officials, LSC members, religious and community leaders, and city agencies.

That plan focused on solutions to problems like high truancy rates and a lack of all-day early education programs, and proposed developing a range of curricular choices for Austin students, including an IB network running from elementary through high school.

A middle-school intervention program would provide support for at-risk youth and “get them on track for high school,” Truss said.  Douglas High School would offer programs in language and fine arts, STEM, career and technical training, and green technology.

No magnet schools

Truss has also been agitating for an elementary magnet school in Austin.  It’s not fair that the community doesn’t have a single one, he says.

“If you look at the majority of selective enrollment and magnet schools, they’re in predominantly white neighborhoods, and they get the extra money and the extra support,” he said.

Along with SAC, SONS members include Action Now, Westside NAACP, Blocks Together, the Lawndale Alliance, and the Progressive Action Coalition for Education.

In March, the Committee to Save North Lawndale Schools, boasting a long list of elected officials, clergy, community organizations and social services, unveiled an alternative plan that proposed a range of specialty focuses for neighborhood schools.

The committee proposed developing schools as community centers that could address issues of truancy and delinguency, meet job training and  health needs, and fill gaps in recreational and cultural programming for youth.

The committee delivered copies of the report to school board president David Vitale and other board members, and to CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett and CPS staff, said Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance.  No one even acknowledged receiving it, she said.

Since then, four North Lawndale schools have been proposed for closing.

There’s a vast amount of wisdom, experience, and commitment at the grassroots in Chicago’s communities.  Mayor Emanuel ignores it at his peril.

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Tenants to send bedbugs to bank http://www.newstips.org/2012/04/tenants-to-send-bedbugs-to-bank/ Fri, 27 Apr 2012 19:37:43 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6076 Tenants will have jars full of bedbugs — to deliver to the bank that owns their foreclosed apartment building — at a protest at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 28 at 5159 W. West End.

A new receiver for the building was appointed after tenants demanding basic maintenance declared a rent strike April 11, but tenants haven’t seen any improvements, said Elce Redmond of the South Austin Coalition.

Tenants are demanding that Peak Properties, the building receiver, and BMO/Harris bank, which foreclosed on the 32-unit building a year ago, agree to a public meeting to discuss maintenance issues.

“If Peak Properties and BMO/Harris Bank refuse to meet with us, we will take our bedbugs to their offices and homes,” said tenant leader Pamela Johnson in a release.

“Our building is infested with rats and bedbugs, our children are being bitten,”Johnson said.  “Our human rights and dignity are assaulted on a daily basis.”

Building problems include chipped paint, ceiling leaks, broken toilets, and holes in the floor, according to SAC.

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West Side parents fight ‘education apartheid’ http://www.newstips.org/2012/03/west-side-parents-fight-education-apartheid/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/03/west-side-parents-fight-education-apartheid/#comments Thu, 15 Mar 2012 20:51:32 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6008 A successful neighborhood school on the West Side is fighting “disinvestment” while a failing charter nearby gets millions of dollars worth of renovations, parents charge.

On Friday, March 16 at 8 a.m., the Emmet Elementary School LSC and the Austin group Progressive Action Coalition for Education will hold a press conference and rally against “education apartheid” at the school, 5500 W. Madison.

Emmet’s scores have improved dramatically in recent years and its performance rating is currently Level 2 (“good standing”) and headed toward Level 1 (“excellent”), said Dwayne Truss of PACE.  In a recent Designs for Change study, Emmet was one of 33 very high poverty schools performing above the CPS average on the ISAT reading test.

Emmet’s success is the result of “the LSC, the teachers, and the principal working together,” Truss said.

Hazards 

But the school is badly in need of capital improvements, he said.  Students are served lunch in the hallway and eat their lunch in the same room used for physical education and assemblies.  This creates scheduling difficulties, and the lack of space and the presence of permanent seats creates a hazard for kids in gym class, he said.

The school’s fieldhouse is decaying and dangerous, with “paint chips all over the place,” and while CPS is planning to implement recess next year, the school’s playground is pocked with potholes, Truss said.

In addition CPS recently cut the school’s librarian.  The school has 450 students in Pre-K through 8th grade.

The charter advantage

Meanwhile CPS is spending $13 million to renovate an annex at Nash Elementary, 4837 W. Erie, for a revived ACT Charter school.  ACT’s low-performing high school suspended operations in 2010; the new school plans to serve 5th through 8th graders.

It will be operated by KIPP, whose Ascend charter school now serves 5th through 8th graders – and like ACT, is rated at Level 3 in performance.  (If charters were subject to probation, KIPP Ascend would be on probation.)

“CPS likes to talk about quality schools, but here’s a quality school that’s not getting the investment it needs,” said Truss, speaking of Emmet.  He said the school has been seeking repairs from CPS for many years.

Effective schools

The Designs report looked at all 210 very low income elementary schools, including turnarounds, and found that all of the most successful ones – 33 schools, including Emmet, that topped the CPS average on reading scores —  had elected LSCs hiring and evaluating principals and approving the school budget and plan.

Of twelve turnarounds, none bested the citywide average and only three ranked in the top half of the high-poverty of schools on performance – despite an additional investment averaging at least $7 million per school over five years.

The report notes that while turnaround schools have received extensive news coverage, successful neighborhood schools rarely get publicity.  It recommends that “the resources now used for turnaround schools …be shifted to helping these effective [neighborhood] schools become resources for other schools.”

At a press conference on the report last month, Dunne Math and Science Academy LSC chair Bernard Kelly spoke of that Far South Side school’s academic success – and  presented slides showing damaged ceilings and walls due to roof leaks, a crumbling exterior, and a small multipurpose room used for lunch, gym, and assemblies.

The building was originally intended to be temporary, and the community has been seeking a new facility for thirty years, he said.

“This school, if given the opportunity, the sky’s the limit,” Kelly said.  “We don’t need to keep building new schools somewhere else.”

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School closings, the law, and alternatives http://www.newstips.org/2011/11/school-closings-the-law-and-alternatives/ Tue, 29 Nov 2011 21:08:50 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4981 School closings to be announced by CPS on Thursday—expected to be unprecedented in scope — are the first under a new state school facilities planning law, intended to bring transparency and accountability to decisions over school buildings.

But does the school district’s new guidelines for school actions, which must be finalized by November 30, abide by the spirit of the law?  Many of its proponents – and some of its legislative sponsors – say no.

Meanwhile community groups continue to call on CPS to work with communities to improve struggling schools, rather than imposing top-down strategies that have no record of success.

“I don’t see them as being really ready to adhere to SB 630,” said State Representative Esther Golar, a member of the legislative task force which developed the bill.   The legislation “was intended to require CPS to work as partner with parents, teachers, and the community.”

She adds: “That’s something they haven’t been doing….And they’re still saying we’re going to run the schools the way we want to, and you don’t have any say-so.”

“It’s the same failed policies,” said Dwayne Truss, co-chair of the Austin Community Action Council, established by CPS.  “They just want to open up buildings for more charter schools.”

‘Too vague’

The guidelines for actions are so broad that they leave nearly a quarter of CPS schools open to action, circumventing SB 630’s attempt to encourage transparency in school closing decisions and limit the administration’s ability to act in an arbitrary manner, supporters of the law say.

The guidelines are “too vague,” said Golar.

By using school performance and probationary status as the basic standard for school actions, CPS relies on statistically questionable measurements – and risks exposing its own failure to meet obligations to schools on probation, said Don Moore of Designs for Change.

The number of schools on probation, now amounting to 42 percent of CPS schools, mainly reflects “erratic changes in the CPS probation policy from year to year,” said Moore.  “A large number of Chicago’s probation schools are scoring very well and carrying out good practices,” he said.

Probation standards are currently set to include nearly all schools with significant low-income enrollment, he said.  Schools making steady progress can end up on probation if they slip a couple of points one year.  Due to complex (and controversial) “trend” score calculations, some schools on probation actually have higher scores than schools that aren’t.

Nor does the performance policy account for many challenges faced by neighborhood schools.  Truss points to two Austin schools:  Louis Armstrong Elementary and Plato contract school, located nearby.  Armstrong has 27 percent of its students getting special education, versus 11.4 percent at Plato; the mobility rates are 24.6 percent versus 8.5.  “And Armstrong takes in third graders that Plato doesn’t want,” he said — just in time for tests.

Charter schools, most of which have scores comparable to neighborhood schools, are exempt from the district’s performance policy.

Schools on probation neglected

Moore underscores a common complaint by critics of the guidelines:  “CPS has consistently failed to carry out its own obligations under the probation policy.”

“The schools on probation, what help have they received from CPS?” asked State Reprentative Cynthia Soto, who co-chairs the facilities task force, talking with the Tribune.

At a recent hearing on the school action guidelines held by CPS on the West Side, parents at Marconi Elementary argued CPS has never addressed the problems which led to probation for the school, Catalyst reported.

“The school’s air conditioning is broken, they don’t have a gym, there’s no computer lab, no science lab, ceilings are falling in – there are a lot of issues,” said West Side activist Carol Johnson, who works with Truss in the Progressive Action Coalition for Education.  “CPS officials did a walk-through, they have a list of everything that parents said they needed, but they haven’t done anything.”

“If you’re going to turn around a school and then put in resources, that doesn’t seem right,” she said.  “If you’re going to give resources, do it before you close the school.”

CPS has failed to follow the mandates of state law governing probation – a possible ground for opposing school closings based on probationary status, said Moore.

State law requires that schools placed on probation – under which control over school improvement plans, budgets, and principal hiring is taken from local school councils and given to the central administration – must get a plan from the school district outlining specific steps to be taken to correct identified shortcomings, with specific expenditures in the school budget targeting educational and operational deficiencies.

Supporters of schools facing closing could file freedom of information requests for documentation that these steps have been taken, Moore suggests.  CPS failure to comply would constitute grounds for independent hearing officers to determine that the district hasn’t met legal requirements to close the school.

What about charter performance?

The school action guidelines include a range of factors, and Golar said the legislative task force has written CPS raising a number of questions and concerns.

Some of these include: how do they measure student safety?  Are there any specific criteria for “co-locating” schools, or is that decision entirely up to the whim of CPS?  Will school actions result in smaller class sizes?  Why was the previous policy of exempting schools with new principals dropped?

And a big one for her:  why are charters and turnarounds not subject to the same performance requirements?

Golar has been pushing for accountability for charters since she was elected in 2006.  “Charter schools have the same issues traditional schools have, yet they don’t have the same performance measures,” she said.  “They have all these computer labs, longer school days, better books, all the things parents are asking for, and with all that, they’re still failing.”

It’s quite possible for students from closing schools to end up at charters that are performing no better, CTU has argued.

A neighborhood agenda

There’s an alternative.  Instead of disinvesting from and closing neighborhood schools, community organizations recently proposed an agenda to invest in and improve them.

It’s a comprehensive program – the proposal for college preparation and readiness begins with pre-school for all and full-day kindergarten in every school.  It’s based on the successes of community organizations that have worked in schools for years.

The agenda proposes that all neighborhood schools follow the community school model.  It includes programs like parent mentors in the classroom, smaller class sizes, arts education and recess, restorative justice and mental health services, local teacher development and improved bilingual education.  It stresses partnerships with community groups and community governance, including local school councils with decision-making power at every school, and support and training for LSCs.

In Bronzeville, community groups have worked for two years on a plan for Dyett High School and five elementary schools that feed into it.  Dyett would  become a Community High School of Green Technology and Leadership, and the elementary schools would focus variously on math, science, engineering, languages and global citizenship.

There would be curriculum alignment throughout the “village,” says Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, along with health centers, a social worker and nurse, social-emotional and leadership programming, restorative justice, safety patrols, and pre-K for all.

The groups have called for a moratorium on school closings in Bronzeville, which has been hard hit by closings over the past decade, and which has a large number of schools which meet the new criteria.

“We’ve had ten years of closings, consolidations, and turnarounds, and they have not helped our students,” said Andrea Lee of Grand Boulevard Federation.

Brown points out that Dyett was under-resourced when it was turned into a high school to serve students who couldn’t get into the new King College Prep;  a couple years later it was “completely destabilized” when Englewood High was closed and students were sent to Dyett.

Constant destabilization

“We have to defend ourselves against our own school district,” which is “setting up our schools to fail,” he said.

“We’re looking at schools being constantly destabilized with models that just don’t work – just moving children around – and no accountability when they don’t work,” he said.

There’s evidence that the alternative strategy works.  Logan Square Neighborhood Association’s community schools are nationally acclaimed, and in a high-poverty, high-crime area on the Southwest Side, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council has worked for eight years in schools and seen steady improvement in  achievement levels.

BPNC’s full-service community schools provide afterschool academic support for struggling kids and homework help for others, followed by two hours of enrichment activity – music, art, drama, sports, “everything you can think of,” said Patrick Brosnan.

There’s ESL, GED, citizenship, and computer classes for parents, aimed at assisting them in supporting their children in school. There’s parent and student leadership development.

Each school has a resource coordinator and a social worker.  Funding comes from the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers program and other public and private sources.

“It’s building ownership over the school and trying to promote the school as a center of the community,” Brosnan said.  “We’ve seen tremendous results in schools that have a lot of challenges.”

Soto has announced the legislature’s Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force will hold a hearing on CPS school actions on Thursday, December 1 at 10 a.m. at the Bilandic Building, 160 N. LaSalle.

The Chicago Teachers Union is holding a teach-in on stopping  school closings for teachers, parents, and community groups on Saturday, December 3 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at King College Prep, 4445 S. Drexel.

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Occupy Austin, Occupy Bronzeville http://www.newstips.org/2011/10/occupy-austin-occupy-bronzeville/ Fri, 28 Oct 2011 21:51:06 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4873 Occupy Austin and Occupy Bronzeville, joined by people from Occupy Chicago, will begin a new drive to occupy foreclosures at actions on the West and South Sides tomorrow.

They’ll rally with tenants of a foreclosed building who are resisting what they say are illegal attempts to evict them from a 12-unit rental building, just two weeks after foreclosure.

Federal law requires tenants be given at least 90 days to move.  (See the recent Newstips post, Foreclosure and tenants: Banks break the law.)

“We’re saying these folks will not be moved,” said Elce Redmond of South Austin Coalition.  He said Occupy Austin would continue “organizing people on a day-to-day basis against the big banks.”  Their goal is “nonviolent mass organization to fight the greed and corruption of the top 1 percent and restore democracy in America.”

Redmond said the Lawyers Committee for Better Housing is representing the tenants in a lawsuit.

The rally starts at 11 a.m. on Saturday, October 29, at 5960 W. North.

From there the groups will head to a housing resource fair at IIT’s Herman Hall, 3241 S. Federal where they’ll talk with homeowners seeking mortgage modifications.

“We want to see how many homeowners get modifications,” said Willie J. R. Fleming of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, a core group in Occupy Bronzeville, which is part of a nationwide Occupy the Hood movement.

“There are a lot of resource fairs going on since the collapse of the financial system, but we still have millions of people losing their homes,” Fleming said. “We want to see if this is a real solution or just a dog and pony show.”

They’re laying plans to occupy foreclosed homes as well as blighted commercial spaces, which they want to turn into community centers, he said.  (This is a tactic that’s worked in Boston, Mark Konzcal writes at New Deal 2.0.)

Meanwhile Occupy Chicago is regrouping – and exploring options to lease indoor space — since the city turned down the group’s request for a permanent location on Thursday, spokesperson Sugar Russell said.

They could use a space for teach-ins and trainings, as well as a place to warm up, she said.

But she notes that their current location at LaSalle and Jackson – in front of Bank of America, across the street from the Federal Reserve – is not without its significance.

That’s especially true since last week, when anonymous regulators leaked to Bloomberg that the Fed was okaying BOFA’s shift of trillions of dollars worth of derivatives from its Merrill Lynch unit to a subsidiary that’s insured by the FDIC – over the FDIC’s objections.

The FDIC’s deposit insurance fund finally turned positive in June, now amounting to just $3.9 billion.  A failure by troubled BOFA, which no one seems to be discounting, would require the FDIC to go to Congress for a bailout, possibly several times the size of TARP.

As Robert Reich argues, the situation shows the wisdom of the Glass-Steagall Act, which (until the year 2000) kept investment banks seperate from government-insured commercial banks – and underscores the need to break up “too big to fail” banks.

MSNBC senior editor James Carney calls it “outrageous” that BOFA is “obviously exploiting government backing for profit.”  Bloomberg’s Jonathan Weil says it reinforces the popular impression that the Fed “puts big banks’ interests above those of ordinary taxpayers.”

More from Yves Smith, William K. Black, and most bleakly, Christopher Whalen.  Locally only ENews Park Forest seems to have noted the story.

And more attention is coming.  On Monday, National Peoples Action and the New Bottom Line Campaign will launch an online campaign to press BOFA to stop financing payday loans.

“Big banks like BOFA borrow money from the Fed at less than 1 percent interest, then lend that to payday lenders at 3 percent, who then turn around and lend money in our communities at 400 percent or more,” according to a note from NPA.

Elsewhere, the anti-corporate Adbusters magazine, which initiated the call to occupy Wall Street in September, is urging a global day of action Saturday in support of the “Robin Hood tax,” which is what they’ve dubbed the financial transaction tax.  That idea has gotten some attention in Chicago locally, with a modest proposal from Stand Up Chicago and the Chicago Political Economy Group (see previous post), but it’s a very live issue for the G20 Summit that convenes in Cannes on November 3.

There it’s backed by the governments of France and Germany as well as the European Union, which recently moved to adopt a continent-wide tax on speculation.  It’s being blocked by the Obama administration.

“Let’s send them a clear message: We want you to slow down some of that $1.3 trillion easy money that’s sloshing around the global casino each day — enough cash to fund every social program and environmental initiative in the world,” Adbusters writes.

“It’s obvious you have no idea how to get us out of this economic mess you put us in,” the magazine tells the elite. “So now we are telling you what we want: a radical transformation of casino capitalism.”

The tax would not only raise as much as $400 billion a year and offset the effects of the global crisis, which has thrown 60 million people into poverty worldwide, according to Oxfam America; it would target the spit-second computer-generated speculation that leaves the world’s economy so unstable.

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Peacemaking: From West Bank to West Side http://www.newstips.org/2011/10/peacemaking-from-the-west-bank-to-the-west-side/ Wed, 12 Oct 2011 20:58:24 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4813 When he was on the West Bank with a Christian Peacemaker Team in 2005, Chicago organizer Elce Redmond realized the problems people faced there were similar to those faced by people back home – and solutions might be similar too.

Redmond, an organizer with the South Austin Coalition, will give the opening keynote for CPT’s 25th anniversary Peacemaker Congress, Thursday, October 13 at 8 p.m. at Evanston Reba Place Church, 533 Custer.  The congress runs through Sunday the 16th.

In 2005, Redmond’s team was providing “peaceful accompaniment” for Palestinian schoolchildren who faced bullying and attacks by adults (“they were mostly from New York,” he says) living in Israeli settlements there.  “I was struck that the same situation happens on the West Side of Chicago, kids trying to get home from school and facing gangs and violence.”

Back home, Redmond began organizing the Austin Peaceforce, with parents and community volunteers trained in nonviolent strategies who are deployed to defuse conflicts and prevent violence.  Today they have a regular presence in Austin schools, including parent patrols after school.

Another parallel emerged a year later, when Redmond went with CPT to Iraq.  There they provided help to relatives trying to get information on detainees.  “Mothers, wives, children contacted us to find out where a person had been taken and what the charge was – if there was a charge,” he said.  CPT members were constantly visiting places like Camp Cropper and Abu Ghraib.

“We found lots of people who were just rounded up for the sake of rounding up someone,” he said.  “For many there were no charges – so many of them weren’t guilty of anything, other than being of Arab descent.

“The same thing happens on the West Side and South Side of Chicago, people are rounded up and simply because of where they are and who they are, they are associated with certain gangs and criminals.”

Redmond says he was impressed with the courage and steadfastness of both CPT members and residents of conflict zones.

Founded in 1986 at a retreat center in suburban Techny, CPT trains people in violence reduction strategies – which often involve “getting in the way” — and has sent teams to Haiti, Bosnia, and Chiapas, Mexico.

Other keynotes during the Congress will be by Angelica Castellanos of Colombia, Fathiyeh Gainey of Palestine, and Mohammad Salah of Iraq.  PCT has long-term projects in all three countries.

CPT opposes the Colombia Free Trade Agreement now under consideration in Congress, saying it “threatens to exacerbate the ongoing human rights crisis in Colombia.”

The group cites its Colombian partners as saying the pact “will continue to impoverish small-scale farmers, expand economic mega-projects that cause environmental destruction, and undermine labor rights, all of which will contribute to further displacement of millions of Colombians.”

 

Related: Community Organizer Visits Baghdad, Newstips 2005

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Parents air concerns on longer school day http://www.newstips.org/2011/09/parents-air-concerns-on-longer-school-day/ http://www.newstips.org/2011/09/parents-air-concerns-on-longer-school-day/#comments Wed, 28 Sep 2011 22:36:49 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4773 Parents in meetings on the West and North Sides this week discussing the proposal for an extended school day expressed a range of concerns far beyond the “for-or-against” terms in which the issue has been framed by Mayor Emanuel and the media.

Both groups released surveys – one large, one small, neither scientific but both gauging the views of parents who are particularly active in their children’s schools.   How the longer day will be implemented and how it will be funded are major concerns.

But how long it should be is also an open question for parents.  The Raise Your Hand Coalition surveyed 1200 parents in 230 schools and found broad support for a longer school day – but little support for making it as long as Emanuel has proposed.

Only 16 percent of respondents in their online survey supported extending the school day to 7.5 hours.  A vast majority – 71 percent – support a school day of 6.5 to 7 hours.

At 13 schools where the group recently won schedule changes to allow children to have recess — moving teachers’ lunch hour to the middle of the day, thus extending the school day to 6.5 hours at no cost to CPS – parents were very happy with the schedule they have, said Sonia Kwon of Raise Your Hand.

“Parents want six-and-a-half hours,” Kwon told Newstips.  “Why [is CPS] asking for seven-and-a-half?”

She points out that since bus routes have been lengthened to cut costs, kids who are bused to her children’s school for special programs have trips as long as an hour-and-a-half.  “With a seven-and-a-half hour day, you’ll have little kids who are away from home for ten hours every day.”

Every school’s situation is different, she says, pointing out that RYH’s recess program was harder to pass at schools with inadequate playground facilities.

Schools without playgrounds

At the Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin on Monday night, one mother said that her children have to go to another school for gym, and will have to travel even farther to get to a playground for recess.

A survey of 36 parents, teachers, and community members who attended that meeting found most favoring a longer day, but 60 percent favoring less than 90 additional minutes now under consideration.

For many, support of a longer day was contingent on sufficient planning and funding, or on agreement between CPS at the Chicago Teachers Union.  The largest segment wanted additional time used to add art, science, music, and gym.

Some 73 percent did not want their schools to move immediately to a longer day.  An overwhelming proportion, 83 percent, said Local School Councils, parents, community stakeholders and educators should be part of the decision-making and planning process.

“LSCs and parents have not been engaged,” said Dwayne Truss of the Ella Flagg Young LSC, who opened the meeting.  “In order to get balance, the process has to be inclusive.”

John Fountain III of AustinTalks.org moderated the meeting, and Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance compiled the survey results.

Tuesday night at Coonley Elementary in Ravenswood, RYH leaders called on parents to become involved in planning at their schools, and outlined concerns that emerged from their survey.  Parents want quality over quantity and a well-rounded school day, they said.  They want an approach that is sustainable in a school system that has seen annual cuts.  They are worried about CPS’s capacity for carrying out the plan.

‘Show me the money’

CPS has an “underwhelming track record for planning, logistics, and implementation of new policies and procedures,” said Claire Waypole.  “And show me the money,” she added, pointing out that Illinois is now dead last among states for support of public education.

“There can be the greatest idea in the world, but if there’s no money for it, how is it going to happen?” she asked.

How many new art and music teachers will be available – and what’s to guarantee that schools don’t face new cuts and larger class sizes in the second year of the program, Kwon asked later.  Additional money for schools that lengthened their hours this year will not be available next year, she said.

“Nobody at CPS answers any questions about money,” she said.  “That’s one reason everyone is so confused.”

“We have a deficit every year, and next year we’re going to have a worse deficit,” said Truss.  “So are you talking about education, or is this a political battle?”

Audience discussion ranged widely at both meetings.  In both Austin and in Ravenswood, speakers who called CPS’s proposal to lengthen the school day with token payment to teachers “insulting” received warm applause.  (In Austin a speaker called the proposal “legalized slavery.”)

A few parents in Ravenswood spoke against lengthening the school day.  If CPS has the money for a longer day, one mother said, she’d rather they spend it on reducing class sizes.

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Communities to banks: You can fix housing crisis, economy http://www.newstips.org/2011/08/communities-to-banks-you-can-fix-housing-crisis-economy/ http://www.newstips.org/2011/08/communities-to-banks-you-can-fix-housing-crisis-economy/#comments Sun, 21 Aug 2011 16:43:22 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4704 Banks caused the housing crisis — and the financial crash which threw millions out of their jobs — and they can fix it, according to a new report.

By writing down underwater mortgages to market value – using a relatively small portion of bailout financing they’ve received – banks could put a floor on the housing market, stem spiraling foreclosures, and provide the economy with a badly-needed second stimulus, creating millions of jobs over the next decade, the New Bottom Line Campaign argues in a new analysis.

It was released in Chicago last week at a vacant home on the West Side that’s being rehabbed under a new program — which demonstrates how community pressure can force banks to step up and take responsibility, organizers say.

(And it came out the same day Mayor Rahm  Emanuel announced a foreclosure recovery program that includes not one single community on the hard-hit West Side.)

The South Austin Coalition, one of nearly a thousand community organizations nationwide (including Chicago-based National Peoples Action) in the New Bottom Line Campaign, released the report at a home in the Austin community that’s being rehabbed by the Westside Health Authority.

Financing comes from a $2.4 million community restoration fund, won after a long campaign by the Coalition to Save Community Banking that targeted U.S. Bank after it took over the locally-owned Park National Bank in 2009.

WHA is rehabbing three homes in Austin – employing ex-offenders to do the work – and Housing Helpers is rehabbing three homes in Maywood in the first phase of the fund’s operation.  It’s a small-scale success that points to what’s needed on a far grander scale, organizers say.

Second stimulus

According to the NBL report, 23 percent of American homeowners owe a total of $709 billion more on their mortgages than the market value of their homes.  Writing down underwater mortgages to market value with 30-year fixed-rate mortgages would cost banks $70 billion a year, money that would instead go into consumer spending.  The average homeowner would see mortgage payments reduced by $6,500 a year.

Injecting that kind of increased consumer demand into the economy would fuel a million additional jobs a year, the report estimates.   It would constitute a second stimulus for the economy, at no cost to taxpayers – indeed, increased economic activity would add to government revenues and reduce the deficit.  NBL calls it the “win-win solution.”

In Illinois, with 483,517 underwater homeowners (21.7 percent of the total) owing $29 billion more than their homes are worth, NBL’s proposal would create nearly 43,000 new jobs a year, according to the report.

As it is, the housing crisis and jobs crisis continuously reinforce each other, creating a vicious cycle, according to the report. Federal foreclosure programs, focused largely on protecting banks (and shying away from principal reduction), have fallen far short. Economic stimulus efforts have averted freefall but failed to spur sufficient growth.

“Working families across the country have seen their home values plummet, have had their life savings wiped clean, have been powerless to help when their loved ones lost their jobs, and in too many cases watched helplessly while they lost their homes to banks that continue to post billion-dollar profits,” according to the report.

And banks are sitting on unprecedented cash reserves, with the top six banks reporting $1.64 trillion.

Banks can afford it

Writing down underwater mortgages would help investors who back mortgage loans, who typically come out ahead when foreclosures are avoided with loan mods including principal reduction (mortgage servicers, on the other hand, take in huge fees in foreclosures, sometimes as high as 75 percent of unpaid principal).  It would put a floor on the falling housing market and remove clouds on mortgage-backed securities held by banks.

“Banks can afford this” — and “we have already paid for it,” with $14 trillion worth of federal bailouts and backstops for banks, some of which has been repaid but much of which never will be, the report argues.

“The banks created the housing crisis with their reckless and predatory lending practices,” NBL argues.  “They should be held accountable for the damage they have done to our economy and be forced to do their part to clean up the mess they have created.”

“It takes community organizations to force the hand of the banks,” said Theresa Welch-Davis of SAC.  “We need aggressive action now that creates a new bottom line for homeowners and the American economy.”

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