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PURE, UNO, David and Goliath

Ben Joravsky gives deserved kudos to Dan Mihalopoulos for his work exposing financial shenanigans at UNO Charter Schools (though after a decent interval, the state dollars are again flowing).

The Sun-Times has also taken credit for a state probe of UNO finances.

But we shouldn’t forget what got this ball rolling — a demand back in January by Parents United for Responsible Education, joined by parents in Pilsen, that the state inspector general investigate UNO finances.  (Here’s the press release.)

PURE emphasized UNO’s reliance on financing by tax-exempt bonds — and the growing debt-per-student costs that resulted.  It looks a bit like a pyramid scheme, like a house of cards that would collapse if UNO failed to keep expanding.

Which is a question that should be considered — if one of these operators goes belly-up, who picks up the pieces?

PURE is a small, scrappy advocacy group with a long history.  In the last couple years it’s taken on the two most politically connected charter schools with impressive results.  Last year, a report by PURE and Voices of Youth in Chicago Education got the Noble Network on the front pages for harsh discipline policies involving extensive fines and pushing students out.

South Shore Opera Company offers African Romances

The South Shore Opera Company marks its fifth anniversary with a free program Saturday featuring a one-act opera and a song cycle by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Paul Laurence Dunbar.

“Dream Lovers” and “Seven African Romances” will be presented Saturday, June 8, at 7 p.m. at the South Shore Cultural Center, with Daniel Black conducting new orchestrations by Peter Slavin and Leon Shernoff.

Both Dunbar (1872-1906) and Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) were pioneers in their fields:  with the immense popularity of his poetry, both in black dialect and standard English, Dunbar was the first African American to achieve national prominence as a poet; with the huge success of his choral work, “Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast,” the Afro-British Coleridge-Taylor became the first classical composer of evident African descent to achieve wide popularity.  When he toured the U.S. in 1904, he was received at the White House by President Roosevelt. Read the rest of this entry »

‘Invest in Englewood’ campaign launching

Beautification of a gateway lot and a walking tour of historic and architecturally significant sites on Saturday will launch the Invest in Englewood campaign of the new Greater Englewood Community Development Corporation.

From 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, June 1, Englewood residents will install landscaping at the northwest corner of 63rd and Yale, an entryway to the community from the Dan Ryan Expressway.  Neighborhood Housing Services is partnering with GECDC on the project.

At 10 a.m. a guided tour will take off from 63rd and Yale — including a section of old mansions — to “show another dimension of what Greater Engelwood has to offer the city,” said Eric McLoyd, executive director of the group.

Invest in Englewood aims at marshalling community resources — including the efforts of scores of community organizations — to “rebrand, rebuild, and revitalize the community” in a resident-led project, said Sonya Marie Harper, an organizer with Residents Association of Greater Englewood.

GECDC was founded in 2011 after the economic development work group of RAGE realized a community development corporation was needed to addess the “stalled economic development” in Englewood and West Englewood, she said.

The first step is to broaden the perception of the community on the part of residents as well as outsiders, she said.  While most press coverage focuses on violence — and the community has among the highest rates of unemployment, vacant properties, and population loss in the city — there is also a wide range of positive efforts by community residents, including 500 local businesses.

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Navigators USA offer ‘inclusive scouting’

With the Boy Scouts maintaining its policy of excluding gays from leadership, interest is growing in Navigators USA, an “intentionally inclusive scouting alternative,” according to a leader of a new chapter in  Palatine.

Navigators Chapter 30 was founded last October, sponsored by Countryside Church Unitarian Universalist, and is growing steadily, said Elizabeth Vesto.  Nationally the group has doubled in size over the past year.

Though it’s sponsored by a church, it’s open to anyone, even non-believers (unlike the Scouts), Vesto said.  “We have a lot of people participating who would not be eligible for the Boy Scouts,” she said.

The chapter has about 25 members, mainly Junior Navigators (ages 5 through 12), with twice-monthly meetings that Vesto charaterized as “family activity nights.” The chapter is focused on community service projects and learning the Navigator Traits, she said. (A Navigator is “truthful, respectful, inclusive, generous, dependable, resourceful, and cooperative.”)

Service projects range from helping to clear invasive species at the Deer Grove Forest Preserve to making “support backbacks” containing a change of clothes and toiletries for ICE detainees, who may have been moved from other parts of the country and released in Chicago “with absolutely nothing,” Vesto said.

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After the school closing vote

With the school board voting to close 50 neighborhood schools — to nobody’s surprise — the movement that sprang up in opposition moves to a new phase.

One indication: while the board was meeting, eight activists were arrested in Springfield blocking the entrance of legislative chambers, demanding the General Assembly pass a moratorium blocking the closings.

Participating were members of Action Now, Albany Park Neighborhood Council, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, and the Chicago Teachers Union.

“We’re going to keep up the momentum to stop school closings,” said Aileen Kelleher of Action Now.  “There will definitely be more large-scale actions.”

“There’s a legislative strategy and a street strategy,” said Jitu Brown of KOCO.  “We are organizing in our communities to stand up for our children, to stand against disinvestment — which is what this is.”

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Fracking opponents occupy governor’s office

With the State Senate set to vote on a bill regulating fracking on Thursday, opponents say they’ll continue an occupation of Governor Quinn’s office into a third day, demanding he meet with residents of areas that would be affected.

Two activists have been arrested in the sit-in.

The occupation will continue Thursday, said Angie Viands of Rising Tide Chicago, who was arrested Tuesday evening when she refused to leave.  The protestors want a moratorium on fracking in Illinois.

On Friday, Illinois Peoples Action will hold an demonstration in support of a moratorium.

Read the rest of this entry »

Low-wage worker speak out


Following up on a strike by hundreds of fast food workers here last month, McDonalds’ workers will show up at McDonald’s annual shareholders meeting Thursday in Oak Brook to demand a $15-an-hour wage and the right to organize without fear of retaliation.

They’ll rally at the Rock-n-Roll McDonald.s, 600 N. Clark, at 6 a.m. and take buses to McDonald’s corporate headquarters, where they’ll rally again at 8 a.m.

Temporary workers

Meanwhile, the efforts of the Chicago Workers Collaborative to expose the exploitative and discriminatory role of underground labor brokers known as raiteros, supplying workers for temporary staffing agencies and charging steep transportation fees, has been featured recently by Pro Publica and Marketplace.

Staffing workers and their supporters will present a proposal for basic labor standards to staffing agency owners on Thursday, May 23, at 10:30 a.m., at 1400 W. Hubbard.

Common sense on school closings

When she was first appointed, CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett was fond of talking of the necessity of restoring trust that had been broken by previous administrations.  She promised a thorough community engagement process around this wave of school closings.

And there have been innumberable forums for public input since January.  The problem is, it’s been almost entirely ignored.

CPS’s basic criteria for deciding to close schools — its utilization standard and performance policy — have been roundly critiqued.  But hearing officers have noted that much public testimony has focused on concerns that CPS school action guidelines deem “discretionary” — things like safety and security, culture and climate, school leadership, facility conditions, special programming and community feedback.  The district chief “may” take these into account.

Some officers ruled that the school board should take these concerns into account, and recommended against closing; others ruled that CPS had met the legal requirements for closing a school, but strongly recommended that the board look into community concerns in its own evaluation and decision-making.

Which only makes sense.  The people in the schools know much better than the people downtown what’s going on in the schools, particularly around the key issue of utilization.

But CPS general counsel James Bebley reacted with defensive legalisms.  When hearing officer Cheryl Starks ruled against closing top-performing Calhoun North based in part on Alderman Fioretti’s observation that new housing was going up across the street, Bebley wrote: “The CEO has the discretion to consider neighborhood development plans, but failure to do so does not impede the CEO’s power to propose closure.”

Well, okay.  It’s your ballgame, and you write the rules.  But doesn’t common sense tell you that that kind of information is relevant and worth considering?  I mean, come on.

Right now someone at City Hall is deciding what small number of schools to take off the list as a sop to public outrage.  But if our school governance system worked properly, it would be the Board of Education itself applying independent, critical oversight — and common sense — to the decision-making process.

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