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Does Rogers Park need a new charter school?

A new charter school in Rogers Park will undermine neighborhood schools in multiple ways, say residents who complain there was “no discussion” about siting the new school.

UNO Charter Schools announced last week it is leasing the building which housed St. Scholastica Academy, 7416 N. Ridge, and will open a K-8 school there.  UNO chief Juan Rangel promised “a very aggressive recruitment campaign,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

UNO’s goal is to recruit 570 students.  Most “will be pulled from the surrounding community,” said Jim Ginderske of Occupy Rogers Park.  The group protested at the announcement of the new school last week.

Rogers Park has six elementary schools, he said.  They have a range of performance levels, but all “have a good mix of students,” dedicated teachers, and parents  who are involved in trying to garner more resources for their schools.  And all are seeing enrollments decline.

Every student recruited by UNO will cost a neighborhood school thousands of dollars in per-pupil state allocations, and by recruiting more motivated students, UNO will undercut local schools’ academic strength, he said.

It’s happened before (and not just here).  At a community hearing in 2009 Kristine Mayle, now CTU’s financial secretary, described the process where she taught, De La Cruz Middle School, which was closed in 2009, the year it won a Spotlight Award from the state board of education.

“We were an award-winning school, and then UNO started pulling kids away from our school and our numbers dropped,” she said, as Substance reported at the time.

(The De la Cruz building was then used to house UNO’s Paz school, its first and lowest-performing campus, while its facility was renovated.)

The big question is whether CPS really needs to open 60 new charter schools, as planned, when it has hundreds of underfunded neighborhood schools in buildings it says are underutilized.  Especially when charters  perform no better than neighborhood schools.

Meanwhile, UNO schools in non-CPS buildings get $400 thousand each in annual facilities funding from the school district,  WBEZ reports.

That’s a sharp contrast to neighborhood schools, where CPS funds repairs only “as needed,” with repairs often deferred for years.  Half of CPS schools will get no facilities funding under the proposed budget, BEZ reports.

And the CPS subsidy is on top of $100 million in state funding UNO’s getting for new school construction – from a state that fails to meet its constitutional mandate for fair school funding.

“What’s really happening here is starving neighborhood schools of resources,” Ginderske said.

Charter school proponents used to argue that public schools would improve with competition.  But with this kind of competition – for scarce resources – that’s not how it works.  This is cut-throat competition.

Ginderske criticized Ald. Joe Moore for backing the new school without consulting his constituents.

On top of Moore’s action squelching an advisory referendum on an elected school board, he said, “Many people feel they elected [Moore] as a progressive, and he’s no longer a progressive.”

“You don’t have to agree with the mayor on everything,” he said.

Chris Drew

A federal court ruled against the Illinois eavesdropping law that Chris Drew has spent two years fighting on Tuesday – a day after the activist artist died.

While fighting the eavesdropping law, Chris was also fighting cancer – conducting both fights with remarkable courage, grace, and generosity of spirit.

 

Photo by Nancy Bechtol

Today’s court ruling allows the ACLU to carry out a project monitoring police conduct during NATO protests later this month.  The felony eavesdropping charge pursued against Chris by State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez was thrown out in March, the judge ruling that the statute criminalizes “wholly innocent behavior.”

That wasn’t the law Chris had set out to challenge.  He’d been arrested in December 2009 protesting Chicago’s prohibitive peddler’s license ordinance, which requires street artists to re-apply every month for a “free speech permit” and restricts them to ten corners in the Loop.

With its new cultural plan, the city should finally listen to Chris and open our streets to artists selling their work, as every other city in the world does.

Chris founded the Uptown Multi-Cultural Art Center over 20 years ago and taught silkscreening to anyone interested, without charge, including a new generation of grafitti artists and taggers.

UMCAC’s annual “Art of the T Shirt” festival developed into a year-round Art Patch Project.  Chris and his colleagues would set up a silkscreen on the street and create and give away small patches carrying designs and messages – and he would talk to anyone interested about the importance of art and free speech.

Last month Occupy Rogers Park honored Chris by re-naming Morse Avenue “Chris Drew Way.” At the event, Chris called for artists to occupy the corner of Michigan and Randolph this spring to keep the pressure up for a sane policy on street artists.

“The most important thing to say is that Chris died as he lived, fighting all the way for the dispossessed and marginalized among us, for the right of artists to speak their mind and to survive,” commented Lew Rosenbaum, of the Chicago Labor & Arts Festival blog, in a Facebook post. “Chris devoted his life to providing the artistic means for people to discover their creativity and to participate in the transformation of society.”

Protest permits issued under existing ordinance

The city is granting permits for protests at the upcoming NATO/G8 summits under the existing parade ordinance, making it hard to follow Mayor Emanuel’s argument that a new ordinance is needed in time for the summits.

Last month Emanuel introduced revisions to the parade ordinance – adding an array of bureacratic requirements for protest organizers — as part of a package of changes to the municipal code he said was “appropriate for a unique event.” He later said he “made a mistake” saying the changes would be temporary.

The City Council is set to begin considering the proposals next week.

But on Thursday the city approved the application for a parade route from the Coalition Against NATO and G8 for a march from Daley plaza to a rally at 23rd and Indiana, near the summit site at McCormick Place (with the proviso that the Secret Service could override the approval).

‘Current ordinance adequate’

“The issuance of this permit shows that the current ordinances, while not perfect, are more than adequate for large public events in our city, and that the Mayor should rescind his proposed anti-protester ordinances,” said Andy Thayer of CANG8.

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What’s next

In honor of the Year of the Protestor (as proclaimed by Time Magazine), the Journal of Ordinary Thought has reposted three poems from its summer issue on Art as Activism.  I like “What’s Next” by Lester Hemingway  (I like them all, but as you’d expect from a Hemingway, this one is pithy):

 

WHAT’S NEXT

you’re angry.  me too

attention! the fruit is rotting

let’s save what we can

 

One of the best overviews of Occupy Wall Street is “The New Populists” in this month’s American Prospect.  Participant-observer Christopher Ketcham illuminates the fascinating dynamics of the movement with a depth and detail missing from most accounts, from the earliest discussions, to the intricate network of solidarity built on hard work and endless discussion, to the “blitzkrieg” – and markedly violent – police eviction on November 15, followed by a massive protest.

He notes the parallel with the populist movement of the 1890s – even citing a populist song on “the ninety and nine” who live in hunger and cold “that the one may live in luxury” – and America’s history of occupiers: Rosa Parks, lunch counter sit-ins, Martin Luther King’s Resurrection City, sit-down strikes in Flint, Coxey’s Army and the Bonus Marchers.  “The idea of occupation has outlasted Zucotti Park,” he writes.

Homes, schools, clinics 

We’ve covered the local movement to “occupy foreclosures”  — its roots in Boston and Florida go back years, and its opportunities are expanding everyday.  Another arena for occupiers is the fight to defend public schools.

At a recent teach-in by CTU and community allies, several angry parents spoke about the need to “occupy our schools.”  The Nation reports on occupy tactics being deployed to oppose the encroachment of charter schools in New York City and New Jersey as well as CPS chief Jean-Claud Brizard’s previous domain of Rochester — and his new one of Chicago.

The fight over school policy presents all the issues of the Occupy movement – the post-hoc, pro-forma charade of public input by CPS , presided over by a rubber-stamp Board of Education, makes a mockery of democracy.  Politically connected groups like UNO and AUSL have the inside track.  The wealthy elite – Penny Pritzker and the “billionaire boys club” — has overwhelming influence, even as corporate interests undermine school funding by evading taxes and sucking up TIF subsidies.

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