Penny Pritzker – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop http://www.newstips.org Chicago Community Stories Mon, 08 Jan 2018 18:45:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.14 Parents want input on school board opening http://www.newstips.org/2013/03/parents-want-input-on-school-board-opening/ Tue, 19 Mar 2013 23:12:50 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7060 With billionaire hotel heiress Penny Pritzker stepping down from the school board, Chicago parents are calling for an open process for selecting her successor.

Raise Your Hand is calling on Mayor Emanuel to replicate the process he established to choose a new 7th Ward alderman, allowing eligible individuals to apply, and creating an advisory commission with community representatives to recommend finalists.

RYH notes that Emanuel said he would use that selection process as a template for future appointments.

“If this process was good for the residents of the 7th Ward, it should be even better for all Chicago residents who are served by CPS,” according to an RYH statement.  “The new board member is being chosen at a critical time….

“In the wake of thousands of people attending school closure hearings, the next appointment must be made in an open and transparent fashion that allows the community a voice in the process.”

The group is one of many that supports an elected school board for Chicago.

Pritzker, an “heiress who hates being called an heiress” whose family controls the Hyatt Corporation, is under consideration for Secretary of Commerce.

In the 1990s she chaired the board of Superior Bank, which pioneered the subprime mortgage market, and later collapsed.  More recently she’s launched a private equity firm investing in distressed properties.

She came under fire here after a hotel development in Hyde Park featuring a Hyatt franchise was awarded a $5 million TIF subsidy.  TIF districts cost CPS about $250 million a year.

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Teachers demand respect http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/teachers-demand-respect/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/teachers-demand-respect/#comments Mon, 17 Sep 2012 23:54:57 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6647 Entirely aside from what the school strike has revealed about Mayor Emanuel’s executive incompetence – or how he intends to spin the eventual outcome – and far more important, there are several layers of historic significance to the teachers’ fight.

Here are three:  it’s marshalled broad popular support in a period when public-sector unions are under assault on many fronts; it’s dramatized and exposed the costs and compromises of the corporate school reform agenda; and – particularly going forward, as the outcome unfolds – it represents a signal battle in the fight against the austerity agenda of the world’s elites.

They’re also teaching us about an old-fashioned value that we may hope is not yet out of date: respect.

The Chicago Tribune actually editorialized that the teachers were on the wrong side of history, fighting the inevitability of corporate reform.  On any given day, the editors could have looked out their window and seen the streets filled with multitudes of red-shirted teachers who were actually making history.

Unhinged

The paper seemed to become unhinged after its pet cause of merit pay was abandoned as Emanuel sought to avoid a strike.  (That may have been the most startling revelation in the paper’s behind-the-scenes report – that the mayor actually feared a strike.  For a whole year it had seemed clear that he was actively courting one.)

First the Trib came out for vouchers.  That’s the reformer’s nuclear option: if they can’t run schools without interference from anyone else, they’ll blow up the public education system.  Then, as negotiations began to progress, they actually called on Emanuel to withdraw the latest CPS salary proposal and go back to merit pay – no matter how long it took.  All that concern for children out of school was apparently just for show.

Then they ran an utterly insulting op-ed by Bruce Rauner, Emanuel’s billionaire buddy who dabbles in school reform.  While negotiators were trying to find common ground, Rauner and the Tribune was busy pouring gasoline on the flames.

As if that wasn’t enough, the paper then gave us an endorsement of Emanuel and denunciation of the union by none other than Jeb Bush, a major proponent of charters and of online learning – which, as Mother Jones notes, “siphons money from public institutions into for-profit companies” while it “undercuts public employees [and] their unions.”  Like charters.  (Problem is, also like charters, “many online schools simply aren’t very good.”)

Maybe they thought this demonstrated “bipartisan” support for their agenda, but for a mayor forced to shrug off a full-throated endorsement by Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, a shout-out by the brother of America’s worst president had to be a major embarrassment.

Who needs unions?

There is indeed history being made here, but its final chapter is yet to be written.

Over the past generation, private-sector unionism has been decimated, starting with the Reagan administration’s approval for replacement workers in strikes, and especially with the passage of NAFTA, one of Mayor Emanuel’s signal achievements. (And much as he likes to brag about saving the auto industry, he helped destroy hundreds of thousands of American manufacturing jobs by pushing NAFTA through a reluctant Congress.)

That’s led to an economy where corporate profits soar and the middle class sinks; de-unionization is a key factor in the dramatic growth of inequality since 1980 and the economic stagnation that’s caused.

Public employee unions were only organized in the 1960s (with support from people like Martin Luther King), at a time when public workers made much less than private-sector workers.  Now the situation is reversed, and business leaders see a chance to destroy collective bargaining – and unions as a political counterweight to corporate dominance — once and for all.

Teachers and other public workers are under the gun across the country.  Last year they made a heroic stand in Wisconsin but were unable to overcome the influence of big money, which sought to stir up resentment among regular folks who’ve seen their standard of living tumble.

Democrats against unions

In Chicago teachers confronted an all-out attack by Emanuel, who has campaigned against them since returning here.  His stated goals of closing neighborhood schools and opening charters are clearly aimed at reducing the number of unionized teachers.  And teachers saw a similar motivation behind CPS’s evaluation proposals.

The anti-union animus is clear in some of Emanuel’s major supporters.  Take Democrats For Education Reform, founded by billionaire hedge-fund traders.

“The financial titans, who tend to send their children to private schools, would not seem to be a natural champion of charter schools, which are principally aimed at poor, minority students,” notes the New York Times in an article on DEFR.

“But the money managers are drawn to the businesslike way in which many charter schools are run; their focus on results, primarily measured by test scores; and, not least, their union-free work environments.”

Then there’s Penny Pritzker, the billionaire heiress appointed to the school board by Emanuel, whose family’s Hyatt Hotels face a worldwide boycott due to anti-union practices — among them, replacing union members with minimum-wage temps.

In the face of all this, the Chicago Teachers Union have given the nation a remarkable display of unity, solidarity, and militancy.  They gave Emanuel a very public drubbing. And they’ve brought a new level of unity for all city workers, whose unions have been nibbled away bit by bit by Emanuel for the past year.

Two visions of school reform

The strike also puts two visions of school reform in sharp relief.  As Diane Ravitch delineates, on one side are the billionaires pushing for school closings, charters, and cracking down on teachers.  On the other are teachers and parents opposing the disinvest-and-close approach and demanding investments in smaller classes, social workers, and air conditioning (which Emanuel, in attack mode, ridiculed).

There’s history here too:  as CTU points out, the so-called “accountability” movement (driven as Mark Naison demonstrates by an entirely irrelevant business ethos) superceded an earlier era of reform based on the values of the civil rights movement – equality, inclusiveness, democracy, and public services to alleviate the impact of poverty.

Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, the black-white achievement gap shrank.   As Jitu Brown of KOCO pointed out at Saturday’s rally, that progress has been reversed under mayoral control, under which that gap has steadily grown.

One accomplishment of the strike was to bring parents and community groups out to support teachers around a common agenda.  Not only on the picket lines and in the mass demonstrations, but in the opinion polls too.   As Emanuel moves next to close neighborhood schools and open charters, will that unity and energy keep pace?

Respect

At Saturday’s rally (which was amazing), I was struck by the deeper significance of a few of teachers’ slogans.  Especially the demand for “respect.”  You heard it again and again.  And yes, it refers to the way Emanuel and the Tribune and Bruce Rauner and Jeb Bush talk about teachers.

But it’s also about how teachers are treated, and how teaching is treated as a profession.  I ran into an old friend, Josh, who’s spent years in classrooms, most recently teaching social studies, first in a selective enrollment high school, then in an inner-city neighborhood high school.

The contrast was striking, he said.  The first school had plenty of everything – including basic things like books, enough textbooks for every student.  At the second school, kids had to share textbooks or teachers had to prepare their own materials.

The first school’s building was well-maintained and fully air-conditioned; the second school was run down, and only the principal’s office was air-conditioned.  (That’s how it is in many schools listed as air-conditioned by CPS.)

“That’s something that’ll piss a kid off – that’ll piss anybody off,” said Josh.  “The principal’s all comfy and the rest of the school is a heatbox.”

At the second school, kids were dealing with all kinds of issues, every day – getting arrested, getting pregnant, the gamut.  In one section something like 14 out of 18 girls were expecting or new mothers.

The reformers view students more or less like sliders at a fast-food joint, he said – how many can you flip and how fast can you flip them.  But each one is completely different from the next one.  Not only that, each one is different from how they were three months ago.

Since social studies isn’t a tested subject, he was told to work on their reading, an area in which he has no background; he split the difference, teaching them how to examine a primary document – often going over it word by word – and how to think about those kinds of things more deeply.

He worked hard with them and was gratified every time a kid got something.  It wasn’t easy.  The small victories come one student at a time, with hard work.

Then enrollment dropped and his position was terminated.  He spent a year as a cadre sub.  Now he’s day-to-day, with no benefits.  He was really interested in the proposed contract’s job security provisions.

High schools aren’t hiring middle-aged teachers, he said.  Principals want young teachers.  It’s basically because they’re cheaper, Josh says, but it’s also because they’re easier to shape.

The schools don’t want teachers who came up with those civil rights values.  If they get teachers young, the new way of doing things, with its focus on test scores, will be the only framework they know.

And I look at this guy, who’s so sharp, so dedicated, who is exactly the kind of person you would want teaching your child.  And there’s no place for him, because some politicians and business people have decided that the thing to do is destroy the teaching profession.

That’s disrespect on a level far more profound than the kind of language that’s used.

I hope the new contract provides real hope for this kind of teacher.

At the rally, Che “Rhymefest” Smith recalled a science teacher who tried to convince him to buckle down and graduate (while the principal discouraged him) — who signed him up for an alternative school when he dropped out, who later helped him fill out college applications.  “I’ll never forget Ms. Harris,” he said.

“I realized that the system had failed me and the only person trying to get me back in the game was this teacher,” he said.  “Truly I see a system that’s not only failing the children but failing the teachers too.”

Let’s remember Ms. Harris.  And please, let’s give her some respect.

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Penny Pritzker’s TIF http://www.newstips.org/2012/08/penny-pritzkers-tif/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/08/penny-pritzkers-tif/#comments Wed, 08 Aug 2012 15:45:51 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6551 School board member Penny Pritzker’s Hyatt Hotels Corp. is benefiting from a $5.2 million TIF subsidy on 53rd Street – while CPS’s proposed 2013 budget cuts seven schools surrounding the hotel project by $3.4 million, which is roughly the portion CPS is losing from the TIF deal.

“This one example shows the fundamental corruption in the way things are done here,” said David Orlikoff of the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign, a labor and community coalition growing out of Occupy Chicago’s labor committee and supporting the Chicago Teachers Union.

CTSC will hold a press conference and speakout and picket the project at 53rd and Harper on Wednesday, August 8, starting at 5:30 p.m.

“As a member of the Board of Education, it’s Penny Pritzker’s job to find money for our schools, not to take our money for her business,” Orlikoff said.

The $5.2 million subsidy is part of $20.4 million in TIF funds going to the University of Chicago-led redevelopment of Harper Court (see here for some background).  In addition to the hotel, the university is building a 12-story office building in the first phase of the project.

CTSC points out that Pritzker has a net worth of $1.8 billion, and the University of Chicago – now engaged in a huge campus expansion – has an endowment of $6.6 billion.

“They have plenty of money,” said Lorraine Chavez of CTSC.  “They don’t need a taxpayer subsidy to pay for it.  It’s outrageous.”

At Catalyst, Penny Pritzker clarifies that she’s not personally receiving the $5.2 million, and in a statement to Newstips, Hyatt points out that the Hyde Park Hyatt will not be owned by the corporation but, like many Hyatts, operated under a franchise agreement, thus “neither Hyatt Hotels Corporation nor Penny Pritzker…is receiving TIF funds as a result of this project.”

Conflict of interest

“The school board should be defending school funding when the mayor wants to take it for TIFs; it’s the only body in a position to do that,” Orlikoff said.  “But they’re appointed by the mayor, and they look the other way.

“Then they tell teachers they don’t have any money for anything, except the mayor’s pet projects.  It’s a conflict of interest – and it will be a conflict until the school board is elected.

“We need representation on the school board, and we need to end the chronic underfunding of our schools,” Orlikoff said.

CTSC, which exists “to support teachers and fight for equitable quality education,” calls for increasing school funding “by reclaiming TIFs and taxing the rich.”

TIF is “a failed program,” Orlikoff said.  “It’s not fighting economic blight, it’s a way of taking from everyone and giving to the One Percent.”

Questions on 53rd Street

There are lots of questions right now about the 53rd Street TIF, especially with a new TIF district now being carved out of it by a second developer.

Antheus Capital, planning an upscale residential and retail development at 51st and Lake Park, wants to break its parcel out of the 53rd Street TIF to form its own TIF district —  in order apply for $10 million or more in TIF funds.  The 53rd Street TIF advisory council has okayed the proposal.

But after ten years of operation, the 53rd Street TIF fund has a balance of just $3.7 million.

Now, with thirteen years to go, it’s on the hook for a $20-million subsidy, while revenues are slowing (due not just to a lousy economy but to the County Assessor’s new formula, which shifts the property tax burden from commercial to residential taxpayers) – and the TIF district is getting smaller.

“Many of us don’t expect to seek Phase 2” ( a 26-story condo tower and four apartment buildings, estimated to cost $100 million), said longtime  community activist George Rumsey.  “It’s hard to see where the money’s going to come from . Everyone is wondering if there’s going to be enough to finish the first phase.”

“For two years I’ve been asking who is liable if the TIF funds come up short,” he said Rumsey.  “I have not gotten an answer.”

Fourth Ward Ald. Will Burns has backed Hyatt’s TIF subsidy, telling the Sun Times it’s “absolutely essential,” though the Ramada Lakeshore hotel is located a few blocks away.

Time to ‘revisit’ TIF?

The Hyde Park Herald called for “revisiting” the 53rd Street TIF in an editorial last week.  It points out that the TIF district was sold to residents in 2001 on the basis of promised community benefits, including a new addition for Canter Middle School and a parking lot, none of which have materialized.

The stated purpose of the 2001 TIF was to provide support for schools and parks and increase parking, Rumsey said.  In fact a city parking lot at 53rd and Lake Park is being gobbled up by the Harper Court project. The development now under construction includes two floors of parking.

“The one concrete advantage” for the community, a program which hired ex-offenders for street beautification, was cancelled, supposedly due to inadequate funds, the Herald points out.

“There is little evidence at this point that this TIF will do much more than TIFs have done in other parts of the city, namely grease the wheels of development,” according to the Herald.

And given reaction to the Antheus proposal, “it appears that the neighborhood is not any more enthusiastic about supporting private development with public money than it was when the TIF was first brought up in the ’90s.”

Hyatt under pressure

Meanwhile, Hyatt Hotel Corp. has problems of its own.  Major organizations including the AFL-CIO and the National Organization for Women have signed on to a global boycott of Hyatt hotels to protest the company’s outsourcing of union jobs to agencies that pay minimum wage and its refusal to adjust workloads – or even provide mops with long handles — to reduce injuries.

In Chicago, while other hotels have negotiated over limits on subcontracting and safer working conditions, Hyatt has refused to do so, according to press releases from UNITE-HERE, which represents hotel workers.

In May, OSHA issued an unprecedent letter to Hyatt calling on the company to take steps to reduce the risk of injury (h/t 1537 News).  OSHA has issued 21 citations against Hyatt and its subcontractors.

Staffing reductions and an “amenities race” has increased the risk of permanent, disabling injuries for housekeepers, according to a 2006 study by the union.  A 2010 study found Hyatt workers had the highest rate of injuries of hotel chains studied; Hyatt’s injury rate was twice as high as the best-performing chain in the study.

Hyatt housekeepers’ workload is double the industry standard, according to the union.

“Hyatt’s workplace environment is being characterized inaccurately by union leadership as part of tis ongoing campaign to pressure Hyatt associates to join their union in non-union locations,” said Katie Rackoff, Hyatt’s director of corporate communications, in an email which cited Hyatt’s “outstanding safety record.”

At the end of the month, Hyatt workers in Chicago will have been working for three years without a contract.

The Pritzker family took the Hyatt Cororation public in 2009 but retained control with a separate class of shares that have ten times the voting power of common stockholders.  Penny Pritzker sits on Hyatt’s board, which is chaired by her cousin, Thomas Pritzker.  The family’s total worth is estimated at $20 billion.

In the 1990s, Penny Pritzker chaired the board of Superior Bank as it plunged into the subprime market (the bank later collapsed); recently she established a private equity firm to invest in distressed properties.  (More here.)

She’s a major donor to Mayor Emanuel’s campaign fund and to Stand For Children, which pushed anti-union legislation in Springfield.

 

Reposted from 8-7 and updated to include comments from Hyatt and a revised lead sentence.

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Fact check: Emanuel, Brizard, Pritzker http://www.newstips.org/2011/04/fact-check-emanuel-brizard-pritzker/ http://www.newstips.org/2011/04/fact-check-emanuel-brizard-pritzker/#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2011 00:01:39 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=3656 UPDATED – “We will have to come together as one” to solve Chicago’s school problems, said mayor-to-be Rahm Emanuel.

Then he announced the selection of a new schools chief who got a 95 percent disapproval vote from teachers at his current post. Catalyst cites sources in Rochester who say schools chief Jean Claude Brizard talks about collaboration but operates as an autocrat.

The rhetoric continues to outpace the reality: Emanuel praised Brizard for raising the graduation rate in Rochester schools. In fact, though, the 12 percent increase claimed by Brizard occurred before he took his post, according to his predecessor.

Chicago News Cooperative reports that Rochester’s graduation rate has actually declined over four years. A Rochester reporter notes that Brizard seems to confuse graduation rates with absolute numbers – not a good sign in a top executive, whether he’s spinning or not. (PURE points out the Tribune seems to have the same problem.)

On Emanuel’s part, his false claim continues a reign of error, with repeated misstatements regarding performance and graduation rates at charter schools.

Brizard is a product of the Broad Foundation’s superintendent training program, which has recently placed trainees at the top of schools systems in Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Denver.  (Eli Broad donated $25,000 to Emanuel’s campaign, Ramsin Canon points out.) Broad trainees have also been run out of several towns, according to a new guide from Parents Across America:

“A hallmark of the Broad-style leadership is closing existing schools rather than attempting to improve them, increasing class size, opening charter schools, imposing high-stakes test-based accountability systems on teachers and students, and implementing of pay-for-performance schemes. The brusque and often punitive management style of Broad-trained leaders has frequently alienated parents and teachers and sparked protests.”

[Eric Zorn offers corroboration from several Rochester parents, who say Brizard “lacks people skills,” “didn’t listen to parents and doesn’t like being challenged,” is “arrogant and autocratic.”]

“Parents Across America considers Broad’s influence to be inherently undemocratic, as it disenfranchises parents and other stakeholders in an effort to privatize our public schools and imposes corporate-style policies without our consent.”

Broad has published a guide to closing schools; Brizard closed half the city’s high schools without consulting communities. Broad came up with the idea of the “parent trigger,” which Emanuel has praised.  Its philosophy of management is to “invest in disruption,” to promote instability in a system in order to generate “innovation.”

Exciting times ahead.

Brizard clashed not only with teachers and parents but with Rochester’s board of education, which unfortunately for him was elected by Rochester voters. He won’t have that problem in Chicago.

Perhaps Emanuel’s most noteworthy appointment to the board of education is Penny Pritzker, scion of the Hyatt hotel family that’s currently under pressure from religious and community leaders for mistreating its workers.

It’s worth recalling Pritzker’s recent notoriety as a subprime lender, which was probably a factor in her withdrawal from consideration as President Obama’s commerce secretary, after chairing his campaign’s finance committee. After the Pritzkers took over Superior Bank, she headed the board as they plunged into the subprime mortgage market, which eventually swamped the bank.  And under her lead, the bank played signal role in developing the mortage-backed securitization instruments which eventually swamped the nation’s economy.

These securities were call “innovations” at the time.

David Moberg’s 2002 piece has the best overview of Superior’s collapse, which he says was “tainted with all the hallmarks of a mini-Enron scandal.” Accounting tricks were used to turn growing losses into steady profits, allowing dividends to continue to flow to the banks owners.  Maybe Pritzker can help “fix” the CPS budget.

When she was getting bad press a couple years ago, her lawyer said the bank did subprime lending but not the “predatory” kind. According to Moberg, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition accused the bank of “engaging in a variety of predatory practices.”

It’s particularly worth recalling because, as the Tribune recently reported (thanks to PURE for the link), Penny Pritzker is now founding a private equity firm that will focus on buying distressed property.

It’s nice to have money.

In other management feats, Pritzker chaired the Olympic Village subcommittee in the city’s ill-fated bid for the 2016 games.  She bears some responsibility for the $100 million debt incurred in that disaster, which Emanuel is going to have to start paying off in a couple of years.

Pritzker is a major backer of Stand For Children, which pushed union-busting legislation in Springfield. While serving on Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, she split from the president by opposing card-check labor reform he backed. Add Hyatt to the mix and her anti-union record is complete.

It’s highly unlikely that these people will “bring us together as one.”

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