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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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Parents want input on school board opening

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….

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It’s Rahm’s strike

If there’s a teacher’s strike in Chicago this fall, it will be the result of Rahm Emanuel’s approach to implementing the longer school day.

And the simplest – and perhaps only – way to avert a strike will require Emanuel to take another look at the plan.

That’s the clear implication of the fact-finder’s report issued last week by mediator Edwin Benn (and rejected by CPS and the CTU).

Emanuel isn’t mentioned by name in Benn’s report, but since he controls the school board, every option Benn outlines for the board is one that will ultimately be decided by Emanuel.

In comments on the report, the mayor did not seem inclined to consider its suggestions for settling the dispute.

According to Benn, the board “has a very straightforward option” to reduce the monetary impact of recommendations to pay teachers for the longer day and year, which he calls “the major flashpoint” of the dispute: it “can simply reduce the length of the school day and/or the school year from its stated expansion.”

Although the media has downplayed this dynamic – and the Chicago Tribune has editorialized against compromising on the longer day (or on charter expansion) — parent groups involved in the issue are picking up on it.

Can we afford it?

In an analysis of the fact-finding report, Raise Your Hand points to the longstanding failure to address school funding issues and says, “RYH does not believe we can afford a seven-hour day that comes with a 14.5 percent raise at this time.

“A 6.5-hour day that works by moving the teacher lunch [break] to the middle of the day would be affordable,” RYH argues.  “If you can’t afford something, don’t do it.”

A 6.5-hour day “is a ‘full day'” and is in fact the national average, RYH adds.  And “longer or shorter, CPS has still not sufficiently addressed the issues of quality in the school day – class size, fine and performing arts, violence prevention, foreign language, physical education, etc.”

Finally, “until we get real about the state of education funding and do something to change it, we won’t make real improvements in the school day.”

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In contract talks, teachers challenge CPS priorities

Since Chicago teachers voted to authorize a strike last month, contract negotiations “appear to have broadened to include items once thought off the table, possibly including class size,” the Tribune reported recently.

That’s a significant development.  Prior to the strike vote, CPS had reportedly refused to entertain CTU proposals on class size and other issues, including appropriate staffing levels.  The union has proposed providing art, music, and world language teachers for every school, in addition to badly needed counselors, social workers, nurses, and psychologists.

Those are among the key issues that grassroots parent groups have raised, too.  Raise Your Hand has called on CPS to negotiate over class size and other issues, and Chicago Parents for Quality Education petitioned Mayor Emanuel to address issues like a fuller curriculum and more social supports in planning the longer school day.

By law, CPS is only required to negotiate over economic issues.  In the past the district has agreed to consider these optional classroom topics; this year, it took a strike authorization vote to force them to do so.

It’s a setback for the agenda of corporate reform groups like Stand For Children and Democrats For Education Reform, which as Ramsin Canon points out have no real popular base here but outsized influence due to huge bankrolls.  They opposed the strike vote.

Smaller class sizes: for and against

Classroom issues do not appear to be on the agenda of these groups.  As Erica Clark of Parents For Teachers pointed out here in February, they never talk about the issues that matter to parents – class size, curriculum, less standardized testing – but focus solely on trimming collective bargaining rights and increasing testing in the name of “accountability.”  If you want a better curriculum or better facilities, you can try to send your kid to a charter school.

The issue of class size is revealing.  In forums earlier this year, SFC said the issue wasn’t a priority for them.  In fact, most corporate reformers follow Bill Gates, who has called for lifting limits on class sizes.

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Contract talks should include classroom issues, parents say

A parent group is calling on Mayor Emanuel to expand negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union to include class size and other issues which CPS has so far refused to consider.

A new petition by Raise Your Hand (available here) calls on the city “to open up talks beyond pay and benefits and find ways to compromise with our teachers on issues that are critical to our schools.”

“We believe that the only way to come to a decent contract and avoid a strike is to give the teachers a contractual voice in some of the work-rules that impact their day and profession,” said RYH in a recent statement.

In negotiations under way since last November, CPS has refused to consider issues it is not legally required to negotiate, including subcontracting, layoff procedures, class size, staffing and assignment, and —  with passage of SB7 last year – the length of the school day and year.

It’s the first time CPS has ruled those issues off the table.

CPS’s refusal to negotiate on non-economic issues is a big reason teachers voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, said teacher and union activist Xian Barrett.  “We would never have gotten a 98 percent ‘yes’ vote if it had only been about pay and benefits,” he said.

“If you ask teachers what how they would improve their jobs, they don’t start with better pay, they start with class size, they start with wanting an administration and leadership that works with teachers instead of dictating to them,” Barrett said.

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Time for a ‘high-class debate’?

Mayor Emanuel may now regret ever proposing a longer day as a silver bullet for Chicago schools. The issue’s gotten away from him, and he’s scurrying to catch up.

On Tuesday Emanuel was forced to make two concessions: a small one, reducing his proposed seven-and-a-half-hour day by thirty minutes, and a large one, opening the door to discussions of what that day will actually look like.

Last August, Emanuel said, “I cannot wait for a high-class debate and discussion about, ‘Is it more math? Is it more history?'”

But on Tuesday he said, “I would hope now that we’d stop debating about the time and start having a real discussion” about “how do you use” that time.

Chicago Parents for Quality Education, including parent and community groups who’ve been pressing for “a real discussion,” will be at the mayor’s office Friday, April 13 at 4 p.m. to present him with a petition calling for a richer curriculum, better social supports, early education, smaller class sizes, facilities upgrades, and a reduction of test prep and over-testing.

Emanuel “brought this on himself, and he’s painted himself into a corner,” said Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education. “He’s trying to capture the high ground, and now he has to put his money where his mouth is.”

“He thought any kind of longer day would be better and parents don’t care what happens during the school day,” said Wendy Katten of the Raise Your Hand Coalition. “But parents do care.”

School planning impasse

She said schools have been meeting to plan for next year’s extended day, but CPS has repeatedly missed its own deadlines for providing them with budgets. Schools “were told to make wish lists, but nobody is being told what can be funded,” she said. “Everybody’s confused and frustrated.”

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Parents air concerns on longer school day

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.

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TIF reform? Not yet.

With the release of his TIF Reform Panel report, Mayor Emanuel may want to check “TIF reform” off his to-do list, but community activists who work on the issue say that would be highly premature.

“They’re talking about transparency as if that’s all we have to do,” said Sonia Kwon of the Raise Your Hand Coalition.  “Transparency and accountability are just tools to reform TIF.  I don’t see this as TIF reform.”

In any case, Emanuel’s panel skips “the first step in transparency” – listing TIF information on property tax bills, said Kwon.  “To know you are in a TIF district and how much of your tax money is going to TIF – that’s the first step.”

That was a major proposal of the Community TIF Task Force of the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group, which brought together dozens of community groups, said Jacqueline Leavy, former executive director of NCBG.  (It was also a major proposal of then-Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley, apparently forgotten when he reacted enthusiastically to the report this week.)

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