Raise Your Hand – 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=4.4.13 After the school closing vote http://www.newstips.org/2013/05/after-the-school-closing-vote/ Thu, 23 May 2013 03:52:59 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7243 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.”

Said Brown: “They are expecting people to scurry back into survival mode, but they’ve got that wrong.  People want to send their children to their neighborhood schools.”

He promised a “full-court press” for an elected school board over the next year.

Raise Your Hand called on the legislature to pass a moratorium on school closings “so CPS can modify its utilization formula to incorporate special education populations along with…community-based programs.”  The district’s utilization formula “is significantly flawed” and “results in overcrowded classrooms across CPS,” said Wendy Katten.

Along with a moratorium, RYH urged legislators to order an audit of safety, factility conditions, and overcrowding in closing and receiving schools, as well as the costs of school closings.

“I don’t think anybody thinks this is the end,” said Erica Clark of Parents For Teachers.

“Parents in some of the schools are not going to take this lying down,” she said.  “For months they’ve been saying we’re not leaving our school, we’re not going to that school, it’s not safe and it’s not a better school; we’re just not going.”

After months of effort, “a lot more people are engaged,” said Xian Barrett, a high school history teacher and activist with the Caucus of Rank and File Educators in CTU.  Keeping them engaged is the challenge organizers face.

The union is providing one avenue for continued activism — training hundreds of voter registrars with the goal of  registering 100,000 new voters.  Two hundred teachers and community members have registered for the first training sessions, conducted by the County Clerk’s office, Thursday, May 23 at 5:30 p.m. at Bethel AME Church, 4440 S. Michigan.

CTU president Karen Lewis will speak about the failings of mayoral control of Chicago schools and the need for an elected school board.

“It’s really a biggger fight to get community control of our city and our schools, and it won’t be over until it’s won,” Barrett said.

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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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It’s Rahm’s strike http://www.newstips.org/2012/07/its-rahms-strike/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/07/its-rahms-strike/#comments Sun, 22 Jul 2012 23:03:11 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6473 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.”

Before this, RYH has called for including parents in planning and for focusing on the quality of schooling, but hasn’t taken a position on the optimal length of the day.  Other groups including 6.5 To Thrive and the 19th Ward Parents have called for expanding the school day to 6.5 hours in elementary schools.

(In high schools – despite Emanuel’s announcement that he would scale back the longer day to seven hours — he’s still planning to expand the day from 6 hours and 45 minutes to 7.5 hours.  He’s also adding ten days to the school year.)

Expanding the day to 6.5 hours is essentially a no-cost option, since it involves shifting teachers’ lunch break and adding recess for students.  Staffing lunch and recess would still be an issue – an issue CPS has yet to seriously address – and the extra days would still be a factor.

6.5 To Thrive argues that a seven-hour day is too much for kids – “children need school-life balance” – and that the quality and content of learning is at least as important.

“It’s really about resources and quality,” said Tracy Baldwin of 6.5.  “It’s about quality, not quantity.”

Top scores at 6.5-hour schools

While CPS (along with the Tribune) touts the marginally-higher gains of Pioneer Schools that adopted the 7.5-hour day last year – despite highly mixed results; half of the 12 schools actually performed worse than the CPS average – Baldwin shared data showing that last year, 12 CPS neighborhood schools with 6.5-hour days far outperformed 24 charter schools with days ranging from 7 to 9 hours long.

The 12 schools with 6.5-hour days averaged 90.47 on the ISAT composite – nearly 15 percent higher than the CPS average.  The 24 charters averaged 75.8 percent – just 0.2 points above the average. And again, half of the longer-day schools scored below the CPS average.

KIPP Ascend, with a nine-hour day (from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) scored nearly 5 points below the CPS average.  The school has a level 3 performance rating – not making adequate progress.  If it weren’t a charter school, it would be on probation.

[Now KIPP is getting a second campus — with a $13 million renovation — while better-performing schools in the area crumble.]

That backs up national studies that show the content and quality of schooling has much more impact than the length of the day, Baldwin said.  She says she’s heard from Pioneer School parents that “children can’t handle all that time in school – there were a lot of behavior issues.”

Pointing to statements by CPS officials about the need to focus on new common core standards, Baldwin worries that the additional time will be spent on test preparation – the opposite direction from the richer curriculum desired by parents.

The 19th Ward Parents share that concern, said Maureen Cullnan.  She’s especially concerned the longer day will open the door to for-profit companies selling computerized test prep programs to school districts.

She’s heard from school administrators that CPS plans to use the longer day for computerized test prep.  She stresses support for what’s called “blended learning” by the Gates Foundation, always a weathervane for the flavor of the month in the corporate reform movement.

Two months on test prep

If CPS wants more instructional time, one place to start would be reducing standardized testing and time spent on test prep, Cullnan said.  She said in her daughter’s 8th grade class, “when they got back from winter break they started doing test prep instead of language arts” and continued until the ISATs in March – more than two full months.

But with common core standards and a new teacher evaluation system based on student scores, CPS continues to increase standardized tests.

CPS could also save some of the millions of dollars spent on standardized tests, Cullnan said.

Emanuel responded to Benn’s report saying it wasn’t “tethered to reality.”  What he meant was that it proposed a salary increase – between 14 and 18 percent in the first year, largely to compensate for the longer work schedule – that CPS can’t afford.

In fact the report is firmly anchored in a complex reality. It explicitly acknowledges that CPS can’t afford the raises to pay for the longer school day and year, and points out that the school board has the option of adjusting the proposed schedule.

Under state labor law the mediator must consider a range of factors “as applicable,” including the district’s financial situation, prior collective bargaining agreements, and the cost of living.

Benn accepts the board’s budget projections, and he takes into account the board’s argument that it’s already paid for the additional hours and days with 4 percent annual raises in the previous contract.  He reduces the salary recommendation by the amount teachers gained over the cost of living in the previous contract, which went into effect just before the economy tanked.

Something for nothing

But the board can’t extend working hours by 20 percent and expect teachers “to effectively work the additional hours for free or without fair compensation,” he said, noting the long hours teachers work outside of class time.

It turns out that, according to Benn, it is Emanuel who is not tethered to reality, thinking he could extend the school day without paying for it.  “The board cannot expect much weight, if any, to be given to a budget deficit argument to defeat the recommendation for additional compensation…when the board created the problem by unilaterally implementing the longer school day and year to the extent it has.”

This makes sense to parents.  “We believe teachers should be compensated for their time,” said Christine McGovern of 19th Ward Parents.

“Our state doesn’t have the money and our city certainly doesn’t have the money,” said Baldwin.  “We can’t do something that we can’t afford.  I want a bigger house, but I can’t afford it.  Does that mean I’m entitled to it?

“In our state and in our city we are in debt because of decisions like this, adding on programs that we can’t afford,” she said.  “It’s so irresponsible.  As a parent, as a taxpayer, it makes me mad.”

[From Catalyst:  “(CPS) chief administrative officer Tim Cawley gave an overview of the budget and was asked if the district would be willing to scale back the longer, seven-houur day given its fiscal crisis.  Cawley said no, saying district officials believe that the longer day is the ‘right thing’ to do for students….(Board president David) Vitale said CPS revenue is down this year and will decrease again next year.”]

For its part, CTU has indicated flexibility on economic issues if it can get some consideration on classroom issues.  With school closings and turnarounds costing hundreds of experienced teachers their jobs every year, job security is also a key issue.  CTU wants laid-off teachers to have first crack at new positions.

If CPS wants to avoid a strike, it will offer something on this.  So far it hasn’t.

“At this point it’s not clear what we’re negotiating with,” said Xian Barrett, a teacher who’s active with the Caucus of Rank and File Educators.  “[CPS doesn’t] want to give up anything, they don’t want to pay for anything.”

The parents’ experience with this issue – in which their concerns about the quality of the school day and about resources to back it up have been roundly ignored – have led them all to take up the current campaign for an elected school board.

Raise Your Hand, 19th Ward Parents, and 6.5 To Thrive are all working with Communities Organized for Democracy in Education on petition drives to get an advisory referendum calling for an elected board on the ballot in precincts across the city in November.  They’ve also won support for the referendum from several aldermen.

McGovern said they’re finding support for the campaign among neighborhood residents – particularly since CPS released a budget that drained its reserve fund.  “So many people are just shocked at that budget,” she said.

“Parents are not at the table on decisions,” said Baldwin.  “We have all these rich corporate people coming in saying we want to make changes, and they just bulldoze things through.”

She adds: “I don’t want to be protesting and petitioning, but they don’t give us any other option.”

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In contract talks, teachers challenge CPS priorities http://www.newstips.org/2012/07/in-contract-talks-teachers-challenge-cps-priorities/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/07/in-contract-talks-teachers-challenge-cps-priorities/#comments Sun, 08 Jul 2012 21:05:29 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6416 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.

For them the problem isn’t large classes or underresourced schools, it’s bad teachers.  If you could put 60 kids in front of a great teacher, she could work miracles.  Actual teachers, who work with actual students, are skeptical of that view.

In a report issued earlier this year, CTU laid out the choice in clear terms.

The report reviews the research that consistently shows the difference smaller class sizes make in every measure of student achievement, especially for low-income students.  It’s particularly valuable in the early school years.

No limits

Unlike most states, Illinois has no legal limits on class size.  Chicago has had the same guidelines since 1990, ranging from 28 students in lower grades to 31 in high school.  But they are easy to get around, and many CPS classes are actually far larger; class sizes in the upper 30s are common, and there are kindergarten classes with 40 kids.

In contrast, Florida limits range from 18 to 25 students.  Private schools average 18 students in a class, often fewer in high schools.

CTU estimates it would cost $170 million to lower K-3 class sizes from 28 to 20.  But CPS is broke.  Where to get the money?

It turns out that’s just half the amount budgeted for CPS’s Office of New Schools (now the Portfolio Office), which funds charters and turnarounds.

While CPS is broke and classroom spending has been cut every year, that office has seen its budget steadily grow. It’s growing again this year, with charters getting an additional $76 million.

The union asks: why not shift spending away from unproven and all too often unsuccessful experimentation and fund a widely accepted, research-supported solution, aimed not at a select few but at all students, especially those most in need of help?

No art, no playgrounds

The CTU report looks at other classroom issues given short shrift by corporate reformers.  Like smaller classes, the academic and social benefits of art, music, language and physical education are widely documented.  Those subjects are universally available in suburban and private schools.  Yet only 25 percent of CPS neighborhood elementary schools have both music and art teachers; 40 schools have neither.

In addition, over 20 percent of elementary and middle schools have no playground, and CPS annually receives a waiver from a state mandate requiring four years of physical education in high school.  Then there’s the lack of libraries at 140 CPS schools, the sparsity of language programs, and a lack of “functioning, up-to-date” computers at many neighborhood schools.

CTU estimates it would cost $200 million to hire enough new music, art, phys ed, language and technology teachers to allow each CPS student to have two such classes per day.  That’s less than the amount diverted to TIF subsidies each year.

The numbers of social support staff in the district is shockingly low.  Just 202 nurses serve 684 schools; 370 social workers are available to provide 400,000 students with help, working with kids who are abused, neglected, homeless, or involved with gangs or drugs.  In some schools counselors have five times the caseload recommended under national guidelines.

CTU recommends that “bringing the number of social workers, counselors, nurses, and psychologists up to the numbers recommended by professional organizations” in schools that are on probation would be “a logical first step” for CPS.

The report looks at a range of additional issues – racial segregation, standardized testing, punitive discipline, early education, special education, teacher turnover (especially high, and especially harmful, in low-income schools), as well as salaries and facility spending.

No air conditioning

On facilities, one example is timely: previous to the strike vote, CPS reportedly refused to accept union proposals on air conditioning for all schools.  According to CTU, 90 CPS schools don’t have functioning air conditioning. (And, I’m told, in some schools listed as air conditioned, it’s limited to the principal’s office).

Last week CPS was forced to close 18 schools without AC when temperatures soared.  For teachers it’s both a health and safety issue and an educational issue.  They point to a study by the Council of Educational Facility Planners that found students in air-conditioned buildings outscored their peers by 5 to 10 percent.

But CPS has slashed capital spending while funneling millions of dollars into buildings for turnaround and charter schools.  Six turnaround schools being taken over by AUSL next year are getting $25 million in capital improvements.  (Here’s another case.)

So while CPS pleads poverty — with annual Chicken Little budget projections that more often than not end up in year-end surpluses – there is clearly money in the district’s $6 billion budget for politically favored priorities.

Neighborhood schools just aren’t one of them.  Maybe the contract negotiators can talk about that.

One upshot of the classroom cuts reflecting CPS priorities is that the proportion of total operating funds going to teachers’ salaries has steadily declined, from 48 percent in 2004 to 41 percent in 2010, according to a union analysis.  That’s over a period when teachers got healthy raises, too.

This makes it hard to argue that CPS can only afford a 2 percent raise over the next five years.  But CPS’s credibility on salary issues was seriously damaged last summer when it offered teachers a 2 percent raise to teach longer hours, a day after negotiations concluded over its claim that it couldn’t afford a scheduled pay hike [– and now this].

The CTU report includes a series of proposals for “fair school funding” – real TIF reform, progressive taxation, and a novel idea: a flat tax of 15 percent on capital gains for those with incomes over $200,000.  That could generate $367 million for Chicago schools, the union estimates.

Other states do it.  It’s a lot of money.  What would happen if powerful politicians took up such an initiative in Springfield?

But don’t expect the millionaires and billionaires funding SFC and the hedge fund traders behind DFER to stand up and cheer.  “Fair school funding” doesn’t seem to be a priority for these groups either.

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Contract talks should include classroom issues, parents say http://www.newstips.org/2012/06/contract-talks-should-include-classroom-issues-parents-say/ Fri, 15 Jun 2012 03:23:20 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6370 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.

The union has offered proposals on class size; on including art, music, languages, and gym in the longer school day; and on increased social services for at-risk students, an area in which Chicago lags other cities.

Those are the same issues parent groups have articulated about the longer school day – and a big reason Chicagoans overwhelmingly back the union’s plan for the longer day over the mayor’s, according to a recent Chicago Tribune poll.

Parents and teachers are particularly concerned that without a plan for funding the longer day, it will be paid for with larger class sizes.

By allowing CPS to rule out key areas – and encouraging CTU to make a large salary demand as its only leverage for pressing nonsalary issues – SB7 set up the dynamic behind the current stalemate, said Rod Estvan of Access Living at an RYH forum in Logan Square on Monday.  Under sections of the law which apply only to Chicago, mediators now evaluating the two sides’ proposals are restricted to topics deemed acceptable by CPS, he said.

The way to avert a strike, to provide room for compromise, is by opening talks to include the full range of issues, Estvan said.

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Time for a ‘high-class debate’? http://www.newstips.org/2012/04/time-for-a-high-class-debate/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/04/time-for-a-high-class-debate/#comments Thu, 12 Apr 2012 19:23:49 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6054 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.”

A quality day will require lots of new teachers for a district that has laid off thousands in recent years. Most elementary schools now have one half-time position for either art or music; parents expect a longer school day to offer both art and music, on a more than token basis. Most Chicago schools now give kids gym one day a week, despite a state mandate that requires daily physical education.

Many schools don’t even have the staff to monitor recess, Katten said. “If schools can’t get all their positions filled, how are they going to make a seven-hour day work?”

A white paper from CPQE highlights statements from CPS administrators on the need for additional class time to prepare students for new common core standardized tests. That would be a way to extend the day on the cheap. But it’s not what parents want.

Even cheaper would be computer-assisted test prep, which some parents fear is on the horizon. (In 2010 CPS piloted a longer-day program in 15 schools using online learning and non-certified teachers.) “That way you can put 60 kids in a classroom,” Woestehoff points out.

No answers

Emanuel “refused to say how he plans to pay for the longer day,” the Sun-Times reported.

“We haven’t gotten any answers [on funding] from the district,” said Katten. “They don’t want to reform TIF. There’s no new revenue. They’re claiming a huge deficit. It’s kind of absurd.”

“It’s their job to figure it out – and it’s not their job to tell parents what their children aren’t going to get,” said Woestehoff. “And if it takes going to all the wealthy businesses and saying you need to pay your fair share, they need to be leading the charge on that.”

Emanuel seems to have thought the longer day was a winning slogan and a nifty way of squeezing the teachers union. New legislation allows CPS to unilaterally set the length of the school day, and how it would be done was clearly given little or no thought.

CPQE’s report exposed the “misinformation” in Emanuel’s rhetoric and cited studies that show that longer days improve learning only when educational quality is improved. It looked at the experience of Houston, often cited by the mayor.

There an extended day piloted in 20 schools involved hiring 250 full-time math tutors. When the program was expanded to more schools last year, Houston kept the tutors but dropped the extra minutes.

What happens in the classroom – and how it’s paid for – it’s time to talk about it.

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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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TIF reform? Not yet. http://www.newstips.org/2011/09/tif-reform-not-yet/ http://www.newstips.org/2011/09/tif-reform-not-yet/#comments Thu, 01 Sep 2011 22:50:07 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4718 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.)

Fundamental reforms missing

Other fundamental reforms advocated by the community task force — and entirely missing from the Emanuel panel’s report — include limiting the use of TIF to truly blighted communities (which was a campaign promise of Emanuel’s), and providing for extensive community input in planning and monitoring TIFs.

The panel recommends making “but for” criteria explicit – to meet the legislative standard that a project would not be possible “but for” TIF support – but includes a “huge loophole” that would allow subsidies for corporations with downtown offices to continue, said Amisha Patel of the Grassroots Collaborative.

It actually ends up expanding the criteria, said Bob Palmer of Housing Action Illinois.

Grassroots Collaborative has called for shutting down the LaSalle Street Central TIF district, and has recently held demonstrations targeting corporate recipients of TIF largesse – including United Airlines, which has received over $30 million in TIF subsidies (and $20 million in additional city subsidies) while routing fuel purchases through a small satellite office in order to evade the city’s sales tax.

Corporate welfare

“It makes no sense to take $30 million from schools and give it to a corporation that’s taking in billions in profits,” said Patel. “It has no real impact on [United’s] bottom line – but it has a huge impact on schools.”

“We really need to tighten up the definition of blight,” said Kwon – and not just downtown.  She gives her own ward as an example: the 47th, where the mayor also lives. “The neighborhood is doing really well, homes are selling, it’s not impacted by the real estate downturn” – yet there are six TIFs.

Raise Your Hand has organized against overuse of TIF at the expense of public schools and has raised concerns about hoarding of uncommitted funds in TIF reserves – currently amounting to $847 million – while the city and schools face severe budget crises.

Ultimately there’s nothing to stop TIF from continuing to operate as a mayoral slush fund, said Patel.  “If the mayor decides [a proposal] is something he wants, he’s going to give them the money,” she said.

Nothing for communities

The panel’s recommendations “are not going to impact communities,” said Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance, which has held annual TIF town halls on the West Side (and recently launched Follow The Money, a blog on North Lawndale TIFs). There’s absolutely nothing about community input in planning and monitoring TIFs; nothing about community advisory councils for TIF districts, she said.

“There’s been no community engagement at the outset” of establishing TIFs, said Leavy – redevelopment plans are “all boilerplate” by consultants who conduct “windshield surveys” of communities. “It’s so top-down, so downtown-driven, so far from the specific needs and opportunities of particular communities.”   Nothing in the panel’s recommendations would change that.

“There’s no mention of making sure that people in communities are actually hired” for new jobs, or ensuring that job training helps people who lack skills to find employment, Leonard said.  “I get the feeling the administration feels that would be too hard.”

“The prime determinant should be providing living-wage, family-sustaining jobs,” said Leavy.  And there should be strong clawback provisions in every project agreement, she said.  The panel’s report is evasive on that subject.

Leavy warns that a number of “creative financing” concepts in the report – bundling TIFs, loan pools, taking equity positions, a TIF venture fund, and stepped-up porting of TIF funds to other districts – merit close scrutiny.

Affordable housing

Julie Dworkin of the Sweet Home Chicago Coalition welcomes the inclusion of affordable housing as one of the “metrics” for evaluating TIF projects, but warns that the current definition of “affordable” – based on area median income, which encompasses income levels in wealthy suburbs – is not affordable in many communities.

Sweet Home Chicago has called for dedicating TIF funds to rehab foreclosed homes, and Dworkin said the mayor’s panel “got it wrong” when it said restrictions on TIF financing for new construction in state law present “a key barrier to more activity in this area.”

In fact, state law provides for TIF financing of new construction of affordable housing, which would be required in communities heavily impacted by foreclosures, she said.

Implementation matters

Much will depend on implementation, as demonstrated by Illinois PIRG‘s new report on the city’s TIF Sunshine Ordinance, which mandated online posting of TIF documents.  The report finds that many documents are missing.

The most significant, said Celeste Meiffren, author of the report, were employment certifications required annually from TIF recipients.  None have been posted, she said, so it’s impossible to check on job creation commitments.

Real TIF reform – beyond what the Emanuel administration implements voluntarily – may well require legislative action in Springfield, and interest in reform is growing there, said Housing Action’s Palmer.   A TIF reform bill stalled in the spring session; further efforts are expected, he said.

Housing Action has developed a list of TIF reform principles that includes listing TIF information on tax bills; strengthening the definition of “blight”; limiting the land area or proportion to tax base subject to TIF within a municipality; requiring explicit statements of purpose and establishing processes for capturing surpluses and phasing out TIFs; allowing individual taxing bodies to opt out of TIFs, and limiting tax increment captured by TIFs to growth after inflation; establishing transparency in porting TIF funds; and expanding TIF use for affordable housing.

Related:

On TIF reform, Bronzeville has some ideas

 

Time for TIF reform?

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