Archives for category: Chicago

News from Chicago about what happens when the Feds start digging and turn over rocks.

Michael Klonsky tells the story here

The cast of characters: Rahm EMANUEL, Paul Vallas, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, and more.

Business as usual in Chicago? Crony capitalism? A city with a big deficit, so big it closed 50 schools. .



CONTACT: Stephanie Gadlin
May 26, 2015 312-329-6250

CTU to lead picket before Chicago Board of Education meeting calling for halt to charter school expansion

CHICAGO—The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has organized a picket line before the Chicago Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, May 27, to highlight the hypocrisy of the district’s insistence on expanding charter operations throughout the city while claiming a $1 billion budget deficit. The financial “crisis” for Chicago Public Schools is the result of the district’s own fiscal irresponsibility—hundreds of millions of dollars mired in scandal, swap deals and failed, privatized outsourcing. By allowing the unchecked growth of charter schools, including some into closed neighborhood school buildings, CPS continues its plan to weaken communities by creating a culture of chaos that the district will use to justify cutting school budgets, closing schools and laying off thousands of CPS educators and education support staff.

Four Points of CPS Charter Hypocrisy

· Lying to the Illinois General Assembly that there would be no charter schools placed into any school building that was part of the mass school closings in 2013. CPS is “selling” the Peabody Elementary School building—closed in 2013—and putting Rowe Charter into that building.

· Expanding charter operations—a Noble Street charter school moving into the Uptown neighborhood; Rowe moving into the Peabody building; a Perspectives charter school moving to 85th & Lafayette—as the district claims a massive budget deficit

· Ignoring community opposition to place a Noble Street charter school into a community that has voiced outrage over the proposal. “They told my mom what she wanted to hear to get me and my brother to go there, but she realized after a few years of struggle, that the school doesn’t live up to its promise,” said a former Noble Street student who is now attending a neighborhood high school in Uptown. Another student added: “Noble schools don’t work with kids to do better—they just kick them out to their neighborhood schools.”

· Rewarding an ally of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Alderman Howard Brookins with the lucrative placement of a Perspectives charter school into the Rev. Charles Jenkins’ Legacy Project development, with no disclosure of how the project is being financed.


CTU teachers, community partners and allies


Picket line before the Chicago Board of Education meeting


Wednesday, May 27, 2015, at 6:30 a.m.


Chicago Board of Education
42 W. Madison St.

Catalyst reports that the teacher evaluation ratings for the public schools contained errors.

“Citing a computer coding error, district officials have acknowledged that they miscalculated last year’s REACH performance task scores for one out of every five educators.

“Only a tiny fraction of the 4,574 errors were significant enough to result in ratings changes, however. A total of 166 teachers were given corrected ratings earlier this year, and most moved up a category, CPS officials say. Teachers whose ratings dropped won’t be penalized.

“The coding error involved matching student rosters with scores on performance tasks, the subject- and grade-specific assessments that were developed by committees of CPS teachers.

“Though the problem was not extensive, the number of mistakes – and the possibility that there are still others – has renewed criticisms about the use of such a complex system to evaluate educators and put jobs on the line.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel began Teacher Appreciation Week by offering teachers and other school personnel a 7% pay cut.

He could show good faith by matching it with a 7% pay cut for himself and his staff.

Steven Singer describes his great time at the annual conference of the Network for Public Education in Chicago, where he ran into bloggers that he knew virtually but not face-to-face.

He felt that sense of exhilaration that almost all of us felt. That recognition that we are not alone, we are a movement. We are everywhere.

He includes photos of himself with his new and old friends.

We were so lucky to get Karen Lewis to appear at the second annual conference of the Network for Public Education. As most everyone knows, Karen is battling a serious cancer, and it takes a lot of energy to fight it. She has been brave in the face of this dire illness, and you will see from her appearance that she looks wonderful. She is a brilliant and wise woman. I didn’t want to wear her out, so I talked more than I normally would do to give her a chance to say as much or as little as she wanted to. As you will see if you watch the video, I adore this woman.

Jesse Ruiz, the acting superintendent of Chicago public schools, suspended the controversial $20.5 million no-bid contract to SUPES Academy. Superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennett has taken a leave of absence while the contract is investigated because she worked for SUPES before she took the leadership role in Chicago. However, Ruiz voted for the contract and defended his vote.

The story begins:

Acting Chicago schools boss Jesse Ruiz announced Wednesday that the district was suspending payment on a $20.5 million no-bid contract at the center of a federal criminal probe, but he also defended his own vote for the 2013 deal in his role as vice president of the Chicago Board of Education.

Speaking at the first board meeting since news of the investigation broke last week, both Ruiz and board President David Vitale sought to calm concerns over their support of the controversial contract with an executive-training company tied to schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. She took a leave of absence Monday amid the federal probe, and Ruiz was chosen to become acting CEO.

Vitale said the school system followed specific procedures for reviewing a “sole-source” contract, which includes an extra layer of review to ensure standards are met, and the 6-0 vote for the deal with the SUPES Academy came after Chicago Public Schools “management” made the case for the “relatively unique” agreement.

When the deal was approved, there was “a great deal of public comment and concern about the nature of the contract,” he said. The board also was aware that Byrd-Bennett had worked for SUPES, Vitale has said.

“Shortly after the entering of this contract with SUPES Academy, in one of my meetings with the inspector general at that time, he and I agreed that there was enough noise around this issue that it is something that he should look into,” Vitale said during comments at the meeting.

Ruiz agreed with Vitale that the board followed its process and got answers to its questions before approving the deal.

“Given the information we had at that point in time, and given the information that we were provided as board members, I stand by that vote,” Ruiz told reporters before entering an executive board session where his appointment as interim CEO was formally approved.

Chicago elementary school principal Troy LaRaviere is fearless. He speaks out against injustice. He speaks for the children of Chicago, who have gotten a raw deal from the city and the state.

In this post (which I am late posting), he speaks directly to the chair of the State Board of Education, Reverend James Meeks.

With Governor Bruce Rauner at the helm, public schools in Illinois are in deep trouble. The governor doesn’t like them. He loves charters.

Principal LaRaviere asks a direct question of the State Board:

Why do you now take a strong stand against opting out when you stood by silently as our kids were harmed again and again?

He writes:

When the Emanuel administration artificially boosted its graduation rates by giving high school diplomas to alternative programs that ISBE itself does not recognize as high school diplomas, ISBE stood idly by as CPS and the mayor instituted this practice aimed at creating a false mayoral campaign talking point. ISBE issued no threats. ISBE took no stand.

When Rahm Emanuel entered CPS into a financial arrangement with three of his campaign donors to give them $17 million in public funds that would have otherwise funded pre-kindergarten, ISBE issued no threats. ISBE took no stand.

When CPS announced it would pilot an initiative to extend its so-called “School-Based Budgeting” into the staffing of teachers serving special education students, and risk violating the rights of these students by understaffing their special education program—in violation of federal law and ISBE policy—ISBE issued no threats. ISBE took no stand.

When CPS expanded poor performing charter schools and marketed them to low-income communities, the achievement gap between those students and their middle income peers widened. Yet ISBE issued no threats and took no stand.

When CPS manipulated the test score data of those same charter schools, ISBE issued no threats and took no stand.

ISBE has stood idly by over the past two decades as CPS has made one policy decision after another that has been detrimental to the educational future of Chicago’s children. You made no threats, and you took no stand.

While ISBE is neglecting its responsibility to act on behalf of our children, testing technology companies and venture capitalists have publicly declared their intent to “disrupt” public education and use test scores to label it as “failing” in order to make way for parasitic market forces that waste our tax dollars on “solutions” to the problems that they themselves have manufactured. Billions of dollars have been siphoned from state and municipal education budgets to fund their failed strategies—accountability based testing being one of their most popular, but least effective and most disastrous strategies.

Now, when parents, teachers, and administrators across the state are moving to address this threat by opting their children out of testing–now you decide to act. You did not take a stand when student learning was at-risk, but you’ve decided to take a stand now that the profits of testing companies are at risk.

Now you’ve decided to act.

Now you’ve decided to take a stand.

Principal LaRaviere is a voice of conscience for the children of Chicago.

Chicago Schools Superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennett has taken a leave of absence while federal investigators review a $20.5 million contract for principal training with an organization that previously employed Byrd-Bennett. The investigation goes well beyond the superintendent. It is interesting that news of the investigation was not released until after the mayoral runoff election.

Chicago Board of Education Vice President Jesse Ruiz, an attorney and former chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education, was appointed interim CEO. Ruiz and school board President David Vitale were among officials that voted 6-0 in 2013 to approve a contract to the SUPES Academy training organization that is at the heart the federal inquiry.
Vitale said at a news conference Friday that the board knew Byrd-Bennett worked as a “mentor-coach” for the academy before the district hired her, and it saw no conflict when approving the contract without opening it up to competition.

“Many of us have prior lives and issues that we engaged with organizations with which we no longer have any relationship with that still might provide quality service to the Chicago Public Schools,” Vitale said.

Federal subpoenas of district employees made available Friday show the wide-ranging scope of the probe. Investigators want materials pertaining to the SUPES Academy and related entities, including the PROACT Search and Synesi Associates firms, which also have won CPS business.

Authorities also are demanding district records related to the Chicago Public Education Fund, a philanthropic group that over the years has counted among its board members Gov. Bruce Rauner, billionaire investor Ken Griffin, U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, Vitale and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s chief of staff for education. The group has provided funding for SUPES Academy.

Among CPS employees called to appear before a grand jury is James Bebley, the school board’s general counsel. Also receiving grand jury subpoenas were Byrd-Bennett’s chief of staff, Sherry Ulery, and Rosemary Herpel, a district employee who worked with Byrd-Bennett during her earlier leadership stints in Cleveland and Detroit.

The Chicago Teachers Union issued a statement saying that the problems in the school system went deeper than just this one contract. CTU Vice-President Jesse Sharkey said:

“What Barbara is being singled out for is sadly just one incident among widespread practices by the mayor’s Board of Education appointees, and the turmoil caused by yet another top-down leadership scandal is a grave concern for all of us as the district faces a crippling financial deficit. As I said yesterday, there is a culture of conflict of interest that is severely disruptive to the lives of both educators and the parents and students they serve, and it does nothing but create a climate of pervasive mistrust.

“Barbara will be most remembered as the person who was brought in to sell the mayor’s school closing plan. While it is our understanding that she is taking a leave of absence due to her potential inability to lead the district during the investigation into her connection to SUPES, she is not the only individual who may be at fault for any wrongdoing. Board president David Vitale was the architect of a financial deal that has cost the district hundreds of millions of dollars, and no one has asked for him to take a leave of absence. Board member Deborah Quazzo has received millions in profits from her private investments in companies with CPS contracts, and no one has asked for her to take a leave of absence either.

Catalyst reports that a federal investigation is underway regarding a $20 million no-bid contract to an organization that trains principals. Investigators are probing whether Superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennett had a conflict of interest. Principals have complained about the relevance and quality of the training.

“Federal authorities are investigating a “matter” at CPS that sources tell Catalyst Chicago involves CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the $20 million no-bid contract given to SUPES Academy.

“The CPS inspector general has been investigating Byrd-Bennett and the controversial SUPES contract since 2013. Inspector General Nick Schuler declined to comment Wednesday on whether the investigation is ongoing or on the inquiries from the federal government.

“The inspector general’s investigation was spurred by a Catalyst investigation that detailed Byrd-Bennett’s connection with the for-profit, Wilmette-based SUPES Academy. Byrd-Bennett had worked as a coach for SUPES until she was hired at CPS and there’s some evidence that she continued to consult with related companies after she was on CPS’ payroll. In June 2013, the School Board quietly awarded SUPES the $20 million contract, which was the largest no-bid contract in the district’s recent history, according to Catalyst’s review of board reports.

“Wendy Katten of the parent group Raise Your Hand called it “frustrating” that the board ignored the apparent conflict of interest.

“When this came out, it should have been addressed immediately. This is why there is so little trust in the district,” she said. “We went to the board and asked them to end this contract and redirect the money to schools. It shouldn’t have to lead to a federal investigation to get action.”

“Katten said the issue isn’t just one of ethics, but of how CPS chooses to spend its limited cash. “Those are valuable resources that are being taken away from our schools,” she added.”


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