Chicago Board of Education members got grilled over the district's questionable bond deals at a raucous school board meeting Wednesday evening.
It was the first school board meeting since the Chicago Tribunepublished a series of reports on the schools district's controversial borrowing decisions. The newspaper's analysis showed that between 2003 and 2007, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) entered into auction-rate bond and interest-rate swap agreements with financial institutions that could cost at least $100 million more over the life of the contracts than traditional borrowing methods would have.
In light of the Tribune's investigation, mayoral candidate Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), who attended the school board meeting, introduced a city council resolution last week with his Progressive Reform Caucus colleagues demanding hearings into the "current borrowing practices of the Chicago Public Schools." The council's education committee is expected to hold a hearing on the matter, though a date has yet to be determined.
"We closed over 50 schools supposedly to help save the budget, but meanwhile we lost more than $100 million gambling on Wall Street," Fioretti said at the school board meeting, held at George Westinghouse College Preparatory High School. "That's $100 million that could have been used to save some of these schools, pay our teachers, provide resources to our struggling schools and more."
"If a white, middle-class community came up with an in-depth, community-based plan for their neighborhood public school, they would get it," said Joy Clendenning, a 4th Ward resident who sits on the local school council at Kenwood Academy High. "We want the Walter H. Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology Community High School, and we want it now."
U.S. Department of Education officials heard first-hand stories about the impact public school closings and consolidations are having in Chicago at a South Side community meeting held Monday night with parents, students and their supporters.
The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is currently looking into a complaint filed by education activists alleging "racially discriminatory" school actions and closings in Chicago. Organizers with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) and the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School spearheaded the town hall meeting, held at First Unitarian Church of Chicago in Hyde Park. The discussion was designed to allow education department reps to hear directly from the people affected by the school actions cited in the complaint. The two education department officials were at the meeting strictly to listen.
Although a citywide advisory referendum asking Chicagoans whether they support switching to an elected school board has been crowded off the ballot for a third time, education activists have a backup plan.
Parents, teachers and community groups are banding together to place a separate, non-binding question about an elected Chicago Board of Education on the February municipal ballot in each of the city's 50 wards. The coalition, which is unhappy with the policies endorsed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's handpicked school board, officially launched their ward-level referendum drive on Monday.
"While the mayor makes his moves by squashing democracy and disrespecting parents, we will make our moves by knocking on doors and by giving the people [the ability] to do the one thing the mayor's afraid of. We are going to give people the chance to vote for an elected school board," Action Now's Executive Director Katelyn Johnson said at the referendum drive's kick off, held in front of Ronald E. McNair Elementary School in the city's Austin neighborhood. (Back in April, the Chicago Board of Education voted to "turnaround" McNair, which involves firing and replacing all school staffers, to improve its academic performance.)