WBEZ | chicago teachers union http://www.wbez.org/tags/chicago-teachers-union Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Classroom Cuts Move Ahead, Absent a New Chicago Teachers' Contract http://www.wbez.org/news/classroom-cuts-move-ahead-absent-new-chicago-teachers-contract-114692 <p><div><p>The head of Chicago Public Schools is going to slash money from school budgets -- in a move that&rsquo;s escalating tensions with the Chicago Teachers Union.</p><p>It comes as the district is also trying to borrow more money from bond markets.</p><p>District chief Forrest Claypool sent a letter to union president Karen Lewis that said CPS would begin cutting $100 million from schools and would stop picking up part of the teachers&rsquo; pension contribution. He wrote that the changes could take effect in 30 days. &nbsp;</p><p>The union fired back, calling the move retaliatory.</p><p>&ldquo;This is clearly a retaliatory message because we didn&rsquo;t agree with what they came up with,&rdquo; Lewis said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re not going to be bullied. We have provisions in our contract against bullying. We don&rsquo;t tolerate it in our schools with our kids.&rdquo;</p><p>Claypool said the cuts -- which could mean one position per school, on average -- could still be avoided if the two parties reach an agreement soon.</p><p>&ldquo;I would be the happiest guy around if next week we had an agreement with the teachers union and we could rescind the process on these steps,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We do not want to take these steps.&rdquo;</p><p>School budget cuts in the middle of the school year has been <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/no-plan-c-chicago-schools-brace-budget-cuts-114118">Claypool&rsquo;s Plan B</a> since last fall--as the district looked for ways to close its $480 million budget deficit. &nbsp;</p><p>Claypool&rsquo;s Plan A was to get help from other sources, including state lawmakers and teachers. Both have now clearly said no.</p><p>State lawmakers have made it clear there&rsquo;s no extra money coming from them, and<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/rauners-vision-chicago-public-schools-future-114545"> Gov. Bruce Rauner has continued to advocate for a state takeover and potential bankruptcy for CPS</a>. He even directed the state board of education to begin looking for Claypool&rsquo;s replacement.</p><p>&ldquo;The state should be able to take over the schools and manage those contracts properly,&rdquo; Rauner said.</p><p>State law would have to change in order for the state to legally take over Chicago schools.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p dir="ltr" lang="en">Union rejects district proposal of a four-year contract deal. <a href="https://t.co/flEwutRcdp">pic.twitter.com/flEwutRcdp</a></p>&mdash; WBEZeducation (@WBEZeducation) <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZeducation/status/694272840162480130">February 1, 2016</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><p>&nbsp;</p><p>On Monday,<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-teachers-union-rejects-serious-offer-district-114679"> teachers rejected</a> what both the district and union leadership considered a &ldquo;serious&rdquo; contract offer. It would have saved the district millions by having teachers pay more toward their health care and pensions, but it also promised to cap charter school expansion and give teachers more &ldquo;autonomy in the classroom.&rdquo;</p><p>But members of the union&rsquo;s 40-person big bargaining team, citing a lack of trust and what union president Lewis called &ldquo;weasel language&rdquo; on things like paperwork and standardized testing, unanimously rejected the offer.</p><p>The proposal also included a phase out of the district&rsquo;s pick-up of the teachers&rsquo; pension contribution. Typically, the district has picked up 7 percent of the 9 percent employee contribution.</p><p>Absent a compromise agreement, Claypool is now planning to do away with that pension pick-up in the next 30 days. Lewis said that move is against the law and the union could take the district to court over it and immediately call a strike.</p><p>Robert Bruno, a professor of labor relations at the University of Illinois, called Claypool&rsquo;s move an escalation, and explained that it could be what&rsquo;s known in bargaining as a gambit.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s a kind of end move where you try to shake up the bargaining and you come up with a big play,&rdquo; Bruno said. &ldquo;It comes with high risk, but it can come with high reward.&rdquo;</p><p>The risk? A teachers strike.</p><p>The reward? An agreement in the next 30 days.</p><p>Or there could be an entirely different reward that could come from slashing school budgets right now.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/CTUBigBargainingTeam.jpg" style="height: 465px; width: 620px;" title="Chicago Teachers Union Big Bargaining Team (WBEZ/Becky Vevea)" /></p><p>Claypool hinted that the budget cuts could also be sending a signal to Wall Street. On Wednesday, the district planned to borrow millions of dollars on the bond market.</p><p>&ldquo;I think we&rsquo;re sending a very strong signal here that we are going to right the fiscal ship and we are going to do whatever it takes,&rdquo; he said, when asked what if any role the borrowing played in making the cuts.</p><p>CPS had delayed a $875 million bond sale last week, saying they wanted more time to &ldquo;build the book,&rdquo; &nbsp;which is basically finding more investors willing to buy the district&rsquo;s junk bonds.</p><p>The abrupt move came shortly after Gov. Rauner first raised the question of bankruptcy.</p><p>Matt Fabian with &nbsp;Municipal Market Analytics said &nbsp;the governor&rsquo;s earlier statements definitely spooked the markets. I asked if that could be Rauner&rsquo;s purpose.</p><p>&ldquo;That&rsquo;s just a big step, to say that he&rsquo;s actually trying to disrupt the bond deal. &nbsp;But&hellip; it could be,&rdquo; Fabian said. &ldquo;It is starting to look that way, isn&rsquo;t it?&rdquo;</p><p>CPS plans to use some of the borrowed money to make a payment on other debts, due February 15. Absent that money, the district may have to make more budget cuts.</p><p>That&rsquo;s not something either CPS or CTU would want, labor expert Robert Bruno noted.</p><p>&ldquo;Both parties are obviously invested in the ability to sell bonds,&rdquo; he added. But on the other hand, the cuts could push teachers to the picket lines.</p><p>&ldquo;We have a lot of our members that have already bought red, thermal jackets,&rdquo; Lewis said.</p><p>But she added that the union remains at the table with CPS, bargaining around the clock.</p><p><em>Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. You can follow her </em><a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZeducation"><em>@WBEZeducation</em></a><em>.</em></p><p><em>WBEZ reporter Dan Weissmann contributed to this report.</em></p></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 03 Feb 2016 12:09:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/classroom-cuts-move-ahead-absent-new-chicago-teachers-contract-114692 Chicago Teachers Union Rejects 'Serious Offer' from District http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-teachers-union-rejects-serious-offer-district-114679 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/CaPIDeuWcAAjziV.jpg" alt="" /><p><div>The Chicago Teachers Union&rsquo;s bargaining team has rejected a contract proposal from Chicago Public Schools, citing the district&rsquo;s financial woes and an overall lack of trust.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Teachers union president Karen Lewis said the 40-member team went through every single article line by line and unanimously voted down the proposal midday Monday.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;What we are looking for is sustainable funding...which means serious revenue,&rdquo; Lewis said. &ldquo;That is not in this contract. There&rsquo;s no guarantee that the promises that are made are promises that can be kept.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The exact details were not made public, but CPS officials said the deal included teachers raises for seniority and experience and a commitment to slow charter school expansion and give teachers more &ldquo;classroom autonomy.&rdquo; But it also included a phase out of the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/ctu-president-karen-lewis-calls-potential-pension-payment-increase-strike-worthy-112598">pension pick-up</a>&nbsp;and increases in health care premiums.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In a statement, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said he was disappointed in the decision, but remains committed to reaching an agreement. &nbsp; &nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The two sides now begin a formal mediation process known as fact-finding that by law could take 75 days. The soonest teachers could walk off the job would be May 23.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But the two sides have agreed to keep bargaining. A spokeswoman for the union confirmed that negotiations continued Tuesday morning.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The rejection of a possible deal comes at a time of instability in CPS.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>At the start of the school year, Claypool proposed a deficit budget -- that<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-board-education-passes-budget-banks-imaginary-money-112740">&nbsp;the Board ultimately approved&nbsp;</a>-- that left a gaping $480 million gap between projected revenues and projected expenses. Initially, Claypool sought revenue from state lawmakers to avoid what he said would be&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/no-plan-c-chicago-schools-brace-budget-cuts-114118">massive budget cuts</a>&nbsp;in the middle of the school year.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The district continued to ask Springfield for help through the&nbsp;fall,&nbsp;until it became very clear that it wasn&rsquo;t going to happen. Last month, Gov. Bruce Rauner and republican leaders<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/rauners-vision-chicago-public-schools-future-114545">&nbsp;proposed a state takeover of CPS and a path to bankruptcy for the district.&nbsp;</a></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>With the second semester starting on Feb. 8, CPS officials have been frantically working to close this year&rsquo;s deficit by getting a contract signed with the Chicago Teachers Union and borrowing money through bond markets.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Last week, the district<a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/chicago-education-bonds-idUSL2N15B2L3">&nbsp;delayed a bond sale&nbsp;</a>worth $875 million. The next day Moody&rsquo;s downgraded CPS&rsquo;s bond rating&nbsp;<a href="http://cps.edu/About_CPS/Financial_information/Pages/CreditRatings.aspx">further into junk status.&nbsp;</a></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><em>Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. You can follow her @WBEZeducation.</em></div><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Mon, 01 Feb 2016 18:51:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-teachers-union-rejects-serious-offer-district-114679 Dueling Breakfasts Invoke Opposing Views of King’s Legacy http://www.wbez.org/news/dueling-breakfasts-invoke-opposing-views-king%E2%80%99s-legacy-114497 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/mlkprotests.png" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel held an annual breakfast in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Friday, but the event was met protests from some black clergy.</p><p>Meanwhile, the Chicago Teachers Union rebranded their annual King breakfast as more &lsquo;people-centered&rsquo; alternative, invoking a more radical side of King&rsquo;s legacy.</p><p>Both breakfasts acknowledged the recent turmoil in Chicago over high-profile police-involved shootings, including the deaths of black teenagers Laquan McDonald, 17, and Quintonio LeGrier, 19.</p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-230c77c4-47b9-77c5-00af-e594c442da61"><em>Becky Vevea covers education for WBEZ. Follow her at <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZeducation">@wbezeducation</a>. Lauren Chooljian covers Chicago politics for WBEZ. Follow her<a href="http://twitter.com/laurenchooljian"> @laurenchooljian</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 15 Jan 2016 17:56:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/dueling-breakfasts-invoke-opposing-views-king%E2%80%99s-legacy-114497 Chicago Teachers Take Strike Vote http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-teachers-take-strike-vote-114117 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/coonley-strike-vote.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago teachers began voting on whether to authorize a strike Wednesday.</p><p>The vote does not mean a strike will happen.</p><p>According to state law, Chicago Public Schools or the Chicago Teachers Union would have to call for a specific kind of mediation, known as &ldquo;fact-finding&rdquo;. That process takes at least 75 days and then the union would have to give a 10-day strike notice before a walkout would occur.&nbsp;</p><p>CPS officials said Monday the vote was premature because neither side had called for fact-finding yet. There is a mediator currently working with the two parties.</p><p>Fifth grader Miles Pinsof-Berlowitz was one of several students and parents showing support for teachers outside Coonley Elementary on the North Side Wednesday morning. He remembers the strike in 2012 and says he thinks things have gotten better.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s improved so much, now there&rsquo;s a music room a drama room,&rdquo; Pinsof-Berlowitz said. &ldquo;We have so many specials classes, some days we have two and they&rsquo;re an hour long, it&rsquo;s awesome.&rdquo;</p><p>But his classmate Zoe Hanson said not every school in Chicago is as lucky as Coonley.</p><p>&ldquo;We have to support those teachers who work really hard to keep their schools open,&rdquo; Hanson said.</p><p>Nora Wiltse is the librarian at Coonley and said the union is hoping that they don&rsquo;t have to go on strike, but negotiations have stalled.</p><p>&ldquo;We kind of just have to play the card that we have and that&rsquo;s a strike authorization vote,&rdquo; she said. (Wiltse last spoke with WBEZ about the loss of librarians across Chicago.)</p><p>CPS officials estimated the cost of the union&rsquo;s proposals so far and they say the total is over $1 billion. District chief Forrest Claypool is struggling to get a deal with the state that would shore up a budget shortfall this year.</p><p>Parents outside Coonley said they know there are financial problems at the district, but that some of the proposals -- like eliminating most standardized testing -- would actually save the schools hundreds of millions.</p><p>&ldquo;They find money to cover up their problems and cover up their mistakes and they&rsquo;re choosing not to find money for schools even though it should be our number one priority,&rdquo; said Erica Hade.</p><p>The strike authorization voting will last three days and union officials anticipate results will be tallied by Monday.</p><p><em>Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. You can follow her @WBEZeducation.</em></p></p> Thu, 10 Dec 2015 06:43:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-teachers-take-strike-vote-114117 Noble maps out massive charter school expansion, feds support it http://www.wbez.org/news/noble-maps-out-massive-charter-school-expansion-feds-support-it-113392 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/noble-poster-charter-expansion.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Despite a financial crisis in Chicago Public Schools and increasingly organized opposition to the prospect of more charter schools, Chicago&rsquo;s largest charter network has plans for a massive expansion in the city, according to <a href="http://www2.ed.gov/programs/charter-rehqcs/2015/noblenarr.pdf">a successful grant application</a> it submitted to the federal government.</p><p>The Noble Network of Charter Schools, which already runs 16 schools and educates 10 percent of all city high school students, plans to open eight more high schools in Chicago in the next five years. Noble forecasts educating 6,000 more students for a total &ldquo;market share&rdquo; of 15 percent of Chicago Public Schools&rsquo; high school population.</p><p>By 2020, the charter network projects its total revenues from CPS and the state will climb above $200 million annually for the education of 17,675 high school students.</p><p>&ldquo;We continue to experience demand for additional Noble seats from the families we already serve, and the families that want us to come into our communities,&rdquo; says Sara Kandler, development director at Noble. &ldquo;We hear from them about the impact that Noble has made on their children, their nieces and nephews, their neighbors&mdash;and we have new families coming to us regularly saying, &lsquo;I want a Noble option, or I want a Noble option closer to home.&rsquo; And so that&rsquo;s what drives our continued vision for expansion,&rdquo; says Kandler.</p><p>The U.S. Department of Education is supporting the expansion through an $8.4 million &ldquo;Replication and Expansion&rdquo; grant <a href="http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/us-department-education-contributes-improving-charter-schools-sector">awarded </a>at the end of last month. Noble was one of just 12 charter networks in the country selected to receive the grant.</p><p>Noble&rsquo;s application, submitted in mid-July, &nbsp;calls for the network to grow at the rate of two campuses per year &mdash; and includes specific locations for the first three campuses as well as &ldquo;naming donors&rdquo; &mdash; wealthy individuals who agree to bankroll the start-up of a campus until students arrive and sustained public funding kicks in. The budget section of the application outlines plans for the next nine campuses:</p><ul><li><strong>&ldquo;Campus 17 - Mansueto&rdquo;</strong> <a href="http://www.forbes.com/profile/joe-mansueto/">Joe Mansueto</a> is CEO of Morningstar. This campus, the only one in the federal application currently being considered by CPS, could open at 47th and California in Fall 2016 if Chicago&rsquo;s Board of Education approves it later this month.</li><li><strong>&ldquo;Campus 18 - Lavin (Bernick) at St. Jerome&rdquo;</strong> The Carol Lavin Bernick Family Foundation has been a <a href="http://www.noblenetwork.org/sites/default/files/images/Noble_2010AR_FINAL.V2.pdf">donor </a>to Noble in the past. In June, Noble announced that the charter school network was <a href="http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20150608/rogers-park/noble-charter-schools-nix-rogers-park-expansion-after-public-backlash">nixing a plan to locate in Rogers Park</a>, possibly at St. Jerome.</li><li><strong>&ldquo;Campus 19 - Lutz at St. Turibius&rdquo;</strong> St. Turibius school, located &nbsp;at 57<sup>th</sup> and Karlov near Midway Airport, closed in June. The Michael And Karyn Lutz Family Foundation has <a href="http://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2013/270/935/2013-270935543-0aa26de2-F.pdf">donated</a> to Noble in the past.</li><li><strong>Campus 20-25</strong> No specific locations are mentioned for these campuses. Noble&rsquo;s budget forecasts some being located in leased facilities and others in CPS facilities.</li></ul><p>Noble staff and representatives say locations listed in the grant are &ldquo;not up-to-date,&rdquo; but they would not say the locations are completely off the table through 2020. Noble would not confirm the identities of the &ldquo;naming donors&rdquo; associated with each campus, saying that talks with donors are ongoing. In the grant application, Noble credits &ldquo;deep networks of high-wealth individuals&rdquo; for its growth to this point. It says it already has names for four campuses.</p><p>Noble schools post high ACT scores (though WBEZ has shown<a href="https://soundcloud.com/wbez/neighborhood-sort-w-intro-outro"> they also start with far more high-performing students</a> than neighborhood schools). Noble was recently named the <a href="http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/noble-network-named-top-public-charter-school-system-in-america-as-winner-of-2015-broad-prize-for-public-charter-schools-receives-250000-award-300102273.html">best charter network in America</a>.</p><p>Illinois U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel both wrote letters in support of the federal grant, on official letterhead.</p><p>Noble says it will use the grant to purchase things like new technology and furniture at two current and eight &nbsp;future campuses: lab tables, lockers, laptops. They will also purchase &ldquo;enrichment supplies&rdquo;&mdash;things like weight room equipment and musical instruments.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Teachers union: Noble grant is a &ldquo;mortal attack&rdquo; on struggling schools</span></p><p>The Chicago Teachers Union&rsquo;s assessment of the federal grant for Noble expansion: &ldquo;I think it amounts to [U.S. Secretary of Education] Arne Duncan putting out a hit on neighborhood high schools,&rdquo; says union vice-president Jesse Sharkey, who says the grant is a &ldquo;mortal attack on a number of public schools.&rdquo;</p><p>Sharkey says the traditional public school sector is &ldquo;starved for dollars. Our neighborhood schools have a hard time just delivering a basic education program. But at the same time there&rsquo;s federal dollars and private dollars mixing together to privatize schools.&rdquo;</p><p>Several Chicago high schools this year have freshmen classes of just 20, 25, or 30 kids &mdash; that&rsquo;s the entire freshman class. There are more than two dozen district-run high schools &mdash; including <a href="https://soundcloud.com/morningshiftwbez/charter-schools-looking-to-expand">neighborhood high schools Fenger, Harper, Hirsch, Manley, Richards, Robeson, and Tilden &mdash; with fewer than 400 students total</a>. A half dozen high schools have fewer than 200 students.</p><p>The <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/future-uncertain-chicagos-neighborhood-high-schools-108834">under-enrollment problems </a>have ballooned as the city has continued to <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/news/education/100th-school-renaissance-2010-brings-out-hopes-criticism">open new high schools</a> &mdash; part of its school improvement efforts &mdash; even though high school enrollment has been essentially flat. Since 2004, the population of high school students has grown less than 2 percent, while the number of high schools has grown 58 percent &mdash; and that&rsquo;s not including dozens of alternative schools the city has added.</p><p>Sharkey predicts more school closures will be a &ldquo;natural consequence&rdquo; of the Noble grant.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s like we&rsquo;re going on a privatization bender in our schools,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;And we&rsquo;re gonna wake up in the gutter and discover that we have sold off the assets of our public education system, and our schools are being run by private operators that don&rsquo;t have our values.&rdquo;</p><p>The teachers union, which has been a consistent political foe to Mayor Emanuel, stands to lose thousands more members &mdash; and power &mdash; if Noble&rsquo;s schools do open, pulling kids away from schools with unionized teachers toward the non-union Nobles.</p><p>Patrick Brosnan, the executive director of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, wants to know why a private entity gets to decide it&rsquo;s opening more taxpayer-funded schools.</p><p>Who says we need more high schools? he asks. Brosnan&rsquo;s group has opposed the new Noble campus proposed for 47th and California for fear it will mean fewer students and thus less funding at nearby Kelly High School, which has seen its population cut by one-third and its budget slashed by $4 million in recent years, as five new schools have opened nearby.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s basically up for grabs. They get to make these decisions and make these plans, and there&rsquo;s really no public discussion about this,&rdquo; says Brosnan. &ldquo;I mean, there would be a tremendous impact on existing schools.&rdquo;</p><p>This is Noble&rsquo;s second federal charter school expansion grant. Sara Kandler at Noble says the last grant helped Noble open six campuses.</p><p>&ldquo;Ultimately it would be unwise for Noble to not take advantage of this grant opportunity and directly bring a significant amount of cash and investments to the Chicago Public School system to affect and hopefully improve the education for thousands of students,&rdquo; Kandler says.</p><p>Kandler says the network has had a growth mindset for at least a decade: &ldquo;This grant...can really help us start on that next phase.&rdquo; Noble&rsquo;s founder and superintendent Michael Milkie told WBEZ in 2011 that he could imagine Noble Street running &ldquo;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/renaissance-2010-more-success-high-schools">20, 30, 40 high schools</a>&hellip;.I foresee a day where&mdash;I hope&mdash;where a majority of the students are educated in either Noble campuses or campuses like that at the high school level.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s Board of Education will still have to approve the eight new schools Noble wants to open. And the hurdles to that have never been higher. The district is in a financial crisis. Forty-two aldermen have called for a freeze on charter schools. North side communities <a href="http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20150608/rogers-park/noble-charter-schools-nix-rogers-park-expansion-after-public-backlash">shut down plans</a> for new Noble campuses this summer.</p><p>But the network has the mayor and the governor on its side, along with tens of millions of dollars in projected philanthropic donations. Plus, Noble says, thousands of kids who want the sort of education the charter school offers.</p><p><em>Linda Lutton is a WBEZ education reporter. Follow her </em><a href="https://twitter.com/wbezeducation"><em>@WBEZeducation</em></a>.</p></p> Mon, 19 Oct 2015 08:11:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/noble-maps-out-massive-charter-school-expansion-feds-support-it-113392 Ex-Chicago Public Schools leader charged with corruption http://www.wbez.org/news/ex-chicago-public-schools-leader-charged-corruption-113246 <p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Barbara%20Byrd-Bennett%20003%20By%20Bill%20Healy.jpg" style="height: 406px; width: 610px;" title="Barbara Byrd-Bennet. (WBEZ/Bill Healy)" /></div><p><em>Updated Oct. 9, 8:12 a.m.</em></p><p>The former head of Chicago Public Schools is facing federal corruption charges for her alleged role in a kickback scheme involving millions of taxpayer dollars.</p><p>The Department of Justice <a href="http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndil/file/782216/download">alleges</a> Barbara Byrd-Bennett, 66, steered $23 million worth of no-bid contracts to her former employer, the SUPES Academy, and a subsidiary company, called Synesi Associates.</p><p>The indictment outlines a secret scheme in which the co-owners of SUPES and Synesi &mdash; Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas &mdash; promised to funnel money into accounts set up under the names of two of Byrd-Bennett&rsquo;s relatives.</p><p>&ldquo;They entered a scheme to secretly profit from the schools,&rdquo; said U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon.</p><blockquote><p><a href="#document"><strong>DOCUMENT: Read the full indictment&nbsp;</strong></a></p></blockquote><p>The alleged scheme also included an agreement that Byrd-Bennett would get part of the money from the CPS contracts in the form of a &lsquo;signing bonus&rsquo; when she left the district&rsquo;s top job and returned to SUPES.</p><p>&ldquo;If you only join for the day, you will be the highest paid person on the planet for that day,&rdquo; Solomon wrote to Byrd-Bennett. &ldquo;Regardless, it will be paid out on day one.&rdquo;</p><p>Solomon, 47, and Vranas, 34 are also charged with multiple counts of mail and wire fraud, as well as bribery and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Byrd-Bennett is charged with multiple counts of mail and wire fraud.</p><p>The alleged scheme dates back to before Byrd-Bennett took over the helm of the nation&rsquo;s third largest school district in late 2012. Records obtained by the U.S. Department of Justice detail how Solomon and Byrd-Bennett conspired to get SUPES business with the district.</p><p>&ldquo;When this stint at CPS is done and you are ready to &hellip; retire, we have your spot waiting for you,&rdquo; Solomon wrote to Byrd-Bennett in 2012. &ldquo;In the meantime, if we can figure a way to do deep principals (professional development) at CPS, I can find a good home for [friends of Byrd-Bennett&rsquo;s] and others, and make sure principals in CPS get kick ass training with kick ass teachers and kick ass coaching.&rdquo;</p><p>The first two contracts between SUPES and CPS were awarded in 2011 and 2012 under a leadership training initiative, called the Chicago Executive Leadership Academy.</p><p>That initiative was initially funded by the Chicago Public Education Fund, a politically connected venture fund started by top civic and corporate leaders. The Fund&rsquo;s board has included many top political leaders, including Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, who also served on the Chicago Board of Education before her appointment to the president&rsquo;s cabinet. The Fund decided not to renew funding for that initiative in 2012.</p><p>In June 2013, amid millions in school budget cuts and one month after the district decided to <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-board-votes-close-50-schools-107294">close 50 public schools</a>, the Chicago Board of Education voted to approve a $20.5 million no-bid contract to SUPES for principal training. There were no questions and no discussion before the unanimous vote. One board member, Carlos Azcoitia, was absent.</p><p>Shortly after, <em>Catalyst Chicago</em> raised <a href="http://catalyst-chicago.org/2013/07/20-million-no-bid-contract-raises-questions-about-supes-academy/">questions</a> about the no-bid nature of the contract and reported on the principal training provided by SUPES. Principals interviewed by <em>Catalyst</em> said the sessions were too basic and led by people who knew little about Chicago. Six months later, the CPS Inspector General <a href="http://catalyst-chicago.org/2013/12/supes-academy-contract-under-scrutiny-inspector-general/">opened an investigation</a>.</p><p>Multiple CPS Board members repeatedly defended their votes on the contract until this year, when the U.S. Department of Justice subpoenaed the district, seeking interviews with people who worked with the ex-CEO and records related to SUPES and Synesi Associates.</p><p>After taking a two-month leave of absence amid the scrutiny, Byrd-Bennett <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-schools-chief-resigns-amid-federal-probe-112114">resigned from the top job</a> at CPS in June.</p><p>The corruption scandal comes as the district continues to face a $500 million budget hole that could force more layoffs by Thanksgiving. Current CPS CEO Forrest Claypool <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-board-education-passes-budget-banks-imaginary-money-112740">wants state lawmakers to come through with a bailout</a>.</p><p>Claypool tried to distance himself from the scandal at a conference of suburban and downstate school districts this afternoon.</p><p>&ldquo;This is in the past,&rdquo; Claypool said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not reflective of our administration. It&rsquo;s not reflective of the current leadership.&rdquo;</p><p>Claypool, who has been on the job since mid-July, said the district has fully cooperated with federal investigators, and has instituted &ldquo;controls.&rdquo;</p><p>Mayor Rahm Emanuel also distanced himself &mdash; both physically and figuratively &mdash; from the controversy by having his office issue an emailed statement while he talked about public-private partnerships at a conference in Washington D.C.</p><p>&ldquo;I am saddened and disappointed to learn about the criminal activity that led to today&#39;s indictment of Barbara Byrd-Bennett,&rdquo; the statement read. &ldquo;Our students, parents, teachers and principals deserve better.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. You can follow her </em><a href="http://twitter.com/WBEZeducation"><em>@WBEZeducation</em></a><em>.</em></p><h3><strong><a name="document"></a>Read the indictment</strong></h3><p><iframe class="scribd_iframe_embed" data-aspect-ratio="0.7729220222793488" data-auto-height="false" frameborder="0" height="800" id="doc_39642" scrolling="no" src="https://www.scribd.com/embeds/284088055/content?start_page=1&amp;view_mode=scroll&amp;access_key=key-C9KRlEQTJ9HQWAEtPcxU&amp;show_recommendations=false" width="600"></iframe></p></p> Thu, 08 Oct 2015 12:38:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/ex-chicago-public-schools-leader-charged-corruption-113246 Teachers head into school year without a contract http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2015-09-08/teachers-head-school-year-without-contract-112857 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/linda lutton.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Tuesday morning, many Chicago teachers were assigning cubby holes and passing out textbooks, going over syllabi and leading kids in the pledge of allegiance. WBEZ education reporter Linda Lutton visited to three Chicago schools Friday and talked to teachers to get a sense of their ambitions, concerns, and hopes. Then, for more on what teachers are facing this school year, we turned to Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union.</p></p> Tue, 08 Sep 2015 12:05:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2015-09-08/teachers-head-school-year-without-contract-112857 Chicago Teachers Union president responds to pension shortfall http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2015-08-12/chicago-teachers-union-president-responds-pension-shortfall-112632 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/karen lewis becky vevea.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, responds to the comments made by Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool.</p></p> Wed, 12 Aug 2015 11:29:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2015-08-12/chicago-teachers-union-president-responds-pension-shortfall-112632 CTU president Karen Lewis calls potential pension payment increase 'strike-worthy' http://www.wbez.org/news/ctu-president-karen-lewis-calls-potential-pension-payment-increase-strike-worthy-112598 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/IMG_5569_0.JPG" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-9eb84d3e-0a32-ff51-29b2-baa4734a89e3">Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis is sounding the alarm: Ongoing contract negotiations with Chicago Public Schools, and says the notion that teachers should pay more into Chicago&rsquo;s severely underfunded teachers pension fund is &ldquo;strike-worthy.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Union representatives told reporters Friday that public school teachers would likely start the school year without a contract. Their latest contract expired on June 30th, and CTU and the school district began negotiating a new one last November.</p><p dir="ltr">But now, Lewis says CPS is withdrawing its proposal for a one-year collective bargaining agreement, which in her words &ldquo;resets the clock&rdquo; on those discussions.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;They could have been the heroes in this. But instead, Sheriff Claypool has decided just blow things up and show us just how tough he can be,&rdquo; Lewis said, referring to the newly-appointed CPS CEO Forrest Claypool.</p><p dir="ltr">Both Claypool and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have said teachers should pay more into the severely underfunded Chicago Teachers Pension Fund. As part of the mayor&rsquo;s so-called &ldquo;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-emanuel-warn-deep-cuts-layoffs-school-district-112301">grand bargain</a>&rdquo; regarding the pension crisis, Emanuel wants teachers to pay the full 9 percent cost of pensions, rather than the 2 percent they currently contribute. On Friday, Lewis said she considers that proposal &ldquo;strike worthy.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Whether or not a flip-flop or breach of trust will lead to a work stoppage this school year will be decided by our members at the appropriate time,&rdquo; she said. Technically, there are a few legal and bureaucratic hoops the union would have to jump through in order to officially walk out of the classroom; so if they did vote to strike, union members suggested that likely wouldn&rsquo;t happen until winter.</p><p dir="ltr">In a statement, a CPS spokesperson said that the district &ldquo;remains dedicated to reaching a multi-year agreement with our teachers&rdquo; and, &ldquo;will continue to negotiate in good faith at the bargaining table to reach an agreement on a broader and longer contract that is beneficial for our children, their teachers, the taxpayers and the entire system.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">The two sides are expected to meet again next week.</p><p><em>Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ politics reporter. Follow her<a href="http://twitter.com/triciabobeda"> </a><a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian">@laurenchooljian</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 07 Aug 2015 16:41:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/ctu-president-karen-lewis-calls-potential-pension-payment-increase-strike-worthy-112598 Chicago Teachers Union unhappy with Claypool's appointment to head of CPS http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2015-07-17/chicago-teachers-union-unhappy-claypools-appointment-head-cps <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/classroom Bryan McDonald.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/215157800&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 22px;">Chicago Public Schools has a new top dog. Forrest Claypool is a longtime city official. He ran the Parks District in the 1990s, oversaw the CTA during Mayor Emanuel&#39;s first term, and in April, became the mayor&#39;s latest chief of staff. Now Claypool will take on what he calls the biggest challenge of his career &mdash; running the schools during a time of serious financial hardship. The district faces a $1.1 billion budget gap. So, what do teachers think about the changes at the top? We speak with Jesse Sharkey, Vice President of the Chicago Teachers Union.</span></p></p> Fri, 17 Jul 2015 12:31:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2015-07-17/chicago-teachers-union-unhappy-claypools-appointment-head-cps