CN February 14, 2013

Chicago’s gun violence is slow-motion mass killing. Today’s the 5th anniversary of the horrific slaughter at Northern Illinois University. Five people died and 21 were hurt. In 2012 at Harper High School 21 students were wounded and eight others were killed by gun violence. Bt it was barely noticed because it happened one at a time in a community that’s often written off.  Today, there’s debate over legislative solutions.

“Chicago gets this reputation for having among the toughest gun laws in the country, when it really doesn’t,” says NPR’s David Schaper, talking about recent calls to increase prison time for the illegal possession of guns.  “And Supt. McCarthy likes to hammer on this all the time. In New York they do have mandatory minimums,” he explains. We don’t have that, he says, and New York has another strong advantage – neighboring states with stringent gun control laws of their own. Chicago faces Indiana and Wisconsin and a ring of Illinois counties with lenient gun laws.

Panelist Dan Mihalopoulos (Sun-Times) recalls stories he worked on several years ago “where the building permits and zoning changes were concentrated in terms of new construction – and yes, a whole new city did emerge from the 90’s, but a whole other part of the city wasn’t touched by it.” And it’s no surprise that the communities that saw little investment during the boom years are especially hard-hit today and home to so much of the violence Chicago is experiencing.

Chicago’s urban violence, and President Obama’s (then impending) visit to Hyde Park Academy dominated a sizable portion of our conversation on today’s show, but Mihalopoulos also took us through the details of his and Tim Novak’s powerful story about inside deals at the UNO charter school network.

In 2009, UNO, through its allies in the Illinois Legislature, obtained $98 million in State funds to build several new schools, including the recently-completed UNO Soccer Academy on the Southwest Side. “They have 13 schools with 6,500 students, so they’ve expanded their reach tremendously,” he tells us. “They’re building another school with that money, and there’s still gonna be fifteen million left over. And they want to get more. They’ve asked for $35 million more recently. And Mike Madigan, the Speaker of the House, is reportedly in favor of them getting that allocation.”

He tells us in detail how relatives of the #2 executive at UNO received lucrative construction and operating contracts without a public bidding process, (that executive resigned after the publication of the stories) and how one legislator who voted for the $98 million allocation has two brothers who obtained a contract from UNO, according to Mihalopoulos.

While it isn’t clear that UNO violated any laws, their processes were certainly less than transparent. At the same time, CPS is required to operate by different, more stringent standards. “If this was a pretty powerful principal at any other Chicago Public School,” says Schaper, “they would not have the same leeway in terms of hiring their brother to put in the windows, or even to hire a family member to sweep the floors.”

The UNO issue is, of course being viewed in context with CPS’ announcement this week that as many as 129 schools are eligible for closure under current criteria. Community leaders and CPS critics say that it’s difficult to understand how under-utilization causes CPS to continually close schools, while at the same time allowing private interests to open charter schools.

“The larger criticism of this whole effort to close many schools is not focused on the fact that there are fewer students or that they’re looking to save money, they’re looking at it and saying, well how is it that there’s no money to keep these schools open when you’re providing money to build other schools…”, Mihalopoulos says.



About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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