CN Feb 20, 2014

More than a thousand full-time tenured and non-tenured faculty members staged a 2-day strike at UIC this week to demand salary increases and other workplace improvements.

Although the issues seemed to play well in the media, DNAInfo Chicago’s Ted Cox says it’s not going to be an easy sell at the U of I.

“The State doesn’t support these institutions any more like they did,” he asserts. “So if you pay professors more then who’s going to pay for it? Where’s the money gonna come from? How many people are already in line in Springfield with their hand out?”

Catalyst-Chicago’s Sarah Karp sees the issue as more than money, and compares it with the 2012 CTU strike.

“Where I see a big connection with the CTU strike is the question of tenure. That’s a big issue with education, because tenure has been basically obliterated in the last couple of years. So I think that’s a big issue. Is it really a good thing to have faculty and teachers  having job protection? And how much job protection should they have?”

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen joint press events between the CTU and unions representing firefighters, police, librarians and other public-service workers. What they all have in common is their deep concern about the potential loss of chunks of their legally-binding pension agreements.

“Karen Lewis of the CTU, her point is that we can afford pensions,” explains Karp.  “That we just have to prioritize. And we need to look at bringing in more revenue. She put out a report on Friday saying that if you cut pensions of police, fire and teachers, it destabilizes neighborhoods. Especially in Chicago, where you have to live in the City in order to get these jobs, their money is going right back into their community.”

“But at the same time,” she says, “there’s something like $600 million due from CPS to pay for the pensions this year, and no one knows how that’s gonna play out.”

Cox says this coalition, if it lasts, could have some power. “I think when you’re talking about teachers getting together with police and fire, that’s a really powerful alliance. I think that’s their best and only hope is to ally.”

Did you see those stories in the past couple of weeks about how suspensions at CPS are down, and a new kind of discipline is taking root? Well, sometimes things aren’t quite what they seem.

“It all started with an exclusive that they gave to the Tribune, saying that suspensions are down,” Karp explains. “The next day, the press release came out, and their number was different from what they had in the Tribune. So when you start seeing the percentages get shifted a little bit you start to ask, well, what are the actual numbers?”

Then Karp lays out for us how things can go wrong when a government agency gives a newspaper an “exclusive.”

“What they did was they slightly changed the definition of what they were giving them. And it’s right but it’s a very small little slice of rightness.”

She explains the origin of this supposedly positive story. “Advocates have been pressing CPS for many years to publish school-by-school suspension data, which is very difficult to get.  And they won an agreement to get it.  So that’s supposed to happen very soon, maybe even today. But before you get the school-by-school numbers, they’re going to put out an overall percentage. The way I saw it was to sort of smooth the waters.”

“They know,” Karp says, “that the individual school numbers will be highly varied, but they want a focus on the overall number. “Now they’ve got all the media putting out a story saying suspensions are down so it sort of negates this school-by-school data which isn’t gonna show that.”

Then the plot thickened. Karp says she received an anonymous email containing details of the report. “Basically what it shows is that elementary suspensions are actually up and have been rising, and the biggest increase is in pre-K and kindergarten suspensions. Actually, in the Student Code of Conduct it says you cannot suspend Pre-K and kindergarten students.”

“I think there’s always been pre-school and kindergarten suspensions,” she adds. “I think we’re maybe seeing that there’s more on the books than before, because people would send your kid home and say, hey,  your kid’s acting out. But now this is an official suspension. It’s on the kid’s record over time.”

“My hypothesis is they knew that when the school-by-school data came out, it was gonna be clear that elementary school suspensions were perhaps going up,” Karp says. “So they wanted to put out the story that there is a slight decrease in high school suspensions. However, the other odd thing about this is that the number of high school students has decreased by about 6,000, the ones in district-run schools, not charters. And this data does not include any charter schools. So if you say there’s a 10,000 drop in suspensions among high school students but yet there’s 6,000 fewer students, you could make the argument that maybe there’s just fewer students to suspend.”

Another factor is the disproportionate racial breakdown.

“Between 77 and 85 percent black students are being suspended, and they only make up 40% of the kids in our  school district, and they’re primarily males – over 70%. So it’s probably mostly black male students, who as they get older they drop out more, they go to prison more. And maybe when you start suspending them in kindergarten, a lot of studies have shown that even one suspension any time in your elementary school career greatly increases your chance of eventually dropping out.”

And the whole thing’s further complicated, adds Cox, by the Charter rules. “Charters actually have their own deals going on with suspensions and fines. They keep their own data.”

Karp says she’s FOI’d that data from the State, which requires charters to keep such records, and the numbers for suspensions are high. “So the fact is that really when you look at it overall including charter schools, which are public schools, we actually might be seeing a huge increase in suspensions.”

You can read Sarah Karp’s article here.

In the past few weeks, the City Council has started trying to deal with the epidemic of smart-phone theft. And they’re focusing on ways to keep stolen phones from being returned to the marketplace.

“It started out as an advisory resolution, to insist that phone manufacturers and carriers, their phones have a “kill switch”, Cox tells us. “So that when your phone gets stolen, you can remotely disable it so that it can’t be used again and resold. There’s a big market for these things and that’s why people steal them, is to resell them.”

“But a lot of critics have said that the manufacturers and carriers have no interest in this kill switch because they make the nice money and lucrative business from reselling phones and selling insurance to cover them. And now in addition to that original resolution, which passed, Aldermen Bob Fioretti and Ed Burke, unlikely allies, have joined in sponsoring a City Council resolution that would make it illegal to sell a phone without a kill switch in the City.”

But we’ll give the last word to Chicago’s technology community, who’ve advanced the theory that it would be better if the carriers simply agreed not to reactivate any phone of which they couldn’t trace the history.

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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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