CN May 8, 2014


There was something of a Chicago media tour embarked upon this week by CTU President Karen Lewis. She spoke at the City Club of Chicago, where she excoriated the Mayor and demanded that the city’s business and political elites find more money to fund schools and public servant pensions.  Then she visited newsrooms and editorial boards, where she also excoriated and demanded. She even made a pretty raucous appearance at the Hideout with Ben Joravsky and Mick Dumke, where the crowds largely cheered her excoriating.

Tribune City Hall reporter Hal Dardick was impressed with her effectiveness. “I think it shows a lot about Karen Lewis’ political savvy,” he told us, “in that she can introduce something that’s been talked about on the margins before by the unions and put the idea into play, whereas before it was always summarily dismissed as not workable.”

Lewis said that the exchanges on LaSalle Street should kick into a tax for every transaction they execute, and, although that idea is popular with her supporters, Dardick points out that the idea has been floated before but abandoned because it would probably require federal legislation since these transactions are considered interstate commerce.

But, Dardick says, Lewis has been successful in pointing out that there’s need for more money on the table, not just cuts. And she’s making popular the argument that the financial community needs to get in the game.

“In light of what caused the last long and deep recession,” he says, “the deals that banks made, and they say well, why don’t the people in that industry help fund the recovery and the taxes that we all paid to help bail them out in the first place.”

There’s always talk that new taxes and fees will drive business out of Chicago and Illinois, but Catalyst Chicago’s Editor in Chief Lorraine Forte isn’t buying it.

“The people that talk about leaving Illinois, are those the people who are funding Rahm Emanuel’s campaign?” she asks. “They’re happy here. They’re paying to have him be mayor.”

Of course, Lewis’ high profile this week fueled more speculation that she’s planning a run for mayor, something she strongly denies. Dardick’s analysis: “She may not be running for office, but she certainly has the instincts of a politician.”

Mayor Emanuel made news last week when he announced another high school, named for Barack Obama.  Good idea? Perhaps, but the location he selected isn’t working for its potential neighbors.

“It’s a sixty-million-dollar school. Obviously it must have taken some planning,” says DNAInfo Chicago reporter Paul Biasco. “You’re going to have, by some estimates, ten to twenty thousand new residents moving into this five-block radius in the Cabrini-Green redevelopment area, so…this is an area where development’s booming and a lot of residents who’ve lived there for a long time say we already have a lack of parks. So that was the story I was working on. All of a sudden we get the press release – hey, a new high school going in right in the middle of what was going to be pretty much the main park for this whole area.”

In what passes for community planning in Chicago, the community representatives who had been working to plan Stanton Park found out last week that their planning was pointless. Four of their five acres had just been taken away for the new school nobody knew was coming.

“Even the alderman said he didn’t know until the day of,” Biasco tells us. Had Dardick heard about it over at City Hall? “No, it was news to us.”

Nationally, about 15% of all teachers leave the system each year. In Chicago, the number’s a bit higher at 18%. “But it is very costly,” Forte tells us.

“A national group estimated that it costs about $18,000 per person to recruit and bring in new teachers. And that adds up to about $71 million a year. And the interesting thing to me was that these “turnaround schools”, where they go in and fire everybody and hire new teachers, most of them brand new, the turnover is highest there. Even the brand new, hand-picked teachers they bring in, by the third year, the vast majority of them are gone.”

Catalyst Chicago, she says, talked with a number of former teachers with AUSL, the agency that runs most turnaround schools for CPS, and “they just say, the pressure to raise test scores very quickly, turnaround schools are in the toughest neighborhoods, these are people who are right out of college, don’t have any experience, living in Englewood or the west side, and it’s too much pressure for these young kids too quickly. They can’t get the kind of results that are wanted that quickly, so they’re like, we’re gone.”

Governor Quinn seems to be getting mired more deeply in the aftermath of his disastrous community development program that funneled millions of dollars into largely minority communities right before his 2010 election.

“It just happens, he says, that he was trying to address the spiking violence that was going on in the City’s south and west sides at that time,” Dardick explains. “So he forms this Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, throws extra millions of dollars into this effort to provide more constructive programs for kids, counseling, programs that try to tamp down the violence. The Republicans, right from the start, are saying this is just part of your re-election effort. You’re gonna start giving money to all these neighborhood groups. It’s gonna help you get out the vote because they’re gonna work for you in exchange for getting the money and greasing the wheels.”

The State’s Auditor General looked into it, and Dardick says the conclusion was that “the program was terribly monitored, and aldermen were allowed to just decide on their own who got the money. It was badly monitored and money went to things that it shouldn’t have gone to.”

“The governor ended up winning by a few tens of thousands of votes and that kind of thing could have made the difference.”




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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