George Schmidt is “mildly” optimistic about the new management team of Forrest Claypool and Frank Clark at Chicago Public School.
And that’s saying something, because the Editor of Substance News, consultant to the CTU and all-around 25-year public-schools gadfly doesn’t have anything nice to say about the old team. In fact, he says of outgoing Board President David Vitale: “He should be indicted.”
Claypool, Schmidt acknowledges, knows Chicago well, and as a three-time mayoral Chief of Staff, head of both the CTA and Park District, he has as much experience in Chicago government as anyone.
“He’s not gonna get a honeymoon and he knows it, but he’s probably one of the few people in this town who can say – I don’t need the honeymoon.” he says.
Already critics are saying that Claypool has no experience in education, and that the CEO should be an educator.
But Schmidt says the system has a separate education chief, and that person can be influential.
“Since we got mayoral control in 1995 there always has been the position of Chief Education Officer,” he explains. “So as long as we’re gonna maintain the myth that we need a Chief Executive Officer instead of a Superintendent of Schools, then the first thing they should do is bring in somebody who really does know education, and is gonna be given the power with the full blessing of the CEO…so I think it’s do-able up to when we get an elected school board and go back to having a Superintendent and end this massive 20-year-old fiction.”
Should this Chief Education Officer be from Chicago, or can this executive come from anywhere?
“You need somebody who doesn’t need a GPS to get from Bogan to Bowen High Schools,” he claims. “Forrest Claypool knows Chicago. He knows Chicago from the parks, from the CTA. You need somebody who actually knows this system, and these places and these people. You can’t bring in somebody from Colorado like they did last time…it was an insult to everybody in Chicago and it was wrong in terms of any serious way of running the organization.”
Do these appointments, which seem to signal a different direction from the Mayor, indicate that he wants to see things done differently? Schmidt says he’ll be watching for a couple of new initiatives.
“One is to see how the new Board and the new CEO handle the Chicago Teachers’ contract negotiations,” he tells us. “The hundred million dollars it would have taken to bring the contract in before June 30 under the old contract, for an extra year, is a small percentage of the five to six, to seven billion dollar budget (depending on whether you include capital). So when Rahm and Vitale said no, it’s not there, we can’t reasonably foresee going for it, they told the union it’s a showdown. That really was a bad idea.”
Second will be watching to see whether the new CEO recognizes the need for more funding.
“CPS needs more revenue,” he states emphatically. “And the revenue has to begin to come from an increase in the local property taxes. It’s that simple.”
And, for his part, he’ll continue to attend every Board meeting, he says, and point out every nickel of waste he can find in the budget.
“The Tribune on July 15 did great job. They pointed out that the couple of million dollars that was being wasted on the money they’re gonna lose on these variable-rate bond deals – could’ve paid for the elementary school sports coaches.”
Schmidt also calls on Claypool to reconsider the method by which school budgets are formulated, and to “overcome this crazy so-called student-based budgeting that’s basically strangled the real schools and poured the money into the charters.”
In case you’ve been wondering how CPS could, as has been widely reported in the past few days, take tens of millions of dollars from dozens of schools like Lane, Julian, GagePark and Marshall and give millions and millions to charter schools, you’re watching student-based budgeting in action.
“It’s a fiction,” Schmidt says. “It’s a talking point. Student-based budgeting means we’re not gonna budget for the staff we need. We’re not gonna budget for the programs we want. We’re gonna budget based on the narrowest formula to restrict the ability of principals to select the staff and have the programs they want.”
Schmidt says Claypool and Clark must find a different budget mechanism.
“Budgeting for schools should never be student-based,” he asserts. “It should be program-based. It should be people-based partly on the input from the community when we have local school councils.”
For years, he says, the system has been biased strongly in favor of charters.
“Every time they made a decision to put a charter school in an area that didn’t want one, and then subsidized the charter school with an enhancement of revenue, and then gave the charter schools the green light to get all of the privatization revenue…every time they made that decision, it’s part of the project of privatizing as much as possible and also trying to suck away students from the – I call them the real public schools.”
And the pro-charter bias started a long time ago, he explains.
“The formula was set at the beginning of Noble and it hasn’t changed,” he tells us. “The formula is, if you’re a charter, you maximize your numbers up through October, November, whenever the Board asks for your final count and gives you the money. Then you make sure your criteria enable you to kick out the kids you don’t want in January. So if you look in October and April and see how many kids the school has, they’ve reduced it. So it’s a trick that Noble started with their first campus…and it’s been perfected by all the rest of the charters.
“So you will find in every high school around the city…these kids who are refugees from the charters,” he claims. “They were kicked out because they didn’t get enough points …or they didn’t cuff their Dockers or whatever the rule was, so the kid suddenly ends up in Steinmetz or North-Grand or Kelvyn Park or Wells. The blowback on this is, not only are these schools being cut now, but they’re gonna receive the kids that need a public education in the second semester, and it’s gonna be based on dollars they’re not gonna be given, because the Board will not increase the dollars.”
Frank Clark, former CEO of ComEd and a member of numerous boards governing private companies and non-profit enterprises, will have the opportunity to take the Board of Education in some new directions if he thinks it’s appropriate. And George Schmidt says Clark has the credentials. He recalls the long evenings a few years ago when Clark chaired the commission that took public testimony about the closing of what turned out to be 49 schools.
“I watched Mr. Clark chair those meetings on the school closings,” Schmidt remembers. “The man knows how to take the heat. And it wasn’t like we always agreed with him, certainly, about what he was doing.”
“He was at these tumultuous meetings,” he continues. There was one meeting with a thousand people, and the man sat there and listened. And that’s an important skill if you’re gonna work in a democracy.”
Clearly, the Substance founder and long-time union activist sees an opportunity to turn the corner on what he considers a deeply-flawed past administration.
“Vitale and (Vice President Jesse) Ruiz have been almost criminally complicit in an attack on the public schools and a massive privatization. It’s that simple. That’s their tenure. That’s the verdict.”
And now all eyes turn to Forrest Claypool. Schmidt see it as a great opportunity.
“Forrest Claypool can come in and air out the room and let people know that he’s serious about this.”