“It’s not a bailout. We just want our fair share. There’s a separate and unequal formula that is given to Chicago Public Schools.”
That’s how our conversation got started with Alderman Howard Brookins, Jr (21), who’s now the Chairman 0f the City Council’s Education Committee.
He’s been engaging in a written battle with Beth Purvis, Governor Rauner’s Secretary of Education. She wrote a Trib Op-Ed last week stating, in part:
“The stunning fact is that while the state provided major assistance to CPS, Chicago shirked its own duty to pay its pensions. From 1995 to 2015, the state sent CPS payments totaling approximately $1.1 billion for pension contributions. During that same time frame, CPS skipped pension payments for 10 straight years and received General Assembly approval for three additional years of contribution reductions.”
Brookins isn’t buying it. “Every other district, the state picks up their pension,” he explains. “We are in a hole because this year CPS will have to pay some $700-million towards pension payments. They want to say that there’s an issue that, well, we took pension holidays. Well CPS is in a better situation than the rest of the state with respect to pensions and pension solubility. We are funded at 52%, the rest of the state is funded at 42%. They allowed CPS to make these pension holidays in part because they did not want to come up with additional monies to help the school system at the time. So they said, “Oh well, just don’t make the pension payment this time and everything will be all right,” knowing that at some point this day was going to come.”
And when it comes, as it now has, Brookins says the state isn’t creative about how to allocate the cuts.
“And they say, ‘Okay, well we’re just going to cut education to 90% so that we can stay equal.’ Well in Barrington you’re relying on say 6% of the State money and in Chicago or somewhere else you may be relying on 20% or more. East St. Louis if you’re relying on say 50%, well the State cutting you that 10% pro rata is a bigger number than them cutting Barrington 6%.”
“We need a comprehensive revamp of how we fund education in the State of Illinois,” Brookins concludes.
In the meantime, with no state agreement on the horizon, CPS is preparing its schools to gird for a nearly 30% budget cut at every school in September.
There have been indications in the past week or so that CPS is about to launch a new round of contracts to privatize cleaning and maintenance services in many more schools. Brookins sees lots of disadvantages with privatization.
“In principle I think it can be a mistake,” he tells us. “And people always say, ‘Oh we should treat government like a business,’ and I say, well okay then, we are the CEOs. We would pay ourselves as much money as we could get. And then we would charge you or raise the taxes as high as you could stand.’ And so no, you don’t treat government like a business.”
One of Brookins’ concerns is accountability of the workers brought into replace City laborers.”Quality can suffer and who do they report to?” he asks. “Who influences them? So when we privatize say crews to do cement, if it’s a City crew out there I can get a supervisor on the phone as your elected official when you say, ‘Hey, they busted my sprinkler system. They disrespected me,’ etc., because they work for us, but when they work for some other company we can’t do that as elected officials.”
He gives us an example. “With Sodexho I know an exterminator who had been doing a good job, got great accolades. They didn’t have problems with respect to his work, but when you get a major company come in they want to say ‘well you’ve got to do it cheaper. You don’t need to do this, you don’t need to do that,’ and it’s like well that’s why we don’t have bugs – and it’s a problem. Cheaper is not always best.”
We talk about the on-going negotiations between the CTU and CPS.
“I want to sit down and talk to Karen (Lewis)”, he says. “I think that we are on the same page with respect to fixing the situation for money. She realizes that CPS doesn’t have the money, and it is within the best interest of the teachers and CPS that we get the money and then come up with a contract. I want to sit down and pick her brain and talk about permanent formula, funding solutions for the State of Illinois, what are the best practices going forward.”
“There’s no money and there’s no political will,” he continues.” I can’t go back to my constituents and ask them to swallow another property tax increase that still won’t resolve the problem that we have. She can’t go back to her constituents, her teachers who are relying on her, and tell them to take more concessions, raises, wages, work hours, etc., and knowing that you still may have to do this another time and another time. So we’re in uncharted waters, but the only way out is that we work together and swim in the same direction.”
And how does the Alderman feel about newly-appointed police superintendent Eddie Johnson? He was neutral on the Mayor’s choices, he says, but he’s happy with Johnson. “I always like Chicago people being in the job because I don’t have to start out and for our first ten meetings I’m explaining historical information as to why does it make sense for you to put resources here because that’s been tried over and over, and he gets it.”
Brookins worked with Johnson for years when Johnson was the commander for part of his Ward. “So anything north of 87th Street, he was the Commander there. He was very community-oriented. He solved problems that we had and he would come out and articulate that to the community, so I thought he was a great person,” he says.
High on Johnson’s agenda, the Alderman says, is building faith with a community that feels estranged from the police.
“We’ve got to restore that trust and some of it starts with the way you just treat people. I tell them all the time you can be firm with people, you can arrest them, but you’ve got to treat them with dignity with respect…But it is the perception of the Chicago police it starts out with the epithet, it continues with more expletives and you feel bad about the whole situation and they still give you a ticket.”
And there’s at least one area where Chairman Brookins differs sharply with Mayor Emanuel. “But I still think, and many of us in the City Council believe, that we actually just need more police officers to resolve some of the problem,” he asserts.
You can read the entire transcript as a Word document here: