By MARK UGOLINI
— CHICAGO — On July 20 over 200 Chicago teachers, students and parents gathered at City Hall to demand full funding for public schools and an elected school board. Protesters crowded inside City Hall’s second-floor lobby for a press conference with a host of local media. Later, they formed a militant picket line outside the entrance, chanting slogans opposing recent budget decisions that further limit school funding.
Earlier in the week, the Chicago School Board announced budgets for individual schools, and funding is just over $4000 per student, an amount the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and community representatives consider grossly inadequate.
Parents 4 Teachers representative Chirag Mehta said his organization, the CTU, and others “are calling on [Mayor] Rahm Emanuel to immediately release the hundreds of millions of dollars in the TIF accounts and send it to the schools where it belongs.” Tax increment financing (TIF) accounts, funded from local property taxes, are a tool used by the city of Chicago to promote business investment.
The Cook County clerk announced a day earlier that it would release $461 million in TIF revenue to the city of Chicago, a 24% increase over the previous year. CTU and community supporters want these funds immediately allocated to financially strapped public schools, but Rahm Emanuel and local politicians of both capitalist parties have other priorities.
Mollison Elementary’s school council president Jeanette Taylor pointed to the need for an elected representative school board. A parent organizer for the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization on Chicago’s south side, Taylor stressed the critical importance of community-based decision making.
“The people who sit at 42 W. Madison St. [office of the appointed school board] don’t have a clue what’s going on at 44th Street and King Drive.” Taylor told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Taylor’s 12-year-old son attends Mollison. A special needs student, his education suffers because the school can’t afford a specially designed classroom. “It’s overcrowded” said Taylor. “We don’t even have a parent room. I feel like a voiceless mother.” According to the Sun-Times, Taylor estimates that budget cuts will result in reduction of four teachers and two support staff at Mollison.
Meanwhile, negotiations with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) on a new contract with the CTU have made little progress since they began over 20 months ago. The union has been without a contract since June 30, 2015, and its membership has already authorized a strike, which could take place at the start of the fall term in September.
In a letter to the Chicago Tribune on July 17, Karen Lewis, CTU president, outlined the current situation facing teachers: “Since 2010, CTU has given up more than $2 billion in lost pay raises, employer contributions to our pension fund and thousands of teacher layoffs. Our contributions this year, through the loss of pay, benefits and laid-off teachers and paraprofessionals, stretch well into nine figures…
“CTU’s Big Bargaining Team was prepared to agree to a contract in July 2015. Forrest Claypool [appointed CPS “CEO”] torpedoed that agreement.
“CTU’s Big Bargaining Team continues to have major concerns about the district’s refusal to limit class sizes (Chicago has some of the largest in the state), and its inability to enforce provisions that would limit unnecessary charter school proliferation.
“We remain steadfast in our pursuit of the schools Chicago’s students deserve and equity for students across Illinois. We reserve the right to use whatever tools are required for that job.”
Jeff Mackler, Socialist Action candidate for U.S. president, commented in a statement last week: “Teachers, parents, and students are in the cross-hairs of a vicious austerity offensive and a manufactured ‘budget crisis.’ We support immediate and full funding for Chicago public schools. Balance the budget on the backs of local billionaires like Ken Griffin and his friends, their big corporations, their tax-advantaged hedge funds, and their tax-free off-shore accounts.”