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Dedicated Chicago School Board doesn’t deserve teachers union’s bullying

Updated: December 19, 2012 12:37PM



First a caveat: my kids attend a wonderful Chicago public school. The school, called Oscar Mayer, is first-rate and its teachers are equal parts talented, motivated, hard-working and caring. That said, their union — and more so its leadership — is a classic bully.

Case in point: on Monday the union organized a protest over announced school closings. But there was one little problem: no school closings have even been announced yet. No bother, why let that get in the way of a good protest?

Before proceeding, let’s briefly review, since once in a while facts matter, or should.

Unlike most cities, Chicago has an appointed, not elected, school board. The mayor appoints the board, which has seven members. The seven members are distinguished, hard-working individuals who work for free.

Just who are these seven people?

The president of the board is David Vitale, a Harvard graduate and former president of the Chicago Board of Trade who has volunteered for CPS on a full-time basis for a decade. The vice president is Jesse Ruiz, a University of Chicago graduate and the former chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education. Dr. Mahlia Hines has worked in education as a teacher and principal for only 35 years. Penny Pritzker is a business leader and noted philanthropist. Rodrigo Sierra is a former journalist and now a communications leader. Andrea Zopp heads the Chicago Urban League and is a former prosecutor. And finally there is Dr. Henry Bienen, the former president of Northwestern University who knows a thing or two about education.

All said, the Board — composed of three women, two African Americans, two Hispanics, and a former university president — sure sounds like a bunch of disinterested, unqualified slackers.

Or as the union protesters yelled Monday: “We have fat cats like Penny Pritzker who take money from our schools.”

Real nice.

Here are some hard truths. First, the union cares about power. It cares about jobs. Anything that threatens its power must be taken down. Period.

So they stage rallies. Ugly rallies. Rallies where they chant, “We’re here to serve notice to the appointed board that if you close our schools, we’re coming after you,” as union Vice President Jesse Sharkey so politely yelled.

They make illogical, disingenuous arguments, such as saying that Penny Pritzker, who sits on the board of Hyatt Hotels, has a conflict of interest. Her supposed conflict is that a developer who wants to build a Hyatt hotel in Hyde Park received some TIF money from the city, no different than any other developer could. The developer here is unrelated to Pritzker, and TIF money of course has nothing to do with the school board.

But why let the facts get in the way of a good public lynching when there is a “fat cat” to be had?

The problem with the appointed board is they might actually care about our kids’ education. They might actually want families to have choices, including — gasp — charter schools. They might actually be responsible for balancing the school’s budget, including figuring out how to pay for our teacher’s increased salaries after they went on strike.

In short, they might actually have to do something other than protest.

If I have a criticism of the Board, it is that it apparently lacks anyone who — like me — actually has kids attending our public schools.

Though there is a movement to elect the board, all in the name of “democracy,” don’t buy it. Here democracy simply means electing union sympathizers. It means power. It means jobs. It, unfortunately, does not mean much for improving our kids’ educations.

The current appointed process started in 1995, when Mayor Daley boldly took control of the schools. And guess what: our schools have actually improved since then. Can they — and should they — be better? Of course. But the trend line is unmistakable.

If we are to hold our mayor responsible for our schools, then he should at least be able to pick his own board. It’s called accountability.

And if the board proves to be no good, we can elect a new board by electing a new mayor. That too is accountability.

All said, I wonder whether the real “fat cats” are the board members who work hard for free, or union leaders who receive hundreds of thousands of dollars and large pensions? It’s all enough to make Mayor Emanuel a Republican.

William Choslovsky is a Chicago lawyer and a member of the Local School Council at his children’s school.



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