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Teachers, Parents Rail Against CPS Budget, Dyett Hunger Striker Collapses

By Ted Cox | August 26, 2015 12:49pm | Updated on August 26, 2015 2:53pm
 Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (r.) helps Dyett hunger striker Jeanette Ramann leave the Board of Education meeting, escorted by CPS security. Ramann collapsed into a chair on her way out.
Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (r.) helps Dyett hunger striker Jeanette Ramann leave the Board of Education meeting, escorted by CPS security. Ramann collapsed into a chair on her way out.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

THE LOOP — Teachers, parents and one of the dozen Dyett High School hunger strikers protested outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters Wednesday ahead of a Board of Education meeting that authorized an unbalanced $5.7 billion budget.

Hunger striker Jeanette Ramann, in the 10th day of the Dyett protest, collapsed into a chair after addressing the board Wednesday, and an ambulance was called to treat her.

"CPS has not followed its own process," Ramann charged, and many other members of the public cited how the district had allowed a third proposal from the Dyett principal to be considered along with two others after a deadline had passed — before deferring the entire matter to its September meeting, an action that prompted the hunger strike begun last week.

 One CTU protester compared CPS CEO Forrest Claypool, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan to
One CTU protester compared CPS CEO Forrest Claypool, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan to "dogs playing poker."
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

"Vote on Dyett today, please," said Rico Gutstein, a University of Illinois at Chicago education professor who worked on the proposal for a Global Leadership and Green Technology Academy backed by the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School. Gutstein said the proposal was "five years in the making," and that "only two proposals were submitted on time," the Global Leadership proposal and a competing offer from Bronzeville's Little Black Pearl Art and Design Academy.

"Listen to the people and end this hunger strike today," Gutstein urged.

Other hunger strikers continued their protest at Dyett, 555 E. 51st St., with Irene Robinson returning after being hospitalized earlier this week.

"What is the problem?" Jean Schwab, a Moos School parent, said in addressing the board. "The community wants it. They're committed to it."

UIC Education Professor Pauline Lipman called on the board to "immediately approve" the Dyett Global Leadership plan, calling it "a model for revitalizing public schools in Chicago" and saying the protracted process was "a shame and a blot upon CPS and the City of Chicago."

"We will no longer tolerate the blatant disregard for our children," added Erana Jackson, of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett. "The hunger strikers can't wait for September."

"We are paying attention and we will proceed accordingly," said Frank Clark, who was approved as the new board president to open the meeting. He later added, "I do agree it has gone on for a very long time and does need to be resolved."

Yet the board took no action Wednesday on Dyett.

If the board was harangued by several members of the public during the meeting, it got no better news from Chief Financial Officer Ginger Ostro, who offered details on a $5.7 billion budget the board approved later Wednesday, even as it includes a $480 million "hole" the district hopes will be filled by the General Assembly as it works toward a state budget.

"This is a budget that is far from ideal," Ostro said. "We've done everything we can to keep cuts away from the classroom," she added, but "our cash-flow picture is very bleak."

According to Ostro, the district is required to make a $676 million pension payment to make up for payments skipped in previous years. That translated to $1,700 a student diverted from education.

Ostro said the district would hike its property-tax levy the maximum allowed this year, about $19 million, which she said translated to about $19 for a homeowner with property valued at $250,000.

The board passed the budget with a unanimous 7-0 over the objections of the Chicago Teachers Union, as well as the Civic Federation, a business-oriented government watchdog that took issue with the $480 million shortfall CPS expects the General Assembly to fill.

"I hope they come to their senses," CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said as teachers protested outside CPS' main offices at 42 W. Madison St. Sharkey said CPS' proposal for teachers to pick up their entire pension payment would amount to a 7 percent cut in take-home pay.

"That's not acceptable," Sharkey added.

Likewise, he did not hold out hope for the General Assembly to make up the budget's $480 million shortfall. "Springfield's a mess," Sharkey said, pointing to the monthslong state budget impasse. He charged that Gov. Bruce Rauner was using CPS funding as a "bargaining chip" to win union concessions.

 Protesters accused CPS of being
Protesters accused CPS of being "broke on purpose."
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

State Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago) openly chided the board for "crisis-driven budgeting," saying she had delivered the same message two years ago. "Nothing has changed," Williams said. "We were in crisis mode then, we're in crisis mode now."

Dwayne Truss, of the South Austin Community Coalition, urged the board to "vote no on the unbalanced budget proposal," calling it "educational cannibalism" that pitted neighborhood schools against charters and would "bleed our children."

George Schmidt called it "one of the most scandalous budgets I've read" and lectured the board on what he called "the metaphysics of mendacity."

"We're talking about lying," he added, saying the budget is "nonsense" and "a cynical attack on the public."

Clark compared it to a household out of money. "You start living off your credit cards," he said. "But sooner or later these cards max out."

Even so, all seven members of the board voted to approve the budget.

Parents also protested cuts in special education. CTU's Kristine Mayle said $200 million in cuts announced earlier this summer, including vacant teacher positions that would go unfilled, were "disproportionately imposed on the special-ed population." She called it "shameful."

Rodney Estvan, of Access Living of Chicago, attacked "the roller coaster of special-ed staffing in this district" and called the $480 million shortfall "a disaster."

"This has to stop," he added. "We have a dysfunctional special-education system."

Sharkey too backed the local proposal for Dyett High School to be converted to a Global Leadership and Green Technology academy.

"We know we have the best proposal. We're asking that the board hear the proposal," Sharkey said. "We hope the board does the right thing."

"This is a fight that probably will not end right now," said Nelson Soza, executive director of the Pilsen Alliance and one of the Dyett hunger strikers, who rallied protesters outside CPS headquarters ahead of the board meeting. "We need to allow communities to make decisions for themselves."

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