News Analysis

CHICAGO — If Mayor Richard M. Daley thought he could sneak a new school privatization scheme by the public, he’s had a rude awakening. Vowing to block the mayor’s “Renaissance 2010” plan, over 500 union members, parents, community activists and students rallied Nov. 12 across from City Hall.

Since it was announced this spring, the Renaissance 2010 plan has sparked a firestorm of grassroots protest, particularly in the African American community, which stands to suffer most under the plan’s provisions.

“Children are being treated worse than cattle,” declared Jhatayn Travis, executive director of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization and chair of Chicagoans United for Education. “This plan won’t benefit our children, but it may benefit corporations.” CUE is a grassroots labor-community coalition that has led the fight against the mayor’s scheme.

The plan will close 60 schools and open 100 new schools, 70 of which will be charter and “contract” schools. Unionized teachers, custodians and operating engineers and local school councils are to be eliminated in most cases. Contract schools are a way to get around the limited number of for-profit charter schools permitted by law.

The school closings will primarily hit the African American community in the city’s mid-south corridor, where large public high rises have been torn down to make way for luxury condominium developments. But the plan sets a precedent for closing practically any school for any reason.

“Gentrification shouldn’t be a catalyst to school reform. We want local school councils, union workers and the right to elect a Board of Education for us and not the business community,” said Travis.

The Chicago Teachers Union says 1,200 experienced teachers would be eliminated and replaced by new, lower-paid, nonunion teachers. State law allows for existing charter schools to operate with 25 percent of their teachers being uncertified, or 50 percent in the case of new charters.

Daley sprung the plan on the unions and community without warning. He has the backing of the Commercial Club, an association of Chicago’s richest corporate and institutional leaders. The Civic Committee, an arm of the Commercial Club, has been advocating the business takeover of public education and the establishment of exclusive schools to serve the city’s wealthy.

This approach is being challenged. “We spend $18,000 per pupil in New Trier (a wealthy township) and one-third of that per pupil in Chicago,” said William McNary, president of USAction. “We need funding that is fair, equitable and adequate for all our children. We don’t need a bunch of businessmen coming in from New Trier saying they will run our schools better.”

For-profit education corporations have lobbied against union wage requirements, work rules and class-size caps, and have demanded more money per pupil to make it more profitable to run the schools. At a recent closed-door meeting, Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan increased the per-pupil allotment and lavished other goodies on the corporations.

Critics of charter and contract schools point out their poor track record, and say the plan will result in greater racial and class segregation and the destruction of public schools.

The author can be reached at jbachtell@rednet.org.

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