Letters to the Editor

Bennett fall from grace no surprise

To the Editor:

As a CPS parent and long-time community organizer, I am appalled by the actions of Barbara Byrd Bennett in stealing from Chicago’s children to feather her already robust nest. What is more appalling however, is Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s effort to isolate her actions as the corruption of an individual; and our acceptance of such nonsense. Corruption and discriminatory actions that disregard the voices of Black and Brown parents is central to the culture of the school privatization movement. While millions of dollars are pumped into selling the public on “school choice”, nationwide corporate education interventions have failed to improve the academic outcomes in Black and Brown communities, while a laundry list of “reformers” have been caught violating the public trust.

Barbara Byrd Bennett-A Spoke in a Wheel

Barbara Byrd Bennett was lauded as an accomplished educator, who had the ability to relate to the everyday parent and the skill to lead the nation’s 3rd largest school district. The spin from the Emanuel administration highlights improved graduation rates as proof of her competency. What is not mentioned are the schemes used to give the illusion of growth; the rapid increase of alternative schools, programs such as credit recovery and CPS outright falsifying the data on the graduation rate. This is smoke and mirrors, not improved education. This is the true legacy of Barbara Byrd Bennett in Chicago. What is also conveniently left out of the conversation is that in Detroit, she was an active participant in stripping the publicly elected school board of its authority, while dismantling an African-centered curriculum and focus that was dramatically improving student performance. In Cleveland, her expense account (provided by privatizers) was nearly as large as her annual salary, while the math performance of Black males plummeted on her watch. It is important to understand that Barbara Byrd Bennett is not the issue. Privatization produces the Barbara Byrd Bennett’s of the world, setting the tone for this type of behavior. She is a symptom, not the disease. Unfortunately, she has a lot of company. In Chicago, the former president of the Chicago Board of Education David Vitale approved 27 turnaround schools for the Academy of Urban School Leadership, where he used to be the board president. These were no-bid contracts. How are those schools doing? In Washington, DC Michelle Rhee was hailed as a “education warrior” who would lead the charge on bad teachers and failing schools; until it was revealed that she inflated her students’ scores and taped their mouths shut as a discipline measure. Geoffrey Canada from the Harlem Children’s Zone was celebrated as a visionary for connecting social services to his charter schools, creating a cradle to career system in Harlem, promoted as a national model; until we learned that he pushed out students from his first 3 classes to make the school look better than it really was. Similar to New Orleans, where they “cooked the books” to make the charter system look like a success, where, according to 2014 data, over 56% of the Recovery School District schools received D or F grade from the state board of education. Similar stories are told in Newark with the now deposed Cami Anderson, Detroit under the emergency manager system, Philadelphia where there were efforts to build 2 new prisons while closing 24 schools and Ohio, where there are efforts to advance privatization despite the fact that one of America’s greatest public education success stories is right around the corner in Cincinnati. Cincinnati, where since 2003 their model of Community Learning Centers has raised the graduation rate from 50% to over 80% and the opportunity gap between Black and White students has shrunk to 4% is being ignored, while failed corporate education interventions are promoted as “the new civil rights movement.”

This “new civil rights movement” is colonialism, plain and simple. The author Alice Walker once said, “No one is your friend who demands your silence and denies your right to grow.” In Chicago, New Orleans, Camden, Philadelphia, Newark, DC, Detroit and scores of other cities where the schools serve primarily children of color, a common denominator is that we don’t have voting rights. Our silence is demanded, while school boards in over 94% of America’s cities are elected. We have no direct way to hold officials accountable for the policies they set. Here is what we know; nationally, only 1 out of 5 charters outperform traditional public schools, but we see across this country the starving of neighborhood schools while charters and contract schools are expanded.

We have given the Chicago Board of Education viable solutions. The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School engaged in a deliberate, respectful process of engaging parents, educators, students and neighborhood residents in Bronzeville and developed a world class plan for Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School as the hub for a sustainable community school village. Education experts from across the country and CPS itself, acknowledged that it was the best plan for Bronzeville’s children. The mayor of this city and his education chair Alderman Will Burns blocked this plan because of politics. I was one of 12 people who reluctantly launched a 34 day hunger strike on August 17, 2015 not to run a charter school; or land contracts, but for CPS to finally value Black children in Bronzeville like they do children in Lincoln Park. What was burned on our memory was that on the 25th day of our hunger strike, Rahm Emanuel and Forest Claypool awarded Lincoln Elementary, a well-resourced school in Lincoln Park a $21 million dollar annex. They held a ribbon cutting ceremony while we starved in Washington Park. This lack of respect for our legitimate voices is the problem and Barbara Byrd Bennett is merely the fruit from a rotten tree.

This is why we are even more committed to winning an elected, representative school board and transforming Chicago to a Sustainable Community School district. To paraphrase the late, great organizer Ella Baker, “until the education of Black and Brown boys and girls, Black and Brown mother’s sons, is as important as the education of White boys and girls, White mother’s sons; we who believe in freedom will not rest until it comes.

Jitu Brown, National Director of the Journey for Justice Alliance and one of the Dyett Hunger Strikers

State should make budget top priority

Editor’s note: The following letter was addressed to state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25).

Dear Representative Currie:

I am writing to express my disgust at the current state of the state, primarily the lack of a budget. While I lay the blame for this squarely on Governor Rauner’s shoulders, the remainder of the legislature should also shoulder some blame for this inaction.

Due to the lack of a state budget, a friend of mine who works for a state supported planning agency has just received notice that he will be furloughed, as the federal transportation monies that pay his salary cannot be released to a state with no budget. I find it unconscionable that inaction in the legislature is creating more unemployment in the state and may drive talented people to seek opportunities elsewhere, harming those who remain, both through loss of talent and likely loss of equity in the homes we own.

I implore you to make the budget a focus rather than frivolous issues which can wait, such as private police force transparency, which will mean nothing once taxpayers and businesses have fled the state.

David Nitecki

Ald. Burns does not like democracy

To the Editor:

Speaking plainly, we should not be surprised that Alderman Burns blocked the discussion of a resolution sponsored by Alderman Rod Sawyer and signed by 42 of his colleagues, calling for a moratorium on charter expansion. He defends this lunacy by saying that he has always been for school choice. Regardless of his position, to deny discussion on issue that matters to people in at least 42 wards in this city is reprehensible, and antithetical to the basic principals democratic governance.

On Saturday, September 19th, the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett ended our 34 day hunger strike out of a realization that the mayor of this city and Alderman Burns, his education chair would watch us waste away instead of respecting the voices of over 4800 Bronzeville residents. The Alderman hates the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization to the point that he would deny Bronzeville’s children a world class plan for a K-12 system of education in our neighborhood. The president of the American Education Research Association and the president of the American Federation of Teachers declared that the plan for Walter Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School was “the best plan they had seen in their education career.” Alderman Burns has stooped so low as to use slander in order to justify his actions. Let’s be clear; KOCO has never received a dime from Dyett, as I sat on the local school council (LSC) for over a decade.

Now we will have to make this school work and we will; but because of Will Burns, children will not have a school that prepares them for the fastest growing industry in the United States. If our proposal was the best out of the three submitted, (and by all accounts it was) then the question is, what happened? Why not green technology? The answer is simple. Alderman Will Burns.

The summer of 2015 should be remembered as the time Alderman Will Burns showed Chicago who he really is. Alderman Burns has an ideology that trumps the needs of his constituents. The problem is, one of the fundamental duties of an alderman is constituent services; listening and responding with reasonable consistency to the needs of the people who live in your ward. In this area, he is demonstrating woeful incompetence and for the dream of democracy, he is kryptonite.

There are numerous examples of Alderman Burns unwillingness to hear the voices of his constituents. In 2010, there was significant pressure on Alderman Burns to stop the closure of the 21st district police station. This sentiment was expressed by his constituents in several community forums. Unfortunately, Alderman Burns voted to support the station’s closure and at one point, the homicides in the Kenwood Oakland skyrocketed by 300 percent. The 2nd police district is ill equipped to provide quality policing to such a large area and many of the relationships the community developed with the police; including a “Youth Caps” initiative and an effective working relationship with the former commander, were lost.
He ignored seniors who wanted relief from a politically connected slumlord. They just wanted their homes heated and his help getting rid of rodents and bed bugs. He ignored them.

He ignored Bronzeville residents who want permit parking in their community on 31st street. He has an ideological opposition to permit parking, but he is deaf to the people’s lived condition.

He can’t hear the voices of the public. He can’t hear the voices of his colleagues. Unfortunately, he hears the voices of Rahm Emanuel and Democrats for Education Reform, and the special interests groups that fund his political campaigns loud and clear. He is killing democracy in the 4th ward and therefore may be one of the worst aldermen ever in the city of Chicago. We deserve better.

Jitu Brown

Little parking left on 53rd, 55th streets

To the Editor:

Why are there so few 15 minute parking locations on 53rd and 55th streets?
They are only in certain locations.

The parking in Hyde Park for residents are not protected like in other areas of Chicago.

Permit parking in other areas of the city balance resident interest with commercial interest.

The few 15-minute parking locations are constantly being occupied with construction equipment (see attached photo) while local residents receive parking tickets.

Vernon Bradley 

Hyde Park rapidly gentrifying

To the Editor: 

I did not know that I lived in one of the hottest, hippest, most quickly gentrifying neighborhoods of the city.  I thought that I lived in a solid, pleasant (if a bit stodgy) middle-class part of town.But Joseph Berrios, the Assessor,  corrected my misperceptions by upping  the market value of my house by over 36% — without me doing anything but cutting the grass.  He says that I can get a million dollars for my house in the blink of an eye, no questions asked.  No speculation. Nice.

Mr. Berrios is a fair-kind-of guy.  He seems to have done the same to all my immediate neighbors – as well as Hyde Park and Kenwood generally.   According to his website , the medium change for all of Hyde Park and Kenwood is 25.22%*  The Chicago Tribune this last week reported that residential values in Chicago are essentially stalled – a 0.2% increase this last year with condominium values actually falling.  I am so glad that we on the South Side are so out-performing all the rest of Chicago and that I am dramatically out-pacing most of most you.

But I have my doubts.   I just put in an appeal to the Cook County Board of Appeals – based on the discrepancy between media reports and the Assessor’s finding of property value.   I would encourage others to do the same.  It is simple to do on line.  No lawyer needed.  But make sure that you mark that you want to be at the hearing.  Then we can all find out how the Assessor’s Office determined that we are one of the hottest, hippest, most quickly gentrifying neighborhoods of the Chicago.

Chuck Thurow
A Hip (but not Hot) Kenwood Resident      

*The statistics are for the Assessor’s Neighborhood 20, which I found out is bounded by 47th on the North, Lake Michigan to the East, 59th to the South and Cottage Grove on the West.  

Representative Mitchell is no union champion

To the Editor:

Union workers are our neighbors, family members and our community stakeholders that contribute to the economic viability of our neighborhoods, which is why I was deeply honored that a strong coalition of union members and community organizations supported my initial run for public office. After taking two unconstitutional votes to slash the pension benefits of union workers and elderly union retirees, and accepting nearly $200,000 from conservative republican donors, special interest groups and PACs (that were in some cases funded directly by Governor Bruce Rauner), Representative Christian Mitchell asserts he is a leader prepared to protect union workers.

In Representative Mitchell’s recent announcement regarding his bid for re-election, he talks about the need for ‘decisive action’ against Illinois’ ‘union busting’ governor. What is interesting, is that Rep. Mitchell shares at least 25 donors with Governor Bruce Rauner, and continues to accept boat-loads of money from the very interests he claims to be fighting against.

When you support slashing the pensions of elderly retirees and union workers, support the privatization of public schools; and then sit silent as thousands of teachers and school staff are displaced due to mass school closings, you have failed workers, their families and communities. These are the times when union workers need ‘decisive action.’ It is where you stand in those critical moments that determine your mettle, not where you stand when you have the cover of the political establishment. (Note-the Illinois General Assembly was the only legislative body that had the ability to enact a moratorium on school closings.)

One of Mitchell’s contributors, Stand for Children (which has given his campaign $126,000), has been explicit about its desire to undermine the Chicago Teacher’s Union’s right to strike; this intention was explicitly described by Jonah Edelman, (CEO for Stand for Children) in a video-taped discussion regarding Stand for Children’s efforts to undermine the collective bargaining rights of teachers (June 12, 2011). Perhaps this is why Rep. Mitchell neither supported legislation that called for a moratorium on school closings nor legislation that would limit the authority of the Illinois Charter Commission to override the decisions of local school districts when it comes to the proliferation of Charter Schools. This would also explain why he recently refused to vote for legislation that would allow parents to have the ability to ‘opt out’ of excessive high stakes testing, which is the fuel used by the school privatization movement; as the results of these tests are used to close schools and castigate teachers. Lastly, this is also why he has not consistently supported a fully-elected, representative school board – not a hybrid board where the majority of the members are still appointed by the Mayor.

My track record as a champion of working families and union members is clear, consistent, and it did not begin when I decided to run for office. For the last decade, I have worked side-by-side with unions to fight against pension cuts, school closings, the decimation of the African American teaching force, and cuts to social services. I have also worked with unions to win funding to address foreclosures, and on progressive political campaigns. During the last election cycle health care workers, teachers, municipal and state administrative workers, transit workers and other union workers united to support Commissioner Chuy Garcia’s campaign while Rep. Mitchell supported the same Mayor Emanuel who has fired thousands of union workers through closing public institutions and privatization.

At the end of the day, Rep. Mitchell’s campaign is bankrolled by the same billionaire boys club that funded Bruce Rauner’s campaign, which begs the question, “How long can Rep. Mitchell keep up his pro-union charade?’ Is he ‘pro-union’ because he is in a contested race? Will he stand with teachers and school staff the next time they face mass firings?

He took $15,000 from Gov. Rauner’s We Mean Business PAC, and voted to slash the pensions of union workers. He took $170,000 from other special interest groups that support the privatization of public education system, and was mute as thousands of teachers, custodians and other union workers lost their jobs. Rep. Mitchell’s newly acquired zest to fight for unions is because he is facing a challenger that has a consistent track record as someone who fights side-by-side with unions out of a belief that the right to unionize (and the protection of workers that unions provide) are critical to our democracy and the our ability to have economically stable neighborhoods.

Jay Travis

Burns doesn’t get his facts straight

To the Editor:

While Alderman Burns and I don’t agree on much, I do concur with one phrase in his recent letter to the editor; that phrase is “the facts are the facts.” The decision to close a school is both highly politicized and racialized, as school closings have had a disparate impact on African American and Latino students. If anyone has been ‘bullied or held hostage’ in this process, it has been the African American students that have endured disinvestment in their schools, and been displaced as a result of school closings and phase-outs. More importantly, research clearly shows that school closings and privatization have not improved educational outcomes for students that were most-impacted. The decision to re-open Dyett required consistent community pressure on Mayor Rahm Emanuel, his appointed school board and Ald. Burns. It occurred because both KOCO and the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett were willing to challenge the mayor whenever we were aware that he set foot on Bronzeville’s soil. While I don’t want to diminish the input of the Bronzeville Community Action Council, this decision would not have happened without the sacrifice of the students, mothers, grandmothers, community leaders and organizations that participated in the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett’s process.

The facts that were critical to the decision to reopen Dyett, as well as additional facts regarding KOCO’s work at Dyett are as follow:

1) KOCO fought for improvements at Dyett even prior to developing the proposal that it recently submitted to Chicago Public Schools (CPS). In 2005, KOCO worked with students to win capital improvements, such as repairs to Dyett’s roof and a new air conditioning system. In 2009, KOCO began an in-depth planning process for Dyett and its feeder schools; engaging local school councils, parents and scholars. It is also important to note that KOCO also brought the nationally acclaimed VOYCE leadership development initiative to Dyett for 5 years absolutely free of charge to Dyett or its students (Note: KOCO’s former education organizer, Jitu Brown, joined Dyett’s LSC and served consistently from 2003-2013).

2) The decision to close Dyett was made in 2012 (the intention to close Dyett was announced in 2011). Ald. Burns did not attend the board of education meetings regarding Dyett’s closure (as at least three Aldermen that opposed school closings in their wards have done to express concern for their constituents); nor did he convene a meeting between the mayor and his constituents (as was requested by KOCO members in 2011) to discuss the impact of the potential loss of Dyett with 4th Ward constituents. Perhaps he wrote a letter after Jitu Brown, Karen Lewis and Jeanette Taylor-Ramann visited his office in 2011 to demand that he take action.

KOCO was public, forthright and clear about how the loss of Dyett would impact Bronzeville, and held a 3-day sit-in at the mayor’s office; during which Will Burns attempted to ignore several mothers and grandmothers when he walked pass them in front of the mayor’s office. He was not completely let off the hook during the sit in because a reverend who participated in the protest held his hand as she prayed for him to get the courage needed to stand up against the school closings in his ward.

Burns’ lack of definitive action regarding Dyett is in sharp contrast to his response to parents in Hyde Park when they complained of overcrowding at Kenwood High School (my alma mater). According to the Chicago Tribune (July 23, 2013), the alderman expeditiously convened the CEO of CPS and mayor Emanuel, and transferred the building that formerly housed Canter Middle School to Kenwood. Why did the alderman take definitive swift action on behalf of Hyde Parkers, but not low-income and working African American folks in Bronzeville? Did he convene the mayor, CPS and his constituents to discuss the closure of Dyett? All children deserve access to a quality education regardless of their race or income. Just as the young people at Kenwood deserved Ald. Burns, CPS and the mayor’s swift action, so did the students at Dyett. These students are equally deserving of action from their alderman. Just as separate and unequal education is unacceptable, so is separate and unequal political representation (Note: If Ald. Burns convened such a meeting with the mayor and CPS on behalf of Dyett, he chose not to publicize the meeting as he did in the case of Kenwood).

3) In 2012, Ald. Burns was well aware of the abuses suffered by Dyett students, and did nothing to end their suffering. Students were forced to take art and gym online, and were not offered advance placement courses. As a final demonstration of CPS’ lack of respect for Dyett students, they were forced to enter the building each day through the back door. KOCO held a press conference to address these issues, and invited Karen Lewis (CTU President and 4th Ward resident). While Ald. Burns was present at the press conference, he did not ‘publicly’ pressure CPS to end the injustices the students endured. KOCO also shared the framework for its plan with the Bronzeville CAC in 2012. KOCO continued to fight for Dyett to be reopened as an open enrollment neighborhood high school.

4) In 2013, KOCO supported Dyett students who filed Title VI Civil Rights Complaints with the US Department of Education (DOE) regarding the closure of Dyett and the treatment of its students. The complaint was found viable and an investigation is currently underway with the DOE Office of Civil Rights. The planning process that began in 2009 culminated in the creation of the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School Plan. KOCO played a leadership role in the organization of hearings with Congressman Rush and Congressman Davis regarding the impact of school closings, held six town halls with feeder school parents, students and community residents and collected over 3,000 signatures and post cards in support of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett’s plan. KOCO continued to fight for Dyett to be reopened as an open enrollment neighborhood high school.

5) In 2014, KOCO members once again sought support both for the reopening of Dyett and the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett’s plan. During a meeting with the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett, Ald. Burns told his constituents that because the Chicago High School of Agricultural Sciences (CHAS) and the Chicago Vocational High School (CVS) exists, he would not support the plan (It is important to note that CHAS is a selective enrollment school located on the edge of Oak Lawn on 111th near Pulaski and CVS in near 87th and Clyde).

During this same period KOCO and the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett escalated its pressure on both the mayor and Ald. Burns to reopen Dyett, which included a 3-day sit-in at Ald. Burns’ ward office. I am also proud to say that during this period, I delivered the commencement address at Dyett’s 2014 graduation, at the request of Dyett students and one of the remaining teachers. After members of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett, KOCO and Northside Action for Justice literally chained themselves to a statue on the 5th floor of City Hall, and confronted the mayor at Bret Harte Elementary School in September 2014, a decision was made in October of 2014 to re-open Dyett.

To Ald. Burns’ point, he attempted to claim credit, but the facts, which are noted in major newspapers, federal documents, and police records, indicate a different story. It is not the mark of a leader to slander an organization and attempt to minimize their involvement or influence on a critical issue.

KOCO dried the tears of Dyett students and encouraged them to fight the discrimination they faced – not Ald. Burns.

KOCO supported the students neglected by CPS, providing after-school tutoring and helping them prepare for, be accepted and enrolled into college.

KOCO spoke out against the Illinois Network of Charter Schools when they attempted to disparage Dyett (as Dyett teachers fought back tears at the CPS board meeting regarding Dyett’s future) – not Ald. Burns.

And in absence of both concern and a vision from CPS, the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett led a thoughtful process and created a plan that deserved to be evaluated on its merits (per a process that was both developed and abandoned by CPS and Ald. Burns). The new plan that was announced by Ald. Burns and the CPS CEO for an arts/technology hub school has not been made available to the public.

As for Ald. Burns’ assertion that KOCO wants to make money off of Dyett, the budget that was submitted with the committee’s plan speaks for itself. There is not a single line item for services from KOCO. Ald. Burns took two sentences from a 60-page document that refer to KOCO providing leadership development support and extrapolated a money ‘empire’ scheme. Yes, the facts are the facts. Read the proposal for yourself.

Back in 2011, when we met with Ald. Burns about the future of Dyett, he was dismissive and told those in attendance ‘we should be thinking of viable African American candidates for mayor’ referring to himself. During the meeting Ald. Burns’ concern for the future of Dyett seemed half-hearted at best. ‘My opinion’ hasn’t changed, and neither have the facts.

Jay Travis

Canter reference is inaccurate

To the Editor,

I’m writing to correct an unfortunate error in reporting on the reason for Canter Middle School’s closure, reported in the Herald’s article titled “Kenwood Academic Center Has First Day in New Building” (9/16/15 issue).  Let’s keep the public record accurate:  Canter was NOT closed due to underperformance, as the article erroneously reports, but to CPS’s declaration of “underutilization.”  In fact, as I presented downtown at the Canter school closure hearing in 2013, Canter outperformed district and state averages in most subjects for many consecutive years.  Interestingly, if in 2013 we were using the newly manipulated school performance metrics, Canter would have been touted a Level 1 school.

Angela Paranjape

Representative Mitchell is no union champion

To the Editor

Union workers are our neighbors, family members and are community stakeholders that contribute to the economic viability of our neighborhoods, which is why I was deeply honored that a strong coalition of union members and community organizations supported my initial run for public office. After taking two unconstitutional votes to slash the pension benefits of union workers and elderly union retirees, and accepting nearly $200,000 from conservative republican donors, special interest groups and PACs (that were in some cases funded directly by Governor Bruce Rauner), Representative Christian Mitchell asserts he is a leader prepared to protect union workers.

In Representative Mitchell’s recent announcement regarding his bid for re-election, he talks about the need for ‘decisive action’ against Illinois’ ‘union busting’ governor. What is interesting, is that Rep. Mitchell shares at least 25 donors with Governor Bruce Rauner, and continues to accept boat-loads of money from the very interests he claims to be fighting against.

When you support slashing the pensions of elderly retirees and union workers, support the privatization of public schools; and then sit silent as thousands of teachers and school staff are displaced due to mass school closings, you have failed workers, their families and communities. These are the times when union workers need ‘decisive action.’ It is where you stand in those critical moments that determine your mettle, not where you stand when you have the cover of the political establishment. (Note-the Illinois General Assembly was the only legislative body that had the ability to enact a moratorium on school closings.)

One of Mitchell’s contributors, Stand for Children (which has given his campaign $126,000), has been explicit about its desire to undermine the Chicago Teacher’s Union’s right to strike; this intention was explicitly described by Jonah Edelman, (CEO for Stand for Children) in a video-taped discussion regarding Stand for Children’s efforts to undermine the collective bargaining rights of teachers (June 12, 2011). Perhaps this is why Rep. Mitchell neither supported legislation that called for a moratorium on school closings nor legislation that would limit the authority of the Illinois Charter Commission to override the decisions of local school districts when it comes to the proliferation of Charter Schools. This would also explain why he recently refused to vote for legislation that would allow parents to have the ability to ‘opt out’ of excessive high stakes testing, which is the fuel used by the school privatization movement; as the results of these tests are used to close schools and castigate teachers. Lastly, this is also why he has not consistently supported a fully-elected, representative school board – not a hybrid board where the majority of the members are still appointed by the Mayor.

My track record as a champion of working families and union members is clear, consistent, and it did not begin when I decided to run for office. For the last decade, I have worked side-by-side with unions to fight against pension cuts, school closings, the decimation of the African American teaching force, and cuts to social services. I have also worked with unions to win funding to address foreclosures, and on progressive political campaigns. During the last election cycle health care workers, teachers, municipal and state administrative workers, transit workers and other union workers united to support Commissioner Chuy Garcia’s campaign while Rep. Mitchell supported the same Mayor Emanuel who has fired thousands of union workers through closing public institutions and privatization.

At the end of the day, Rep. Mitchell’s campaign is bankrolled by the same billionaire boys club that funded Bruce Rauner’s campaign, which begs the question, “How long can Rep. Mitchell keep up his pro-union charade?’ Is he ‘pro-union’ because he is in a contested race? Will he stand with teachers and school staff the next time they face mass firings?
He took $15,000 from Gov. Rauner’s We Mean Business PAC, and voted to slash the pensions of union workers. He took $170,000 from other special interest groups that support the privatization of public education system, and was mute as thousands of teachers, custodians and other union workers lost their jobs. Rep. Mitchell’s newly acquired zest to fight for unions is because he is facing a challenger that has a consistent track record as someone who fights side-by-side with unions out of a belief that the right to unionize (and the protection of workers that unions provide) are critical to our democracy and the our ability to have economically stable neighborhoods.

Jay Travis

Would Hyde Park Obama like President Obama?

To the Editor:

As a Hyde park resident having worked the 2008 presidential election cycle as a field organizer in Ohio for President Obama, I take a somewhat nuanced view of Obama’s last term.  I recently wondered just how content Organizer Obama would be with President Obama. As a young student, Barack Obama was filled with hope, optimism and courage, ready to take on social and corporate ills for the sake of justice and equality. His candidacy for elected office initially into the Illinois Senate was intentioned to accomplish those goals.

A watered-down healthcare bill, ending a prolonged conflict in Iraq and the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy might not have been among young Obama’s top priorities. The 250 or so who have been murdered in Chicago (disproportionately black and brown and geographically from two sides of the city), increased fees/fines for average citizens, food deserts, lack of quality affordable housing and lack of employment would probably top Organizer Obama’s agenda.

If Barack was a young organizer on the South Side of Chicago in 2012, I wonder if he would see a president who was on his side or one who has forgotten him? Just a thought.

President, as you exit your Presidency please remember your cause and remember your goals.

Tosh Chandy

We were promised arts films at Harper Theater

To the Editor:

I was so looking forward to seeing good movies in Hyde Park, and for the first six months after you opened, I did find movies I liked and I did come to the Hyde Park Theater.

Now I look and look and there is nothing there for me to see. Just now, “Rosenwald” is playing in town. Rosenwald was an amazing man, a Hyde Parker (the Rosenwald mansion is in Kenwood, he founded the Museum of Science and Industry) whose life in a documentary should have been shown in Hyde Park. Instead I’ll travel up to Century Landmark and see it there. The same with many other non-violent movies I would be interested in.

Just thought I’d let you know. I suspect I am representative of a sizeable number of older Hyde Parkers.

Vreni Naess

Jay responds to Ald. Burns

To the Editor

While Alderman Burns and I don’t agree on much, I do concur with one phrase in his recent letter to the editor; that phrase is “the facts are the facts.” The decision to close a school is both highly politicized and racialized, as school closings have had a disparate impact on African American and Latino students. If anyone has been ‘bullied or held hostage’ in this process, it has been the African American students that have endured disinvestment in their schools, and been displaced as a result of school closings and phase-outs. More importantly, research clearly shows that school closings and privatization have not improved educational outcomes for students that were most-impacted. The decision to re-open Dyett required consistent community pressure on Mayor Rahm Emanuel, his appointed school board and Ald. Burns. It occurred because both KOCO and the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett were willing to challenge the mayor whenever we were aware that he set foot on Bronzeville’s soil. While I don’t want to diminish the input of the Bronzeville Community Action Council, this decision would not have happened without the sacrifice of the students, mothers, grandmothers, community leaders and organizations that participated in the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett’s process.

The facts that were critical to the decision to reopen Dyett, as well as additional facts regarding KOCO’s work at Dyett are as follow:

1) KOCO fought for improvements at Dyett even prior to developing the proposal that it recently submitted to Chicago Public Schools (CPS). In 2005, KOCO worked with students to win capital improvements, such as repairs to Dyett’s roof and a new air conditioning system. In 2009, KOCO began an in-depth planning process for Dyett and its feeder schools; engaging local school councils, parents and scholars. It is also important to note that KOCO also brought the nationally acclaimed VOYCE leadership development initiative to Dyett for 5 years absolutely free of charge to Dyett or its students (Note: KOCO’s former education organizer, Jitu Brown, joined Dyett’s LSC and served consistently from 2003-2013).

2) The decision to close Dyett was made in 2012 (the intention to close Dyett was announced in 2011). Ald. Burns did not attend the board of education meetings regarding Dyett’s closure (as at least three Aldermen that opposed school closings in their wards have done to express concern for their constituents); nor did he convene a meeting between the mayor and his constituents (as was requested by KOCO members in 2011) to discuss the impact of the potential loss of Dyett with 4th Ward constituents. Perhaps he wrote a letter after Jitu Brown, Karen Lewis and Jeanette Taylor-Ramann visited his office in 2011 to demand that he take action.

KOCO was public, forthright and clear about how the loss of Dyett would impact Bronzeville, and held a 3-day sit-in at the mayor’s office; during which Will Burns attempted to ignore several mothers and grandmothers when he walked pass them in front of the mayor’s office. He was not completely let off the hook during the sit in because a reverend who participated in the protest held his hand as she prayed for him to get the courage needed to stand up against the school closings in his ward.

Burns’ lack of definitive action regarding Dyett is in sharp contrast to his response to parents in Hyde Park when they complained of overcrowding at Kenwood High School (my alma mater). According to the Chicago Tribune (July 23, 2013), the alderman expeditiously convened the CEO of CPS and mayor Emanuel, and transferred the building that formerly housed Canter Middle School to Kenwood. Why did the alderman take definitive swift action on behalf of Hyde Parkers, but not low-income and working African American folks in Bronzeville? Did he convene the mayor, CPS and his constituents to discuss the closure of Dyett? All children deserve access to a quality education regardless of their race or income. Just as the young people at Kenwood deserved Ald. Burns, CPS and the mayor’s swift action, so did the students at Dyett. These students are equally deserving of action from their alderman. Just as separate and unequal education is unacceptable, so is separate and unequal political representation (Note: If Ald. Burns convened such a meeting with the mayor and CPS on behalf of Dyett, he chose not to publicize the meeting as he did in the case of Kenwood).

3) In 2012, Ald. Burns was well aware of the abuses suffered by Dyett students, and did nothing to end their suffering. Students were forced to take art and gym online, and were not offered advance placement courses. As a final demonstration of CPS’ lack of respect for Dyett students, they were forced to enter the building each day through the back door. KOCO held a press conference to address these issues, and invited Karen Lewis (CTU President and 4th Ward resident). While Ald. Burns was present at the press conference, he did not ‘publicly’ pressure CPS to end the injustices the students endured. KOCO also shared the framework for its plan with the Bronzeville CAC in 2012. KOCO continued to fight for Dyett to be reopened as an open enrollment neighborhood high school.

4) In 2013, KOCO supported Dyett students who filed Title VI Civil Rights Complaints with the US Department of Education (DOE) regarding the closure of Dyett and the treatment of its students. The complaint was found viable and an investigation is currently underway with the DOE Office of Civil Rights. The planning process that began in 2009 culminated in the creation of the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School Plan. KOCO played a leadership role in the organization of hearings with Congressman Rush and Congressman Davis regarding the impact of school closings, held six town halls with feeder school parents, students and community residents and collected over 3,000 signatures and post cards in support of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett’s plan. KOCO continued to fight for Dyett to be reopened as an open enrollment neighborhood high school.

5) In 2014, KOCO members once again sought support both for the reopening of Dyett and the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett’s plan. During a meeting with the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett, Ald. Burns told his constituents that because the Chicago High School of Agricultural Sciences (CHAS) and the Chicago Vocational High School (CVS) exists, he would not support the plan (It is important to note that CHAS is a selective enrollment school located on the edge of Oak Lawn on 111th near Pulaski and CVS in near 87th and Clyde).

During this same period KOCO and the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett escalated its pressure on both the mayor and Ald. Burns to reopen Dyett, which included a 3-day sit-in at Ald. Burns’ ward office. I am also proud to say that during this period, I delivered the commencement address at Dyett’s 2014 graduation, at the request of Dyett students and one of the remaining teachers. After members of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett, KOCO and Northside Action for Justice literally chained themselves to a statue on the 5th floor of City Hall, and confronted the mayor at Bret Harte Elementary School in September 2014, a decision was made in October of 2014 to re-open Dyett.

To Ald. Burns’ point, he attempted to claim credit, but the facts, which are noted in major newspapers, federal documents, and police records, indicate a different story. It is not the mark of a leader to slander an organization and attempt to minimize their involvement or influence on a critical issue.

KOCO dried the tears of Dyett students and encouraged them to fight the discrimination they faced – not Ald. Burns.
KOCO supported the students neglected by CPS, providing after-school tutoring and helping them prepare for, be accepted and enrolled into college.

KOCO spoke out against the Illinois Network of Charter Schools when they attempted to disparage Dyett (as Dyett teachers fought back tears at the CPS board meeting regarding Dyett’s future) – not Ald. Burns.

And in absence of both concern and a vision from CPS, the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett led a thoughtful process and created a plan that deserved to be evaluated on its merits (per a process that was both developed and abandoned by CPS and Ald. Burns). The new plan that was announced by Ald. Burns and the CPS CEO for an arts/technology hub school has not been made available to the public.

As for Ald. Burns’ assertion that KOCO wants to make money off of Dyett, the budget that was submitted with the committee’s plan speaks for itself. There is not a single line item for services from KOCO. Ald. Burns took two sentences from a 60-page document that refer to KOCO providing leadership development support and extrapolated a money ‘empire’ scheme. Yes, the facts are the facts. Read the proposal for yourself.

Back in 2011, when we met with Ald. Burns about the future of Dyett, he was dismissive and told those in attendance ‘we should be thinking of viable African American candidates for mayor’ referring to himself. During the meeting Ald. Burns’ concern for the future of Dyett seemed half-hearted at best. ‘My opinion’ hasn’t changed, and neither have the facts.

Sincerely,
Jay Travis

Burns responds to Jay Travis

To the Editor

Jay Travis asserts in her letter to the editor September 4, 2015 that public pressure lead me to fight to reverse the decision to close Dyett High School.

Everyone, including Ms. Travis, is entitled to their opinion, but the facts are the facts. In 2012, I stood shoulder to shoulder with the Bronzeville Community Action Council in direct opposition of closing Dyett High School. My opposition to closing Dyett is documented in correspondence to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and then CPS schools chief, Jean-Claude Brizard also in 2012.

In 2013 the Bronzeville Community Action Council (BCAC) issued a report calling for Dyett High School to be re-opened as a neighborhood open enrollment school with a special focus including arts education.

More recently, re-opening Dyett High School was a key plank in my re-election campaign last year.

My call for Dyett to be re-opened is not a result of Ms. Travis and her friends’ agitation, but rather because stakeholders throughout Bronzeville – many of whom serve on the BCAC – expressed a demand that the school be re-opened.

Indeed, it must be noted that Kenwood Oakland Community Organization’s (KOCO) organizing efforts regarding Dyett High School have centered exclusively on re- opening the school and handing control of the school over to them. That is the sole reason for the continued protests, even after CPS announced that the school would be re-opened as an arts focused high school with a technology innovation lab.

Of course, most Bronzeville residents know the real story. Last year, many community residents attempted to participate in a planning session on the future of the Dyett. During that session and in a breakout group, community residents who expressed a different vision for the school outside of KOCO’s plan were yelled at, booed, and otherwise intimidated by KOCO and its adherents.

One organization cannot hold an entire community hostage. The hunger strike should end and we are encouraging KOCO to come together and work with the rest of the Bronzeville community to make the new Dyett High School a success for everyone.

Sincerely,
Alderman William D. Burns
Fourth Ward, City of Chicago

Why hunger strikers will continue to starve for Dyett

To the Editor

The parents, grandparents and community members from the Committee to Revitalize Dyett, that have engaged in a 19 day hunger strike, were rightfully outraged when CPS CEO Forest Claypool announced a last minute, somewhat clandestine plan for Dyett High School. Flanked by a group of “leaders,” the majority of whom have either not been involved in efforts to keep Dyett open, or in one case an organization that was actually involved in the “rent-a-protest” scandal, in which organizations paid people many of whom were economically disadvantaged to call for Dyett’s closure, Claypool touted the credibility of a plan that has not been made available to the public in its entirety. According to CPS, a decision was to be reached regarding the three proposals submitted in CPS’ own RFP process by August 26, 2015. The decision to move critical dates during the RFP process without adequate public notice is one of the key factors that led to the hunger strike.

It is important to once again set the record straight:

1) The parents and leaders from the Committee to Revitalize Dyett put consistent, public pressure on both Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Alderman Will Burns to reverse the decision to close Dyett. The numerous actions that caused them to change course are publicly documented—– this was not done out of the goodness of the hearts.

2) Representative Christian Mitchell has not publicly spoken out or taken action to address the closure of Dyett, the injustices that the last few graduating classes endured, the displacement of school staff impacted by the closure or the plan for a new school at Dyett. The notion that he attended a press conference regarding a last minute plan for the future of Dyett was insulting to the parents, grandparents and community leaders that have worked to keep this school open.
After taking well over $100,000 from special interest groups that support school closures and disempowering unions, it is incredulous for him to assert that he has fought for Dyett.

3) Including representatives from the KLEO center in the press conference, the very organization that paid protesters $20 a piece according to WBEZ and the Catalyst, to call for Dyett’s closure only adds insult to injury.
The families of Washington Park and Bronzeville deserved a fair process in which CPS kept its promise to make a decision by August 26, 2015. CPS should have honored its own process; they should not have selected a plan that was not submitted in the publicly announced/vetted process. A decision should have been reached regarding the three proposals that were submitted to CPS, period.

Jay Travis

I continue to support positive Dyett future

By Ald. Will Burns (4th)

Since 2011 serving as Alderman of the Fourth Ward in the City of Chicago, it has always been my passion, priority and commitment to advocate for quality, accessible, world-class education for all of our children.

The record is clear – I fought to keep Dyett High School as a quality open enrollment school since September 2011. Our office has held numerous meetings with Bronzeville community members and stakeholders to address issues and concerns, including the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett/Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO).

On August 7, 2015 the Board of Education announced they were extending the date for the Dyett RFP public hearing to September 15, 2015. Although the date change is disappointing to us all, it is important that we allow time for adequate public feedback and a thoughtful and thorough review of proposals to make the best decision for our children’s education.

As the newly appointed City Council Chairman of the Committee on Education and Child Development, I will continue to work with the community, the Chicago Board of Education and the RFP process to secure a new plan for Dyett.

I do not take the hunger strike lightly and I am sympathetic to the demonstrators. Dyett is very important to a lot of people in the community and I encourage everyone to attend the upcoming Dyett RFP Hearing on September 15, 2015.

As Fourth Ward Alderman, I will not be bullied into submitting to the special interests and scare tactics of one group. The whole community deserves the opportunity to have their opinions represented and communicate their plan in a fair and open process.

The new vision for Dyett can bring an enormous amount of excitement to the Fourth Ward and we are eager to quickly move towards a positive outcome. Failure is not an option. Dyett will be a successful open enrollment community high school.

Visit http://cps.edu/About_CPS/Departments/Pages/Dyett_RFP.aspx for information on attending the public hearing.

ALDERMAN BURNS’ RECORD ON THE CLOSURE AND REOPENING OF DYETT HIGH SCHOOL (Editor’s note: The following information was compiled by the office of Ald. Burns.)

Leading up to the landmark CPS decision to keep Dyett open, he met with members of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett/ Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) and held community forums on numerous occasions regarding the issue and others. The following outlines the meeting dates:

  • Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011 — meeting with KOCO and CPS at our Ward Office
  • Saturday, Sept. 29, 2011 — Bronzeville Speaks II
  • Monday, Dec. 5, 2011 — Bronzeville CAC
  • Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011 — meeting with KOCO about CPS at Price School
  • Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012 — Bronzeville Speaks III
  • Thursday, March 28, 2013—meeting with KOCO and the Bronzeville CAC at the Bright Star Church
  • Saturday, April 13, 2013—KOCO’s annual convention at the King College Prep
  • Thursday, June 5, 2014—meeting with KOCO at our Ward Office

Alderman Burns has publically documented his opposition to Dyett’s closure and his support to reopen the high school:

  • The agenda for the Bronzeville Speaks II meeting on September 29, 2011
  • The agenda for the Bronzeville CAC meeting on December 5, 2011
  • A letter to the editor of the Chicago Sun-Times sent January 19, 2012
  • A letter to Jean-Claude Brizard from October 9, 2012
  • The agenda for the Bronzeville Speaks III meeting on November 7, 2012
  • A public statement shared with the Bronzeville CAC about school closures on March 22, 2013
  • Media fact sheet we circulated on June 16, 2014
  • A letter to the Hyde Park Herald on which we collaborated with the Bronzeville CAC for the May 28, 2014 issue

He has also spoken on the record and publicly on this issue, including:

  • WVON w/Matt McGill on June 18, 2014
  • WVON w/Cliff Kelley on July 31, 2014

Additionally, Alderman Burns held a public meeting on Monday, July 28. After the meeting, he released correspondences soliciting feedback to be added to the report for the attendees that might not have had the opportunity to share their input.

Those solicitations were posted through social media and included in an email blast on July 30, and were included in his weekly newsletter that Friday, August 1. The results of the report were reported in his weekly newsletter on September 5 and September 12.