The public debt owed to teachers may be too steep to ever repay.
My personal debt is to teachers like Iovinelli, Ambrosia, Halstead, Sorensen, who served as my real life examples of learning and growth. I still try to make good on to this day. So when we talk about a $215 million dollar budget deficit for Chicago Public Schools or unpaid furlough days and after-school programs abandoned, we are talking about debts owed to teachers and children that are long past due. This type of crisis is nothing new in Chicago, and with an issue this complex, how do we even attempt a solution if we can’t grasp the full scope of it?
A Troubled Representative
Democratic State Rep. Robert Martwick and a few other teachers helped me unpack this a bit over coffee downtown.
“One thing I tell everyone about government — and for Chicago in particular — is that in a Democracy you get exactly what you deserve,” Martwick said. “For many, the state budget crisis only compounds confusion around CPS budget woes. Somewhere around 70 percent of your property tax goes to local schools. Where is the accountability for how these funds are spent?”
Martwick was referring to the elected school boards bill HB557, a bill he is the chief sponsor for in the Illinois Senate. It would end Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s control of the Chicago Board of Education and bring the power back to the public. The Illinois House of Representatives overwhelmingly agreed on this bill in 2016, passing with an 110-4 vote, but found no traction with the Senate. Chicagoans have been demanding this initiative since its inception, but nothing has changed.
As residents of Chicago, it’s important to know Martwick’s estimate is true: roughly 70 percent of CPS’ budget comes from property taxes. It’s also crucial to understand that this approach keeps less privileged neighborhoods at a disadvantage. So why not just allocate more resources to less-affluent school districts? If Chicago hosts one of the largest property taxes in the nation, why are CPS schools perpetually in turmoil? I turned to a veteran teacher for some answers.
A Crisis In Context
Dan Gray is an eighth-grade math & science teacher at Dr. Jorge Prieto Math and Science Academy, and he has worked in CPS for over 20 years. He had questions of his own for CPS.
“The fact is the better we do for kids early on in life the better their futures consistently turn out. What is striking about CPS is that while it is accusing the state of discrimination for lack of funding and disproportionately funding schools of color, Jesse Ruiz and his Latino Advisory Committee resign to send Claypool (CEO of Chicago Public Schools) a message: you are as inequitable as the people you are accusing.”
For those who don’t know, Ruiz acted as interim CPS CEO when Barbara Byrd-Bennett resigned amid her no-bid contract scandal. Professor Gray went on to say, “If the L.A.C. could resign, which was instated by Claypool himself, then the situation is much more difficult than it appears.”
In Gray’s seven-year tenure with Prieto, the school has been “contracted” funds withdrawn from a budget, for which the administration has to devise recovery plans. Both the contracting of funds and the devising of recovery plans have occurred three times.
“We lost a beloved kindergarten teacher just this year. Two teachers were cut our 2015-16 year, and their positions were not replaced. Not to mention the zero discretionary funds we have to spend for after/before school programming, with only a part-time counselor to care for our 1,100 students. The budget crisis is a dark cloud over all our heads,” Gray said.
Much like Martwick’s desire to put the School Board’s direction into people’s hands, Professor Gray says, “every taxpayer needs to know where their alderman stands on progressive revenue for education. Property tax is clearly not the answer. Am I just saying we should tax the rich? No. Maybe we impose a tax on those who are profiting off of the city but live in the suburbs, not contributing but definitely benefiting from our neighborhoods. This is not ‘tax the rich.’ It’s ‘love your neighbor.’ ”
A Logan Square Struggle
Even at CPS-funded charter schools like ASPIRA Business & Finance High School in Logan Square, complications have arisen. Lack of transparency in how finances are distributed might cause ASPIRA teachers to go on strike, which would be the first from a charter school anywhere in the country. A close friend and teacher at ASPIRA in Logan Square, Tony Pozdol, who has taught at that location since its beginning, said that by next year, only four or five teachers will be from the original campus staff. “That sucks for students,” Pozdol said. “Teachers walk…at the end of the day, because of money. Many of us have not received our 3.5 percent raises, and we deserve them.”
Every teacher you meet in Chicago seems to have a story about adjusting to a continual loss of resources. As a good friend always told me, “the conversation should be 10 percent problem and 90 percent solution.” After the above insightful morning with Martwick, he posed the questions, “Who are your senators? Did you contact them? Have you asked them what they’re doing to get you an elected school board?” My stomach dropped. Guilty as charged. I haven’t called a senator once. When I asked Professor Gray what Chicagoans are supposed to do about such a complex problem, he simply reiterated, “know your aldermen and women. If they aren’t about education, our kids will never see the funding.”
Just yesterday, our beloved Chance the Rapper did his part by pledging $1 million dollars to CPS, in particular to its fundraising arm, as well as 10 separate donations of $10,000 to specific city schools to address the funding gap. His donation is a challenge to other entrepreneurs and Governor Rauner himself to commit to supporting to our students not in word, but deed. As Chancellor Bennett exemplifies — a product of CPS himself — the solution to the budget crisis may require the same type of commitment from us all.
If aiming to contact local aldermen, we’ve compiled a handy guide for readers.
Aldermen of Logan Square:
- Milly Santiago of the 31st Ward – -773-278-0031
- Ariel Reboyras of the 30th Ward – 773-794-3095
- Robert Maldonado of the 26th Ward – 773-395-0143
- Joe Moreno of the 1st Ward – 773-278-0101
- Scott Waguespack of the 32nd Ward – 773-248-1330
Per the Logan Square Ward Map.
Current Illinois Senators:
- Richard Durbin – 312-353-4952
- Tammy Duckworth – No office number provided, but contact her here.