by Ben Joravsky
You've sort of got to give Mayor Emanuel credit for constantly looking for new and exciting ways to gut public education in Chicago.
It may be his greatest legacy.
Let's see—he closed 50 schools. He's fired hundreds of staffers. And he's ordered round after round of budget cuts that have left schools so broke they can't afford toilet paper or librarians.
Now he's settling on a new strategy—charter schools!
Actually, the strategy of killing unionized public schools by diverting their students to nonunionized charters is not new—it's a national mania.
But as always, Mayor Emanuel's unafraid to go where no one else would dare.
In this case, he's proposing to put a Noble Street charter school in an abandoned lumberyard right across the street from Prosser High School in Belmont-Cragin, at 2148 N. Long.
If that doesn't eventually knock Prosser out of business, I guess he can always call in the building inspectors.
The Noble charter needs a zoning change from the Chicago Plan Commission, a board of mayoral appointees whose usual response to mayoral proposals is: "great idea, boss!"
So it looks as though this falls under the category of a done deal, unless teachers, students, and parents raise so much fuss that the mayor has to back off. Like he has for the moment on his proposal to rename Stony Island for Bishop Brazier.
Before I go further, let me assure all my charter-loving friends—and I know there are many of you out there—that I have nothing against charter schools.
Okay, well, it’s true—for an industry supported by so many union-hating gazillionaires, you guys tend to be a little, oh, cheap in what you pay your staff. And, locally, you really got to stop sucking up to the mayor so much. And too many of you treat your teachers like crap.
Other than that—I love you, baby!
In the case of Noble's schools, I appreciate the fact that many parents welcome the rigor and security they provide their children. Plus, how can you not be impressed by the dexterity with which Michael Milkie, its founder, plays the system?
With 14 schools and 9,000 students, Milkie's to charters what Ray Kroc was to fast food. If he keeps it up, he'll have an outlet on every block. And I’m pretty sure he pays his teachers more than McDonalds pays its workers.
The mayor says that creating more charters is part of his initiative to give parents more educational choice. Fine. For the sake of brevity, I'll graciously concede this point.
You're welcome, Mr. Mayor.
The mayor says it's all about applying free-market principals to public education. As if any markets are free anywhere in Chicago—a town whose capitalists from United Airlines to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange line up to feed from the TIF trough.
But for the sake of even more brevity, I'll graciously concede the point that competition is healthy for schools.
But, c’mon, Mayor Emanuel—it's not like we're hard up for vacant lots in which to put your charters. There are hundreds and hundreds all over the city. Why stick a charter across the street from Prosser, which is a perfectly good, high-functioning school?
For starters, it's an obvious safety hazard. We're talking about a steady stream of adolescents from rival schools pouring in and out of the same Grand and Long Avenue intersection twice a day nine months a year.
It's like the mayor's asking for trouble.
Plus, this is hardly a fair fight between free market equals. Prosser's one of the regular public schools—with a unionized teaching staff—getting hammered by the mayor's budget cuts.
In the last year, he cut Prosser's budget by about $1.2 million, forcing its principal to scramble to keep his staff intact.
In contrast, the mayor hiked the charter school budgets—just like school activist Wendy Katten said.
So it's like saying we have a free market when Walmart, fortified by government handouts, plows over the small merchants in a poor neighborhood. Which sort of resembles the mayor's economic development strategy for Roseland.
I hate to say it, but it looks like the mayor's up to his old tricks—busting the Chicago Teachers Union.
The more students Noble diverts from Prosser, the more unionized teachers Mayor Emanuel gets to fire and the less power CTU has. Which is not exactly great for democracy around here. Even Tea Party members must concede the union's one of the only formidable mayoral checks and balances we have left around here.
You certainly aren't going to hear many charter school leaders denouncing things like the mayor's DePaul/Marriott boondoggle that's siphoning $92 million (and counting) from public education.
And you wonder why the mayor loves charters so much.
Let's be honest, Chicago—this is a power move by a powerful mayor. It really doesn't have much to do with education.
If you want to see how it plays out, the Plan Commission meeting starts at 1 PM in the City Council chambers.