Massive teachers union rally set for Wednesday

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4-City-CTU_rally.jpgStudents held a demonstration Monday, March 25, 2013 to protest school closures. The Chicago Teachers Union plans a massive demonstration Wednesday, March 27, 2013 near Chicago Public Schools headquarters in downtown Chicago. Defender/Worsom Robinson

The Chicago Teachers Union plans a massive rally near Chicago Public Schools headquarters Wednesday to protest proposed school actions. More than 30,000 people are expected to converge on the downtown Chicago location during the late afternoon demonstration.

Brandon Johnson, chairman of the CTU Black Caucus, told the Defender that the march will send a message to CPS and Mayor Rahm Emanuel the proposed school actions are intolerable. The school district announced last week its intentions to close 54 schools, co-located 11 others and turn around six others.

Johnson called the proposed actions “racist.”

“There is no pedagogical or academic benefit to closing schools,” he said. Johnson added that the actions are more about “snatching jobs away” from Black teachers and education professionals, expanding the number of charter schools and making class sizes bigger.

Public schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has said the district of 408,000 students in 680 schools needed to be “right-sized” to save money and offer kids better educational options. One day before students would begin spring break, CPS released a list of school actions March 21 that included moving kids out of 54 schools into other nearby schools. Eleven other schools would be “co-located” with another school and six others will undergo the more familiar turnaround where a new principal, teachers and other staff would replace the current ones.

“We have to stabilize the district and get on with educatating our students,” said Byrd-Bennett. “I’m gonna be true, honest and stand as a vanguard for the children.”

CPS called the changes necessary, as part of cost savings over the next decade and anticipates some 30,000 students to be impacted. The school district faces a $1 billion deficit and it says the proposed actions would save $560 million over 10 years in capital costs and another $43 million annually in operating costs. 

CTU President Karen Lewis has called the under utilization issue a “manufactured” one and a mere excuse for CPS to close schools and destabilize predominately minority schools and communities. 

“This policy is cowardly and the ultimate bullying job,” Lewis said the day the actions list was released. “This policy is racist and classist.”

Further, Johnson told the Defender that the proposed closures are in step with Byrd-Bennett’s motis operandi.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett “closes schools. Her training and part of her career has been for the sole purpose of closing schools,” he said. ”We’re very clear that Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s mission … is to strip Black children away from these institutions that provide the level of stability that our Black children, in particular, desperately need. She knows how devastating (closures are) to communities.”

Parents are not only concerned about their kids having to travel a bit further to get to school, they are also worried about safe passage – including crossing into rival gang territory.

Byrd-Bennett said CPS worked with the Chicago Police Department to help ensure kids can get to school safely. Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said Monday at an unrelated press conference that his department would be ready to assist.

The schools CEO said the nation’s third largest school district has seen a decline in student count over the last decade and CPS has seats for 500,000 with just over 400,000 enrolled. The decrease in the number of students came – in part – as a result of gentrification and razing of several public housing projects.

Rev. Roosevelt Watkins, president of the Pastors United for Change, doesn’t think CPS has the “capacity” to close such volume of schools. Watkins, pastor of Bethlehem Star Missionary Baptist Church, called for elected officials to speak out on the closures.

“I’m really waiting to hear from where our aldermen, our state reps, our state senator are, in order for these actions to take place or not take place,” he said. “We need to hear from them if these actions … are appropriate.”

The massive CTU demonstration will take place blocks away from aldermen’s offices at City Hall.

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