(Update: Chicago Teachers Union calls for Emanuel to resign)
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is in a lot of trouble with his constituents, so much so that a poll released in December showed that 51 percent of likely voters think he should resign. The immediate source of discontent is his administration’s handling of allegations that he attempted to cover up severe misconduct by Chicago police officers, especially in the case of a white police officer who shot a black teen 16 times. But he has engendered unhappiness in other areas as well, including the education world.
He now faces the possibility of a second strike by the Chicago Teachers Union, which staged what it considered a successful one-week strike a few years ago and which has just called on Emanuel to resign — and he lost a great deal of support within the African American and Latino communities when his administration closed nearly 50 public schools in 2013 while pushing the expansion of charter schools. A story about Emanuel in The New Yorker says:
Why were 49 pillars of community stability ultimately shuttered? Suspicions of venal motives abounded, but nobody could really be sure. A fact-check by Chicago’s public-radio station, WBEZ, discovered that many of the facts that the city gave about the decision were not accurate. But don’t confuse that inquiry with a joint investigation by WBEZ and the schools magazine Catalyst Chicago, which discovered that Emanuel’s claim about high-school-graduation rates — that they would increase by 15 percentage points — was also a mirage. (Dropouts are reassigned to for-profit online education programs that demand very little work, and then are awarded diplomas from the school they last attended or one near where they live.)
A story about Emanuel in The Washington Post cites community activists as saying that Emanuel has “done much to abuse” the support of African Americans. It says in part:
They point to his feud with the teachers union and say he has plowed cash into big, splashy projects downtown at the expense of desperate needs in their neighborhoods. He handpicked a public schools chief executive who pleaded guilty in October to a federal corruption charge in a scheme to receive a fortune in kickbacks.
Perhaps most infuriating, though, was his shuttering of 50 public schools in 2013 — the largest one-time school closures in U.S. history — almost all of them in black and Latino neighborhoods. The move sparked widespread anger and in part fueled the political campaign of Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a comparatively unknown Cook County commissioner who failed to unseat Emanuel, but only after forcing him in February into a runoff.
“Rahm came around asking for votes, then turned around and quickly forgot all about those same people,” said Zerlina Smith, 38, who said her daughter had to walk through gang territory to catch a bus to school after her old elementary closed.
So what does he do in the face of all this trouble? He further antagonizes people in the education world. Emanuel just appointed to the Chicago Board of Education someone whom he had to know would anger the union and many educators and parents. Emanuel has tapped Jaime Guzman, a former Teach for America corps member who served on the Illinois Charter School Commission (right up until his appointment) to fill the vacancy caused by the departure of Jesse Ruiz, who during his 4½-year term served for three months as the interim chief executive office of the system. Now Emanuel wants Guzman to take over the vice presidency of the board, and that is expected to happen later this month.
Guzman, who was serving as executive director of a nonprofit called Chicago for the Taproot Foundation, once served for two years as director of the Office of New Schools in the Chicago school system, a job in which he oversaw the approval of public charter schools. He also has been a member of the Illinois Charter School Commission, on which he reviewed the decisions that school boards made about charter schools. He resigned after he was picked by Emanuel for the new post, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
With nearly half of Chicago public school students being Latino, the pick of a Latino to replace Ruiz was expected. The school district’s Latino-focused task force to improve the educational achievement of Latinos helped in the search, according to a statement issued by the city, and Manuel Medina, who was quoted as saying on behalf of the Latino Advisory Committee:
“We are enthusiastic about Jaime’s appointment, as he will not only play a critical role in representing the now majority Latino population of students and families across the District, but he will also be fully committed to improving education opportunities for all of Chicago’s students. We believe it’s a step in the right direction as we continue working with the district to increase diversity among educators and leadership in CPS to reflect the diversity of the student body.”
But others were less impressed. The Chicago Sun-Times reported:
Alderman George Cardenas (12th), chairman of the City Council’s Hispanic Caucus, is concerned that Guzman’s background could send a pro-charter, anti-union message at a time when the Chicago Teachers Union has already voted overwhelmingly to authorize a second strike in four years.
“It’s definitely a concern that this could exacerbate the situation with the union,” Cardenas said. “If he can’t be a unifying force, we can’t support him.”
And the Chicago Teachers Union issued a statement that said:
The Chicago Teachers Union finds it unfortunate that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has chosen to replace one of the most independent voices on his appointed Chicago Board of Education with Jaime Guzman, an Illinois Charter School commissioner and someone who led the Office of New Schools for Chicago Public Schools (CPS) at a time when hundreds of students had their education disrupted by school closures and turnarounds orchestrated by his department. Additionally, Guzman is an alumnus of Teach for America, an organization that has contributed to the massive loss of black teachers and experienced educators both in Chicago and nationwide.
With the mayor’s selection of Guzman, more than half of the Board of Ed’s members are now unabashed charter supporters. Considering that charter schools only serve 15 percent of CPS students while taking in 18 percent of the district school-based funds — not to mention the additional funding and support received from CPS’s Central Office — it is clear that the mayor and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool intend to greatly expand charter schools in Chicago. The public, on the other hand, has shown time and time again that it chooses publicly run neighborhood schools over privately run charters.
“Through overwhelming voter support for an elected school board, it’s clear that the public wants a democratic board of education that represents the diverse interests of students and parents across the city,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. “While Mr. Guzman does have teaching experience, which is a rarity for members of the mayor’s handpicked board, our students and their families do not need another pro-charter, politically connected rubber stamp who will continue the decimation of our neighborhood schools through charter expansion.”
On Thursday, the union issued a new statement saying that it was calling on Emanuel to resign in the wake of the scandal over the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald and the failure of the mayor’s administration to release a video of the shooting for over a year.