A Day at the Board of Education...
I am one of many concerned parents who attended the Board of Education (BOE) meeting on March 28th during the public input session. In case you have not had the luxury of attending a BOE meeting, let me tell you what it takes. Parents get up around 5:00 am and must take the day off of work. Some of us must hire child care or ask our spouses to also take a day off work to prepare kids for school. Many of us have jobs that do not have benefits, so we don’t get paid. Others lose a precious vacation day. We then wait to be issued a number at 9 am. I received a number of 58 and then waited to see what that meant. Turns out I was a “lucky one” who managed to speak for my 2 minutes, with 7 minutes to spare, before the public comment period expired
Suffice it to say, expressing concerns as a Chicago parent to the BOE it is extremely difficult to pull off and we only make these sacrifices because we care about and believe in public education. We believe that if we prepare our speech (limited to 2 minutes) with reason, logic, and facts, the CPS and the BOE will listen. We believe that no matter what our differences, CPS and the BOE desire parent engagement and the best for our communities. We believe that the 120 seconds is our only chance to be heard by the people who affect policies that impact our children.
In the four BOE meetings that I have attended so far, I have witnessed audiences stacked with people claiming to support school closings but who oddly did not know the names of the schools that were being closed; they later explained someone told them to show up at CPS. I have witnessed religious leaders speaking vehemently about the need for school closings and longer days and come to find out that many are also CPS vendors or paid by politically connected consulting firms. And I have witnessed people shepherded by STAND receive VIP treatment.
With this week’s meeting, however, came the straw that broke this camel’s back: I and many other parents witnessed CPS Family and Community Engagement managers standing in line at 6:00 am to save spots for pro-longer day parents who arrived later. CPS employees appeared to guide them through the meeting. I had to ask, “is this the best way to spend tax dollars?”
Besides the fact that this practice violates ethics and common decency for those of us who had to get there at the crack of dawn, we are even more appalled by what this might mean in the long term. Many of us know and work with these FACE managers. Our trust in them however is eroded by this type of activity. Has CPS created a culture where it seems acceptable for employees to deceive parents who do not agree with CPS? Does the end justify the means?
CPS seems to handle parents opposed to a 7.5 hr day as enemies to drown out. (For the record, RYH is not opposed to any particular length but just wants to ensure there is quality programming in any given extension). We may seem like enemies to the CPS and the BOE but many of us are the foundations for our schools and communities. We are devoted citizens who are willing to make the effort to get up a 5:00 am and stand for hours to wait for our allotted 2 minutes, willing to take the day off for a field trip, willing to fundraise tirelessly for new books or equipment at our schools, willing to canvass the neighborhood for good candidates and willing to work within a system to improve education for our children. We could have been invaluable allies.
After Wednesday, we still believe in public education, we still believe in fairness, and we still believe that if you want to affect change you need to speak up. However, we find that it is increasingly difficult to believe in the process, or specifically in CPS and the BOE. It is hard to believe that CPS or the BOE are earnestly looking for a public discussion. It is hard to believe people who are willing to engage in such a dirty fight against parents will treat our children any better. And it is hard to believe parents have any say in our children’s education with this current structure. Thus, we can't help but to question the person who put all of this in place, the Mayor.
We realize that you inherited a mess that included serious budget problems. Please realize that the impression of parents and the public are not painted by past history anymore; you are now writing your own history. A person knows that tactics have reached extreme levels when Machiavelli starts to sound like a moderate voice of reason as he offers advice to the Prince of his time:
However strong your armies may be, you will always need the favour of the inhabitants to take possession of a province. - Machiavelli, The Prince (1537).