An autocratic Chicago mayor strategizes with his trusted Chicago Public Schools CEO (who previously ran the Chicago Transit Authority) about how best to deal with a group of CPS parents and community activists who are putting their bodies on the line outside a historically under-resourced neighborhood school in a protest that continues to generate national interest.
Question: is this 2010 or 2015?
Welcome to CPS, where it's always Groundhog Day.
Five years ago, on September 15, 2010, a group of mothers began a sit-in at Whittier Elementary School in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood. The mothers took this action only after trying unsuccessfully for years to get a library for their kids' school.
The sit-in, which lasted 42 days, sparked national attention and highlighted, among other things, the lack of libraries in CPS schools concentrated in high-poverty areas on the city's South and West Sides.
The Whittier sit-in happened on the watch of former Mayor Richard M. Daley and his CPS CEO Ron Huberman, who took over CPS after a stint running the CTA.
Fast-forward five years.
September 15, 2015 marked Day 30 of the Dyett Hunger Strike. Twelve determined individuals are continuing to starve themselves in an effort to force CPS to reopen the now-shuttered Dyett High School as a green technology and global leadership school.
The Dyett hunger strikers are trying to get the attention of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his current CPS boss Forrest Claypool, who held the top job at the CTA until mid-April 2015.
But it's not just these similarities that give a Groundhog Day feel to all things CPS.
Consider press accounts from both 2010 and 2015.
1. That's B as in billion . . .
CPS faces $1 billion deficit, Huberman says. (Chicago Tribune, February 25, 2010)
To help close a $1.1 billion gap, Claypool relies heavily on $255 million in 'debt restructuring,' a favorite euphemism of the financially distressed. (Crain's Chicago Business, August 22, 2015)
2. We've cut Central Office to the bone . . .
At a May 11 press conference with the mayor, Huberman insisted that he's pretty much cut the central office payroll to the bone. "Throughout this year, the mayor has challenged us to tighten our belt in many ways," Huberman said. "And in the administrative ranks we've reduced or eliminated over 50 positions that make over $100,000, all to tighten our belts internally." (Chicago Reader, May 27, 2010)
Last week, Claypool cut 11 central office staffers, including two from his own 10-member staff. Along with policy changes, he projected savings of about $1.7 million, a symbolic gesture in light of the $1.1 billion budget shortfall. (Chicago Sun-Times, August 11, 2015)
3. It's not our fault, says CPS. Blame it on Springfield . . .
Chicago Public Schools chief Ron Huberman said today that "thousands" more CPS employees, including teachers, will receive layoff notices in the coming days if state lawmakers don't reject Gov. Pat Quinn's proposal to cut $1.3 billion in school funding. (Chicago Breaking News, April 21, 2010)
"We cannot cut our way to a balanced budget," said Chicago schools chief Forrest Claypool in a call with reporters. "Unfortunately, if Springfield fails to do its part, we will be forced to close a $500 million gap later this year with a mixture of more unsustainable borrowing and even deeper cuts." (Chicago Tribune, August 10, 2015)
4. But never fear, test scores are always on the rise . . .
Daley noted that test score gains have occurred every year since he took control of the school system. (Catalyst Chicago, June 23, 2010)
"Ultimately, Springfield is going to have a big say whether we continue to have academic gains we've seen in the last four years," Claypool said. (ABC-7 Eyewitness News, September 8, 2015)
It's long past time for Chicago to make Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania one of its sister cities.