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Chicago Pursuing School Privatization at Any Cost

Parents want to keep public schools public, but the Chicago Board of Ed. is set on privatization.

Photo Credit: SELonTV; Screenshot /


This article originally appeared at In These Times and is reprinted here with their permission. This report was made possible by a generous grant from the Voqal Fund.

The Chicago Board of Education’s  vote on Wednesday to convert three public elementary schools into “turnaround schools” run by the non-profit  Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) was no surprise to most parents and teachers.

The board has consistently voted to close schools or turn them over to private management — laying off most of the staff in the process — despite overwhelming opposition, anxiety and outrage expressed in heartfelt testimony by parents, teachers, students and elected officials at scores of public meetings.

While the concept of turnaround schools was first instituted under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, critics see the use of turnarounds as a signature of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his aggressive privatization agenda. Parents and experts framed the recent vote as part of a larger trend wherein Emanuel, who appoints the school board, has disregarded public opinion to push through his privatization plans. The mayor has met more resistance from the teachers union and parents, however, than he may have expected. He was widely seen as “losing” the standoff with the teachers union that culminated in their seven-day strike in 2012 and a new contract for the teachers. Schools  CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, a prominent proponent of charter schools and privatization, resigned in the wake of the strike.

Even before the April 23 meeting, the board members should have been well aware that public sentiment stood firmly against “turning around” McNair Elementary, Gresham Elementary and Dvorak Technology Academy, all of which are in predominantly African-American neighborhoods. During public meetings at each school in recent weeks,  community members berated AUSL officials, calling them “traitors” to the Black community, and pleaded with them to save the jobs of the principals and teachers. The tenor of these meetings echoed  scores of hearings held about the plan to close almost 50 public schools in 2013. It was evident this month that to many parents and students, being “turned around” is nearly equivalent to being closed. While the school remains open after a turnaround, students and parents said that without the teachers and staff that they have grown to know and love, the school isn’t the same. 

Parents reiterated the same points at the April 23 meeting, but all five of the school board members present voted in favor of the turnaround proposals. (The board has seven members total, but can hold votes with five.)

AUSL already runs 29 Chicago schools with more than 17,000 students. Now it will take over the three elementary schools in the fall, and 147 employees, including 76 teachers, will lose their jobs.

The school district says that the teachers will be allowed to reapply for their jobs and that about 60 percent of teachers laid off from turnaround schools receive positions somewhere in the Chicago public-school system by the next fall. But these jobs can be anywhere in the city, offering little consolation to parents who emphasized how teachers at neighborhood schools are like family to the students, especially since multiple generations have attended the same schools and even had the same teachers.

“There’s not a day that goes by my kids don’t want to go to school,” said Dvorak parent Candace Stigler at the board meeting on April 23, noting that AUSL’s promises of trips to Dave & Buster’s and Medieval Times restaurants are meaningless to her. “It takes a village to raise a child. ... Dvorak is our village.”