MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Toni Preckwinkle, President of the Cook County Board (the largest county governmental in the United States after Los Angeles), lacerated Rahm "Coporate Privatization and Anti-Union" Emanuel for his plan to close public schools in minority areas. Preckwinkle, who became the first bona fide progressive to run the county government that includes Chicago, doesn't buy Emanuel's attempt to continue to weaken public schools and particularly those in minority areas. (90% of the Chicago public schools targeted for closing by Emanuel are in predominantly black neighborhoods.)
In an interview this week with the Chicago Sun-Times, Preckwinkle pointedly castigated Emanuel:
County Board President Toni Preckwinkle broadly criticized Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s education agenda Thursday, saying the Chicago Public Schools teachers’ strike last year had provided the excuse for a sweeping school-closure plan that “weakens our public schools…."
"What was the point of having public hearings?" Preckwinkle said during a 20-minute interview in her office. “Was it all a charade? If you weren’t going to pay any attention to the outcome of the public hearings or the recommendations of the public hearing officers, why would you bother to waste everyone’s time?"
In Chicago where the County Board has for decades been run as a patronage appendage of City Hall, Preckwinkle upended politics as usual with her broadside against Emanuel's education policies. She wasn't about to offer a euphemistic dissent. Preckwinkle was blunt in her chastisement of Chicago's mayor, who has extremely close political and personal ties to Barack Obama and Bill Clinton:
On Thursday, however, Preckwinkle made clear her problems with Emanuel’s approach to education go far deeper than his plan for closing schools.Preckwinkle bemoaned "the way in which the teachers were demonized."
Was the mayor among those she deemed guilty of unfairly blaming teachers?
"I think he came into office critical of the teachers," she replied. "If you spend the whole year before you have to negotiate a contract insulting your teachers, I don’t know what you expect. They had a contract that said they were entitled to a raise, and then the Board of Education that he appointed refused to give it to them. That was the first summer that he came into office."
Asked if she expected closing so many schools would trigger teacher layoffs, Preckwinkle replied, "How could it not? How could it not? It weakens the teachers’ union and I would argue it weakens our public schools. You know, one of the people in the public schools who I admire most talked to me a couple months ago — it was so depressing — the comment was, 'I think they’re deliberately trying to destroy our public schools.'"
Preckwinkle's cutting remarks are, in part, backed up by studies done by the Chicago Public Schools itself, as reported by the Chicago Tribune:
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's controversial push to close 53 elementary schools, set to be voted on by the school board next week, has been accompanied by a blizzard of numbers and assertions aimed at demonstrating the cutbacks are prudently crafted and financially wise for a system in fiscal distress.
But a Tribune review of documents related to the closings raises questions about how CPS used information to promote and defend its plan. In many cases, the district appears to have selectively highlighted data to stress shortcomings at schools to be closed, while not pointing out what was lacking at the receiving schools.
In fact, total renovations to several of the schools slated to take in students would cost millions of dollars more than the estimated cost of fixing up the buildings where those children are currently enrolled, records show.
As for "Rahmbo" Emanuel, who lost a heated stand-off with the Chicago Teachers Union last year, a Tribune poll just this last Sunday shows the mayor with high disapproval of his educational policies and actions:
"Chicago voters hold a dim view of Rahm Emanuel's stewardship of public education after a tumultuous year that featured a teachers strike and the mayor's push to close many neighborhood elementary schools, a new Tribune/WGN-TV poll shows….
"Nearly 6 of 10 surveyed said they disapproved of Emanuel's attempt to downsize elementary schools, while just a third approved. Those numbers closely mirror negative feelings about Emanuel's approach to public education, which he has labeled a top priority.The general dissatisfaction was even greater among those with children in public schools — three-fourths disapproved. But even a majority of voters without so personal a stake expressed reservations about the way the mayor has dealt with Chicago Public Schools….
Asked whom they sided with in the debate over public school improvement, 41 percent of those surveyed said the teachers union and just 19 percent said Emanuel. Another 36 percent said neither.
How refreshing to have an elected official such as Preckwinkle not mince words for a change about the efforts of the neo-liberal corporatists to crush public education and the teachers' unions.
(In full disclosure, the author of this commentary has known Preckwinkle for years as an advocate and at one time did consulting work for her when she was alderwoman of the Fourth Ward in Chicago, which includes the home of President Barack Obama. In fact, BuzzFlash at Truthout interviewed Preckwinkle in 2008 when she was still representing the Fourth Ward, which can be read by clicking here.)