Quick Hit Aricka Flowers Wednesday December 18th, 2013, 3:57pm

Chicagoans Push For Ballot Referendums On Ames Middle School, Minimum Wage (UPDATED)

With various groups delivering petitions to the Chicago Board of Elections this week, Chicagoans are continuing their call for two referendums to be added to the March 18 ballot. The non-binding referendums focus on the minimum wage and future of a Logan Square neighborhood school.

In the ongoing fight to increase the minimum wage, a coalition of Chicago families and groups, including Action Now, the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Grassroots Collaborative, ONE Northside, and SEIU* Healthcare Illinois Indiana, delivered petitions to the board of elections demanding that the city establish its own minimum wage.

"I support raising the minimum wage in Chicago for low-wage workers because we are not invisible. We will not stand by and let our elected officials maintain the status quo," said Carlos Navarro, a retired Marine veteran and a ONE Northside leader living in Chicago's 46th Ward. "I'm tired of seeing families in my community struggle to get by on poverty wages and I am confident this referendum will show the Chicago City Council that there is a need to raise the minimum wage to a fair and living wage."

The activists hope that a vote on the non-binding referendum, which calls for a boost in the minimum wage for large corporations to $15 an hour, would "spark a serious conversation" on the need for local and federal governments to address the issue of income inequality and poverty, which can lead to other societal problems.

“There is a direct link between poverty and increases in violence and crime, as well as decreases in educational achievement. When workers make a living wage, it helps build up the whole community,” said Gloria Warner, president of Action Now and an Englewood resident. “I am absolutely confident that working families and communities across Chicago will lift our voices and vote for this proposed referendum in huge numbers.”

According to the Economic Policy Institute's Family Budget Calculator, a single parent with one child would need to earn $53,168 a year in order to achieve a "secure, but modest living standard." But full-time workers who earn a minimum wage only bring in $17,000 a year. Workers in Chicago are falling behind in the wage race, according to the report, as the city's low-wage workforce has increased by 30 percent since 2001, according to a report released last year by Women Employed and the Action Now Institute. More than 57 percent of the city's low-wage workers are over the age of 30.

"You cannot survive on $8.25 an hour," said Silvia Torres member of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council and a 15th ward resident. "Allowing highly profitable companies to pay poverty wages is an issue for the whole community. Poverty leads to violence. Therefore, we can't afford to not raise the minimum wage to $15."

Meanwhile, parents and community supporters of Ames Middle School continue to push back against plans to make it a "Marine-affiliated school." For more than a year, the community surrounding Ames and the city have been at loggerheads about the possibility of converting the neighborhood school to a military school. Last December, Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale told parents from the Logan Square school that there were "no plans to change Ames Middle School into a military academy."

But in April, Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) provided the school board with a petition filled with 1,100 signatures in support of bringing Marine Math and Science Academy, a military high school, to the Logan Square community. At that point, Vitale said he looked forward to working with Maldonado on the effort. In late October, Mayor Rahm Emanuel stated that Ames would be converted to Marine Academy. Just two days later, however, the mayor's office stated that Marine Math and Science Academy would remain at its current West Side location and that Ames would instead become "Marine-affiliated." 

Ames supporters are seeking to get the following referendum question on the ballot: Should Ames Middle School be maintained as a neighborhood school, rather than being converted into a military high school?" The question would be placed on ballots in eight precincts surrounding the school's attendance boundaries.

Later this afternoon, the Chicago Board of Education is poised to vote on the Ames proposal. Parents and community members say placing a military influence on Ames or converting it altogether will rid the city of yet another neighborhood school and would result in overcrowding at feeder schools. 

“We join with the Ames school community in challenging Mayor Emanuel and his appointed school board members to do what’s right,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey in a statement. “Truly accountable and responsive public officials would act in accord with the will of the Ames parents and voters in the Logan Square community.”

Stay tuned.

UPDATE 1 (6:10 p.m.): The Chicago Board of Education voted to convert Ames Middle School to a military academy. The Logan Square school, which may be renamed to be Marine Leadership Academy, will add high school grades, change the school's approach to academics and open enrollment to all of the students in the CPS school district. Two members of the seven-person board, Mahalia Hines and Carlos Azcoitia, voted against the proposal to turn Ames into a military academy. 

UPDATE 2 (7:29 p.m.): The Chicago Teachers Union released the following in response to the board of ed's vote on Ames:

'Today’s actions by the mayor’s appointed school board make it clear that they are motivated by politics, but not the students, parents and communities they are sworn to serve,' said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. 'The board’s compliance with the mayor’s decision to convert Ames Middle School to a military high school will negatively impact the lives of school children.'

Today’s decision was made despite many months of strong objections from parents, community leaders and teachers, who, in contrast to school board appointees, are dedicated to education and the well-being of children. The CTU supports efforts by the Ames school community to put a referendum about this issue on the ballot in the March 2014 Primary Election.

'This is an example of how the CTU is working with residents across the city of Chicago to support establishing an elected school board,' Sharkey said. 'Changing state law will allow voters for the first time to cast ballots for a representative, elected school board comprised of members who will be accountable to the public for their actions.'

* The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website.

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