Frustrated teachers and parents called on local Chicago aldermen to stand up and make individual commitments of support to public school teachers and students during the ongoing budget crisis on Saturday.
At the State of Chicago Public Schools Summit, community organizer and former aldermanic candidate Jhatayn "Jay" Travis was addressing the aldermen when a voice from the crowd demanded the aldermen stand up, state their names, and specifically answer two questions: will they work on local revenue solutions in the city council to help Chicago public schools, and will they demand progressive revenue funding from Gov. Bruce Rauner and state lawmakers?
The audience swelled with cheers as the aldermen took the floor.
Speaking to the crowd, Ald. John Arena (45th) said he is already working towards the issues brought up at the summit, but needs cooperation from the state to see results.
"We need help from Springfield to make some of these ideas go forward," said Arena. "Just because we're in the council, it doesn't mean we have the authority to do some of these things. So we need to work together to bring pressure and put some of these ideas forward, and voters have to support it."
Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) received a round of applause before speaking, with many crediting her use of surplus funding from her tax increment finance (TIF) districts to offset shortages in CPS funding in the third ward.
Dowell gave a realistic appraisal of the budgetary solutions presented by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) at the summit, saying that she can't put them through alone.
"I support some of the revenue ideas put forward by the CTU," said Dowell. "Some of them are challenging because they obviously require authorization from the state, but [in] working with you we can get there."
Solutions presented by the CTU include pressuring the Mayor and governor to take immediate action on the district's estimated $1 billion budget shortfall by returning TIF surplus funds to the school system. Another proposal called for the redirection of the $1.2 billion budget for the Lucas Museum to the public school system. The funds for the Lucan Museum are set to be borrowed along with the extension of five taxes past their expiration dates.
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) said he was impressed with how Dowell used her TIF funds and wants to work with her to figure out how she did it.
"I'm very honored to be with Pat Dowell after what she did with her TIF surplus," said Taliaferro."I pledge to my constituents in the 29th district that I will sit with her and figure out exactly how she did it, so I can use the TIF surplus in my ward."
Karina Martinez, a junior at Curie Metropolitan High School on the Southwest Side, participated in a student walkout and rally in front of the Thompson Center earlier in the week. Speaking at the summit, she gave insight into the conditions students face in underfunded schools.
"If our instruments break, we have to ask for donations to fix them," said Martinez. "Why should I have to wait for a stranger to fund me instead of CPS or Illinois funding my school and education? Our gym has a leaking roof; there's water on the floor where we run around."
Martinez said that students are fed up with their learning conditions and plan on holding more actions like the walkout and rally.
"Our system has failed us and we are not gonna stand around and watch," said Martinez. "We're demanding that our education get funded. It's not fair that we lose our education because of the mistakes of other people. We're fed up and were ready to fight back."
Monique Redeaux-Smith is a middle school social studies educator at Donald L. Morrill Math & Science School on the South Side. Speaking at the summit, she explained how much extra work teachers need to do just to meet a minimum standard of learning in their classrooms.
"I go into my classroom everyday at 7 o'clock in the morning," said Redeauz-Smith. "School starts at 8 o'clock. I have to wash tables in my classroom/ I have to make sure the garbage has been thrown out.
"Sometimes I have to mop because the floor has only been swept and there's stains on the floor. I have to work before I come to work because there's no reason that I'm going to let my students sit in a nasty classroom. That's not a learning environment that I'd want my child to be in."
Redeaux-Smith also said that budget cuts are part of a larger attack on minorities in Chicago.
"At the end of the day, this attack on education is an attack on black and brown people," said Redeuz-Smith. "We have to be very clear about that. We have to have a war against this corporate attack and a war against racial injustice because this is what this fight is actually about."
Speaking to Progress Illinois after the event, Redeaux-Smith said it isn't enough for the aldermen to pledge support, they need to take action.
"We got to show and prove now," said Redeaux-Smith. "I think that by being here they are showing more than others that they can be held accountable before they stand up in Springfield. It's not all on Springfield though. We had our own issue with Rahm before Rauner."
CTU actions for a budgetary resolution will continue this month with a march and rally scheduled for Wednesday, June 22 at Chicago's City Hall.