After a Spring and Summer that was shall we say less than quiet, Chicago’s public schools opened it’s doors today kicking off the 2013-2014 school year.
Now if you haven’t been paying attention up until this point the mayor of the nation’s third largest city and supposed Democrat, Rahm Emanuel pretty much won the battle he waged last year against teachers, their union and most importantly parents by overseeing the closing of close to 50 public schools in the city, the majority of which resided in poor communities of color.
According to good old Rahm these closings were needed to close a $1 billion budget deficit that the city was facing and would without question improve the quality of education being received by the kids. Funny how Emanuel sounds a lot like elected Republicans around the country who when faced with balancing a budget make public education one of their first sacrificial lambs. Emanuel’s argument also doesn’t hold water considering that the city announced last May that taxpayers will fit the $125 million bill to build a new basketball arena for DePaul University, a private school in Chicago who I’m sure would have no problem finding rich alumi and donors to generously chip in if it so desired.
A local arena expert named Marc Ganis told the Chicago Sun-Times that the plan was “lunacy” and “made no economic sense whatsoever.”
Clearly in Emanuel’s world rich backers, of which he has many take precedent over needy neighborhoods who want and need quality schools, speaking of which The Mayor and his hand picked school board knew full well that closing of these schools would mean that dozens of children would be taking longer commutes- an overwhelming majority of them will be walking- to school.
In making these daily treks back and forth many of these students will be forced to cross dangerous gang territories in a city where gun violence over the last few years has been rampant. The community shouldn’t have to worry though because old Rahm has a plan and it’s called The Safe Passage Program.
The program is made up of policeman who are working and being paid overtime, city employees like fireman and maintenance workers and volunteers who would line the city streets in neon vests and hopefully provide a visible distraction for anyone who has the notion of firing weapon in a heavily occupied school zone.
Now these city employees get the pleasure of having more responsibility piled onto their respective plates all the while asking themselves how long will it be before Rahm comes for their pound of flesh to counter the city’s financial woes a la Detroit, also God forbid there is a mass tragedy that diverts the attention of these same policemen, fireman and other city employees, what happens to the Safe Passage program then? Most of all however how long will other individuals be willing to take part. On today’s first day of school Emanuel along with other elected officials in the city took part in the journey by escorting several kids to their respective schools, which clearly had nothing to do with television cameras and newspaper reporters, surely we can’t expect that type of commitment and diligence from the Mayor everyday considering the demands he has.
There is very little that Rahm Emanuel and I agree on politically, in my opinion he is the classic center left Democrat who can’t say no to Wall Street and can’t say yes to working people. His job is a difficult one, one that I surely would not like to take on, but since he has taken over the “Windy City” Emanuel’s approach has been all wrong. Rather than listening to and trying to work with the Teacher’s Union, rather than engaging in a give and take dialogue that would have provided the best possible outcome for all parties involved Emanuel choose to engage in a nasty and personal back and forth with the head of the Teacher’s Union Karen Lewis that has wrought a situation where school children have been displaced and their parents have absolutely no recourse.
The war on teacher’s unions and public schools is not new and it is not always led by the Republican Party, but if anyone is surprised that it is being led in Chicago by the guy who was once the right-hand man of the current President of the United States should join us in the real world of 2013. Remember that Barack Obama also employs Mr. “Race To The Top” himself Arne Duncan as his Secretary of Education.
With these 47 schools now gone and with the Safe Passage Program’s effectiveness and ultimately it’s future in question -which it should be- What happens now to Chicago’s kids? Are they doomed for a life of arduous walks to schools way outside of their own neighborhoods only to be placed in some classrooms that will occupy as many as 39 kids? Or do Parents and Teachers have the will and the resources to fight back against the political machine of Private and Charter schools and the politicians who do their bidding?
The one thing that is certain is that Rahm Emanuel’s allegiance on that matter should not be questioned.