Take 5: UNO making a break; Karen Lewis’ loot and preschool information

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After this school year, the UNO Charter School Network will no longer be managed by the United Neighborhood Organization, the community organization that started it all, according to The Chicago Tribune. It is unclear what this will mean for the beleaguered charter school network, which runs 16 schools, mostly in Latino neighborhoods across Chicago. UNO and its charter school network have been embroiled in scandals over the past few years, with accusations of engaging in improper financial deals — the organization recently settled an SEC investigation by agreeing to have an outside monitor.

The relationship between the charter school network and the community organization and the money that flowed between them has been questionable. Technically, the network was separate from the community organization, but the two shared the same CEO, Juan Rangel, and some of the same board members. Between 2009 and 2012, the network paid the parent organization $17 million, though it was unclear what the parent organization did for the network, according Chicago Magazine. Typically, charter school management companies take care of things like payroll and maintenance. In Spring of 2013, the charter school network’s board was overhauled as the group tried to convince the state to continue to provide funding. In a release sent to the Tribune, the UNO Charter School Network said parents and students will not be affected by a change in management.

2. Union salaries… Despite a promise that as the president of the Chicago Teachers Union, she would make no more than the highest paid teacher, Karen Lewis is roping in more than $200,000 a year, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Her Chicago Teachers Union salary of $136,890 is boosted by an additional $64,157 that she gets for being vice president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. Lewis makes the argument that her CTU salary is based on a 12-month, 50-hour work week; whereas teacher salaries are based on a 208-day school year and a 6.5 hour workday, exclusive of lunch. (Under the union contract, some teachers, such as lead teachers, are paid for a slightly longer workday). An IFT spokeswoman says it is typical for the CTU president to hold an officer position in the statewide union and Lewis’ predecessor, Marilyn Stewart, also did. According to the CPS employee roster, the highest-paid CPS teacher is a special education teacher with a doctorate who works at Nancy Jefferson School, which is located inside the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. She is paid $112,756.54 annually.

The issue came up because Lewis says she is considering running for mayor against Rahm Emanuel. (She’ll have to get used to her every step being news.) In related news, Lewis is starting a series of conversations on the state of the city. Her first will be moderated by journalist Walter Jacobson and will be at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 19, at the Beverly Woods Banquet Hall, 11532 S. Western Ave.

3. A little victory…Bronzeville activists are celebrating the word they got last week that the  Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education has launched an investigation into Mollison Elementary School and Dyett High School. In a complaint filed earlier this year, the activists charged that students’ civil rights were violated when Mollison became overcrowded because of a school closing and when Dyett students were forced to take physical education and art via online courses. The Sun Times quotes an Office of Civil Rights spokeswoman as saying that the announcement of an investigation only means that the department has determined it has jurisdiction and the allegations were filed in a timely manner.

This is just another chapter in the ongoing fight by Bronzeville activists against school closings. The Greater Bronzeville neighborhood has had the most schools closed over the past decade as public housing projects were taken down. Though the activists point to specific problems at Dyett and Mollison, they are generally against the movement to close schools and open new ones, mostly charter schools. What has happened to Dyett is particularly disturbing to them. Once a school seen to be on the upswing, Dyett’s phase out was announced in 2011. Dyett was the area’s last high school open to all students in an attendance boundary; unde the phase out, new students have had to travel to Phillips High School. Dyett is projected to have only 28 seniors next year, according to CPS. As the number of students has dwindled, it has become more difficult for the school to offer basic high school courses.

4. More information, please… Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett recently announced that  last year’s kindergartners had higher reading scores than the previous year’s kindergartners. They credited the improvements to the city’s improved and expanded pre-K programs under the mayor’s signature Ready to Learn! early childhood education initiative. The mayor says his next goal is to offer pre-K to 1,500 additional low-income 4-year-olds next year.

Ready to Learn! was announced in 2012 and didn’t really get off the ground until 2013, which means last year’s kindergartners wouldn’t have been affected by the changes. Also, fewer 4-year-olds were in CPS preschools last year than the previous year. The drop in enrollment was attributed to a new centralized enrollment process, which parents said they had trouble navigating, Catalyst reported. (Catalyst has requested additional data that would paint a clearer picture of the test-score increase.)

5. All charters…. NPR reports on the first day of school this week in New Orleans, the first district in the country to become all charter schools. Test scores are up and Kenneth Campbell, the president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, says that is extraordinary. Schools “were in, in many ways, an academic wasteland prior to Katrina. … there was no accountability,” he says. About 20 percent of charter schools in New Orleans are rated a D or an F, among the worst schools in the state, according to the NPR report. Physics teacher Davina Allen argues that it is a false system because schools are competing for students.

Only about 14 percent of CPS students attend charter schools currently, but more charters are coming on line. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and others no doubt will be watching New Orleans closely.