Since Thursday night’s mayoral forum was sponsored by the Chicago Teachers Union, moderator Cliff Kelley -- a WVON host and former alderman -- started with a joke about reading.
“Former President Bush’s library burned down,” Kelley said. “Both books were lost. He was upset, because he was almost done coloring the second.”
Ha ha. Before the debate started, organizers handed out cards asking the audience to grade the candidates. These were teachers, after all.
Kelley asked the candidates whether the schools CEO should have a background in education. Neither Paul Vallas, Arne Duncan nor Ron Huberman were teachers.
“The superintendent must be an educator,” James Meeks said. “I think the last 15 years have been a total disaster.”
Carol Moseley Braun agreed, saying putting a CEO in charge of the schools meant treating children like “widgets.”
Those were shots at Gery Chico, who worked alongside Vallas as school board president.
“We need a strong chief education officer next to a CEO,” Chico said.
The candidates were unanimous in denouncing the recommendations of the Illinois House Special Committee on Education Reform, which is meeting in Aurora. This was not surprising, since the recommendations included banning teacher strikes and eliminating tenure.
“You expect me to agree?” Meeks joked, before adding, “Any reforms involving the Chicago teachers, the CTU ought to be at the table.”
Moseley Braun called the recommendations “scapegoating teachers and finding another way to privatize our schools.”
All the candidates agreed that TIF money should not be diverted from the schools -- “the Chicago Public Schools deserve their share of the money,” Chico said.
When the question of charter schools came up, the crowd was eager to hear from Meeks, who has sponsored bills to provide vouchers for private school tuition.
“Charter schools must be held accountable,” Meeks said. When crowd members hooted and asked about vouchers, Meeks retorted, “That wasn’t the question.”
Miguel del Valle expressed his support for unionizing charter school teachers (Chico agreed), and declared, “Right now, we’re moving towards vouchers. We can’t allow vouchers.”
When the question of teacher cuts came up, Chico said he would find more money for teachers by slashing jobs at the central office by a third, and using casino revenues for education. The casino plan drew boos and grumbles from the crowd.
"I am completely opposed to using gaming to fund education," candidate William "Dock" Walls said.
Danny Davis was in Washington, D.C., voting in Congress, but sent a statement declaring his support for an elected school board, insisting the CEO have teaching experience, and suggesting the school district reach an agreement with teachers on lengthening the school year.
Rahm Emanuel was absent, as usual.
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