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Board members get tough with CTU

As CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union gear up for a battle over school closings, several board members took a hard line with CTU at Wednesday’s board meeting, accusing the union of uncivil behavior over the past months.

Board President David Vitale warned CTU Recording Secretary Michael Brunson, before Brunson addressed the board, that “you are here, and your ability to speak is, at my discretion.” (At the board’s discretion, CTU officials are allowed as a courtesy to address the board without first registering.)

“Unfortunately, your organization does not seem to want to behave as civilly as we do. Your vice president is quoted in the Tribune as saying, ‘We are coming after you,’” Vitale continued.

He then accused the union of “spewing lies” about board member Penny Pritzker, referring to criticism of Hyatt Hotels’ involvement in a tax increment financing district-funded project.

“You also threaten us, Vitale said.  “You had your members march on my home. No one was home except my daughter,” because schools were closed due to the strike at the time.

Brunson said he was “a man of peace” and suggested that CPS publicly post the position files and budgets of charter schools, include charter teachers in the CTU pension funds and put school closings on hold.

“I make these suggestions so we can have peace, but we cannot allow you to shut down our schools,” Brunson said.

Before the exchange, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett noted that CPS is asking the Illinois General Assembly for an extension, until March 31, of the deadline for proposing school closings.

“The intent of Senate Bill 630 is our intent,” Byrd-Bennett said, referring to the bill that sets a Dec. 1 deadline for announcing school closings. She said the extra time is necessary because the process “requires a much more rigorous and much more transparent, open dialogue” than has occurred so far.

The first meeting of a district-appointed school closing commission, on Tuesday, “was an opportunity to guarantee this commission that they are totally independent, that we will not meddle in their work,” Byrd-Bennett said.

She said the commission will hold meetings in every community and will provide monthly reports to the board, and added that CPS does not have a set number of schools it is looking to close.

Later in the meeting, Stand for Children member Lisa Kulisek, the parent of a pre-kindergarten student at Smyth Elementary, asked board members not to close Smyth, an underutilized school that is in the lowest-performing level (Level 3) in the district.

“Our school’s test scores are improving and we have a terrific IB [International Baccalaureate] program,” Kulisek said. “Most of the students walk to school. Where would they go if our school closed?”

Information like that, Vitale said, was what the school closings commission will consider.

But at the end of public participation, board member Andrea Zopp said that if the proposal from school closing opponents is “to say stop, don’t do anything… I don’t see that happening.”

Zopp said CPS wants and needs to work together with CTU, but that it is tough to do so when personal attacks are involved.

“They have threatened us personally, and made misrepresentations about Ms. Pritzker… the CTU needs to pick,” Zopp said.


xian barrett wrote 2 years 8 weeks ago

What was the misrepresentation?

I'm honestly confused. What was the problem in criticizing Pritzker? What was a lie?

Additionally, I'm curious why it's a problem to march on Vitale's home--when they send their people to loot our neighborhood schools, or attack our careers, how is that not personal?

Anonymous wrote 2 years 8 weeks ago


Perhaps Mr. Vitale is angry about the 86% vote in the affirmative for an elected school board last week.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 8 weeks ago

No one should be verbally

No one should be verbally attacked or targeted at their home where their children live. Protest at the office, at events, wherever, but I 100% side with Vitale on this one.

It makes the CTU look desperate and mean.

Maria Elena wrote 2 years 8 weeks ago

Everyone complains about the

Everyone complains about the high turnover at CPS with the revolving door of CEOs and high-level central office staff - and our system is in desperate need of some stability. If we march on people's lawns and constantly villify them personally, we'll never have the stability we need to right this sinking ship. CTU needs to quit attacking the administration and start working with them. I'm sick of how polarized this has become.

Valerie F. Leonard wrote 2 years 8 weeks ago

I can understand Mr. Vitale's

I can understand Mr. Vitale's anger, given the description of his relationship with the CTU in the media over the past year or so. It seems as if old wounds have not yet healed, and he responded to the totality of the situation, rather than the issues at hand. The facts presented in the article lead me to believe that Mr. Vitale was alluding to issues and events that were not on the agenda for the board meeting. It would have been more appropriate to handle some of them behind closed doors, given the personal level to which the issues have devolved.

It appears Mr. Vitale felt compelled to deviate from the agenda to address issues surrounding what he believed to be inaccurate information surrounding Penny Pritzker's business dealings, and the CTU protest in front of his house. I think his approach should have included a dispassionate description of facts and an outline of what he believed to have been inaccurate information the CTU was spreading about TIFs, Penny Pritzker and the Hyatt Hotels. He could have then provided clarification of the facts--without calling anyone a liar. It was not necessary to editorialize or pull rank.

Mr. Vitale could have even given Ms. Pritzker the opportunity to speak on her own behalf. Instead, he gave the impression that he and the board were ganging up on Mr. Brunson and putting him in his place.

It's ironic that a board that transacts much of their business behind closed doors took the opportunity to address what appeared to be personal issues in public during a board meeting. Mr. Vitale's handling of the matter has only given more fuel to the fire that is calling for an elected school board.

For better or for worse, we hold members of the Board of Education to a "higher standard" of profesionalism and decorum than we hold for ourselves, given their leadership position. This is even more true for the Board President.

I agree wholeheartedly that the relationship between the Board and CTU should be more civil and less personal. However, if board members are calling for more civil, grown up behavior, they have to model it themselves. The same is true of CTU. I know this is a lot easier said than done, but very necessary for moving forward.

xian barrett wrote 2 years 8 weeks ago

If we don't

I feel the voice on the issue about how it is uncomfortable to have people arrive at your home to express sentiment.

But rather than veto and criticize, how WOULD you suggest people deal with the extremely personal attacks and damage done to the community by the board's clear double standard of how their own offspring are treated as compared to the children of the city of Chicago?

We don't have massive turnover in administration because they are criticized. We have it because they have no ties to the community they serve, and they rule top down, and dictatorially. Then they get criticized for that and they hide behind closed doors.

We need an elected school board with a transparent governance process.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 8 weeks ago

What action at Vitale's house?

There was no CTU sanctioned or planned action at his house. CTU admittedly has targeted businesses and TIF recipients but not private residences.

urbanteach wrote 2 years 8 weeks ago


Maybe Mr. Vitale should go back to running banks. Mr. Vitale is a public official. I am not in favor of marching at his home but he accepted a public position. As for the misrepresentation. Maybe now Ms. Pritzker has an understanding of the feelings associated with teachers who are constantly vilified as the root cause of poverty and all its implications... this is misrepresentation too. Remember, Rahm spelled out for us what a "public servant" is... If you don't like a "public" response maybe you should go back to the private sector...

Valerie F. Leonard wrote 2 years 8 weeks ago

Xian, I agree the board has

Xian, I agree the board has been disrespectful of the communities. At the same time, I understand how Mr. Vitale responded. We're all human, and I will admit I have over-reacted to situations with anger from time to time myself. There are a lot of elephants in the room that need to be shot, and this should not occur in public at board meetings. This situation is toxic, and it may take one, or all actions: 1) A serious "come to Jesus" meeting(s) between CTU and CPS leadership, facilitated by an expert in mediation. The Department of Human Relations may be considered. 3) Further board training on roles, responsibilities. This board is too much of a rubber stamp, and does not seem to have a sensitivity for the clients CPS serves, which is not good practice. 2) Replacement of the board chair and/or lightening rod board members to get a fresh start. Full disclosure: I support an elected school board.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 8 weeks ago

I hear you Valerie, but I

I hear you Valerie, but I wonder....if the CTU does all their criticizing, name-calling, and intimidation tactics in public, why is it not ok for the Board to respond in (what I thought was) a very concise and reasoned way on how they are feeling?

Anonymous wrote 2 years 8 weeks ago
Valerie F. Leonard wrote 2 years 8 weeks ago

I wasn't at the meeting, and

I wasn't at the meeting, and based my comments on the article. From what I read in the article above, other articles and other people's verbal descriptions of Mr. Vitale's remarks, I did not get the sense that he was focused on giving a well-reasoned response. His remarks seemed more emotional and defensive, rather than pre-emptive or objective. Calling people liars has never diffused an argument.

The information that I have does not lead me to believe that there were any clarifications or corrections to inaccurate information. I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who was there whether or not Mr. Vitale in fact corrected or clarified any mis-information that he said was being promulgated by CTU. If Mr. Vitale did not shed any light, but simply said the CTU was promoting lies, he only added fuel to the fire. If he did set the record straight, it is unfortunate that the point was not picked up in any media outlets. For better or for worse, people in leadership roles are always held to a higher standard of decorum in public. As a result, they have to be doubly careful about how they confront people or controversial issues in public--particularly from their pulpits--lest they come across as bullies. At the same time, they can not ignore the issues, lest they come acro ss as weak. Taking my license as a Monday night quarterback, I think the elephant in the room issues should have been addressed behind closed doors.

Valerie F. Leonard wrote 2 years 8 weeks ago

I just read my comment, and I

I just read my comment, and I had to laugh. Nobody would ever confuse me of being a football fan. LOL

Anonymous wrote 2 years 8 weeks ago

"For better or for worse,

"For better or for worse, people in leadership roles are always held to a higher standard of decorum in public. As a result, they have to be doubly careful about how they confront people or controversial issues in public--particularly from their pulpits--lest they come across as bullies."

I agree, Valerie, then the same thing should be held true for Ms. Lewis, Mr. Sharkey, Mr. Potter, and others in the CTU leadership, but we all know that's not the case, which is unfortunate for all of us.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 8 weeks ago


Maybe the clips from the Board meeting can be set to "Requiem For A Tower".... The gift that just keeps on givin'....

Valerie F. Leonard wrote 2 years 8 weeks ago

You are right. All leaders

You are right. All leaders should remember that they are held to a higher standard, and that includes leadership from both CTU and CPS.

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