Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Chicago Schools CEO Brizard Out After 17 Months

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons

Just like the CEO of a private company that fails to act aggressively enough to maximize profits or to suppress worker discontent, Chicago Public Schools CEO, Jean-Claude Brizard, is out after only 17 months on the job. He is leaving by “mutual agreement,” the Chicago Sun-Times reports. In all likelihood, however, he saw the writing on the wall (the mayor was pissed off) and, like a good capitalist soldier, took a dive for the team.

Brizard had been handpicked by Emanuel to push through the his corporate education agenda, including the massive conversion of public schools into private charters, the unilateral imposition of a longer workday without commensurate pay, evaluations based on student test scores and merit pay. The teachers, not surprisingly, resisted, launching the city’s first teacher strike in 25 years and successfully rolled back some of these reforms. In short, Brizard failed the mayor and made him look the fool.

Brizard will be replaced by Barbara Byrd-Bennett, a former teacher, principal and Cleveland schools CEO. She had also been filling in as Chicago’s interim chief education officer for the past six months, helping to negotiate the deal with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) that ultimately got the teachers to return to the classroom. The final terms of Brizard’s departure have not yet been disclosed, but are expected to include a year’s salary of $250,000, according to the Sun-Times.

The Chicago Tribune reports that business leaders told Brizard that the mayor would blame him if the struggle with the CTU got out of hand (i.e., not crushed quickly with a decisive victory for CPS). Not only did Brizard fail in this, but he enraged the mayor by going on a family vacation just prior to the strike and he was absent during much of the contract negotiations. The teachers’ ability to spin the strike as a struggle against standardized testing and privatization was certainly an embarrassment to the mayor and he likely blamed this on Brizard, as well.

Byrd-Bennett is not planning on filling the position she vacated to become CEO and is expected to serve both roles, thus consolidating her power and sending the message to the teachers that her rule will be autocratic and decisive. This is important for CPS and Emanuel, as many teachers are already grousing about the rotten deal they got with their new contract (e.g., the raise doesn’t cover the extra hours they’re being required to work and 25% of their evaluations will now be based on unreliable and inconsistent student test data). Furthermore, the district has been withholding pay from teachers who participated in the strike and it is doing little about the dilapidated facilities, including many schools that lack air conditioning. The new contract also gives principals greater leeway in hiring outsiders and ignoring the pool of recently laid off CTU members.

The last thing Emanuel wants is a renewed strike or an escalation of discontent. Yet he is setting the teachers up for this with his new pension plan (see accompanying article below), which would cut benefits, delay the retirement age and increase employee contributions, thus further eroding teachers’ take-home pay and living standards.

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