CHICAGO - "Okay class, today's lesson is about TIFs - money that should go to schools, libraries, and parks, but that are also wanted by Fat Cats like Penny Pritzker," said Kimberly Walls, a Chicago Public School (CPS) teacher to a group of children sitting in a circle before her.
Walls, a member of the Chicago Teachers Union, was conducting her lesson in no ordinary classroom. The space happened to be the lobby of the lavish Hyatt Hotel off the Miracle Mile, which a flash mob of 200 teachers, parents and students crashed on Veterans Day to dramatize how CPS is being robbed of public funds.
TIFs - or Tax Increment Financing - is a method powerful financial interests have devised to divert public monies to private coffers.
The protest also demanded a moratorium on school closings, privatization, and so-called "turnarounds," where the entire staff of a school is fired.
The Hyatt and Pritzker were targeted because the billionaire owner from one of America's richest families sits on the unelected Chicago Board of Education. The Hyatt received $5.5 million in TIF funds to build a new hotel in the Hyde Park neighborhood.
"They take the money and put it into the Hyatt and then we have broken public schools," Walls carefully explained to the children. "They decided to privatize public schools so they could have more TIF money going toward Fat Cat Penny Pritzker."
"Class, what is our lesson for today? We are not going to allow Fat Cat Penny Pritzker to sit on the Chicago Board of Education. We are not going to allow our Aldermen to sit and let the TIF funds be mismanaged any more," she said.
Walls and others said the solution is to elect teachers and parents and community advocates for quality education to an elected school board.
"We want our money back," chanted the crowd.
"We're here on Veterans Day to honor those that fought for us and that's what we're prepared to do - fight for our kids," said April Stogner, a parent and member of Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO). Stogner was one of ten parents and community activists arrested at City Hall on Nov.1 to protest school closings and privatization.
Stogner called to order a "people's trial" of the BOE. She read a list of charges that included 17 years of top down management that ignored the voice of parents, students and teachers impacted by decisions, destabilizing neighborhood schools and a lack of accountability to the public.
To each charge, the crowd yelled, "guilty!"
Stogner said the punishment would be to replace the appointed board with an elected representative body that would carry out a policy that protects public education and involves educators and the community.
"I'll do anything for my children's education, even getting arrested again if that's what it takes," said Stogner.
Photo: John Bachtell/PW