The Bulldog has a Mission Statement to expose corruption, prejudice and nonsense. Moreover, in our first paragraph we note our core value: a belief in upholding the First Amendment.
What is the First Amendment? It is many things, but one thing important to its survival is the ability of you, the public, to challenge the government.
Now, we come to our attendance at public meetings.
Last Friday The Bulldog attended the Trumbull Local School Council meeting.
The Bulldog is charging that the Chair, Frances Martinez, is using questionable methods to control dissent in the LSC. These include acceptance of verbal and physical intimidation by members of her family of anyone deemed an opponent.
The Ravenswood schools
There are 12 public primary schools that The Bulldog attempts to cover in Ravenswood. The citizens who give their time to these meetings, and the school personnel who attend, should be commended in this small democracy.
They make decisions about the LSC discretionary budget, which amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year at each school. Plus they have a responsibility to evaluate and contract with a principal.
The influence of the LSC extends beyond the already substantial discretionary budget to advise the principal on staffing.
Consider Trumbull, let’s say the LSC has a discretionary budget of $200,000, and multiply that by the 600 schools in the Chicago Public School system. If Trumbull is indicative of the entire system, the LSCs directly control about $120 million each year of the CPS budget.
The discretionary budget for the Trumbull LSC is actually $244,570 in 2011-2. According to documents on the CPS site there are about 600 LSCs in the system. The Bulldog requested an overall budget number from the Chicago Public Schools for LSC discretionary budgets. The Press Office has not responded to the request.
That’s something voters should be concerned about.
Toxicity at Trumbull
So, it is with sadness that we note that Principal Venus Shannon is being conservative in describing the school LSC as toxic.
Let’s take the events of the LSC one at a time.
- The LSC meeting is to be announced in a public place so the public may attend. The Trumbull LSC web site is under construction. Notice of the meeting could only be found by calling the school. The LSC has a legal and fiduciary duty to the public to publicize its meetings. The failure of the LSC to do so calls into question whether the meeting itself was legal.
- The LSC meeting was called to order by Chair Frances Martinez with a statement criticizing the community and staff for personal comments which attacked the LSC. The statement was provocative and meant to challenge opponents of Martinez.
- The LSC meeting devolved into what amounted to a shouting match between Martinez, who held the microphone, and Shannon, over the question of hiring a clerk with the LSC discretionary funds. Shannon, like other principals, decided that instead of directing the discretionary funds to academic purposes, such as hiring an art or music instructor, she wanted to use the money for administrative support. And, Shannon made the point several times that Martinez misled her into believing the LSC backed her decisions. Shannon was embarrassed in front of the LSC by Martinez.
- The decision of a public body to enter executive session must meet one of 24 criteria listed in the Illinois Open Meetings Act. The Bulldog stood in the meeting, and after being recognized, noted that the stated purpose of the executive session was probably not sufficient under Illinois law. A community member who later identified himself as the husband of Martinez castigated The Bulldog for making this simple declaration. The Bulldog has been at many meetings and has never received verbal abuse in this manner for defending the public’s right to know. This was a form of verbal intimidation by the Martinez family.
- Following the meeting, while The Bulldog worked with the secretary of the LSC to be sure we had such details as votes, names and a way to check our facts, Martinez announced The Bulldog had no right to take photos and specifically said “you do not have permission to take my photo.” The right of the public to record with film or other means a public meeting is enshrined in the Illinois Open Meetings Act. I responded for The Bulldog by taking my camera from its case and attempting to photograph Martinez.
- As I did this, I was physically charged and shouted at by Mr. Martinez to stop my actions!
- The Trumbull LSC is being ruled by verbal and physical intimidation led by Martinez. It is not acceptable to shout at people from across the room, to lay down illegal commands that contravene Illinois law and to back them with a man who rushes you and appears to be prepared to strike you.
- Toxicity is a conservative description of the governance of this LSC.