LETTER TO THE EDITOR
(NOTE: I reckoned the Sun-Times wouldn’t print this, so I’m doing it here)
In 1998, according the New York Times (In Banking, Emanuel Made Money and Connections; 12/2/08), Rahm Emanuel left his job as a senior political aide to then-President Bill Clinton and went to work with the elite investment firm Wasserstein Perella & Co. In two and a half years with the firm, Emanuel made more than $18 million.
What does one do to earn that much money in so short a time? How many hours would one have to stay up at night grading papers? How many students with acute behavioral problems or undiagnosed developmental disabilities would one have to struggle with while trying to teach thirty other students, all while attempting to shoehorn a difficult curriculum into a format that will help all those students perform to federally mandated standardized testing criteria?
I ask these questions because yesterday in the Chicago Sun-Times I read Rahm Emanuel’s statements expressing his belief that Chicago Public Schools teachers don’t deserve a meager 4% pay raise (Rahm: Teachers Got Raises, Kids Got ‘The Shaft’; 6/17/11). Yes, Mayor Emanuel’s school board voted against the pay raise, and Mayor Emanuel says that with the school system facing a $712 million deficit, it’s wrong to give teachers a raise while giving students “the shaft.”
Mayor Emanuel is a very smart man. He has been instrumental in helping to elect and organize corporate-friendly Democrats across the nation, even helping the last two Democratic presidents gain the office. (The long-term fruits of his labors at the congressional level might be considered somewhat less distinguished, if one is willing to judge by the results of the 2010 midterms.) So when Mayor Emanuel constructs a non sequitur—namely, suggesting without logical substantiation that fair compensation for teachers has a causal relationship to both poor student performance and a growing budget deficit—it’s a safe bet that he isn’t doing so out of carelessness or ignorance.
Instead, Mayor Emanuel likely wants the citizens of Chicago to look at the $712 million deficit and the failures of the students, and then blame the greedy teachers. He probably doesn’t want us look at the corrupt and undemocratic tax increment financing (TIF) program, which has siphoned millions of taxpayer dollars away from vital public functions like schools and gifted them to the allegedly free-market private sector (e.g. real estate developers). He apparently doesn’t want us to ask if his willingness to alienate and short-change our hardworking educational professionals has anything to do with his and his investment banker friends’ fondness for the charter school privatization scheme. Most of all, Mayor Emanuel possibly doesn’t want us to entertain thoughts of simple and effective measures that would easily close the budget gap, such as eliminating TIFs entirely, or levying a relatively microscopic transaction tax on Emanuel’s casino-capitalist friends who do business in our city.
I don’t blame Mayor Emanuel for expecting that we won’t do any of these things. During his campaign he was very forthright about his preferred way of doing business, and every one of us had access to information about who his wealthy friends are. Still, 55% of us who showed up on Election Day voted for him.
This coming September, my daughter will be starting kindergarten at our local public school. I have a vested interest in seeing that the professionals who will be helping to educate her are properly compensated for their Herculean efforts, and that they are not made scapegoats for a corrupt and top-heavy system of tax revenue distribution. It’s really none of my business where Mayor Emanuel and all his wealthy investment banker friends send their kids to school, but on behalf of my wife and I, and all our fellow Chicagoans who can’t or won’t to send our kids to tony private schools, I won’t sit quietly while some of our most courageous and self-sacrificing public servants are unfairly blamed for the policies that have helped the greedy few among us line their pockets while “cheating our children for the last decade.”