Clearly I was a first timer and would use today to learn how these meetings flow. To me, public meetings are a bit like participatory dinner theater without the meal. Some of the characters are scripted actors (the board members and agency employees) and the audience is comprised of amateurs (the public) who participate in the play as the actors decide to include them in the play.
The address listed for the meeting at the central office of the school board is 125 South Clark. But don’t let that fool you into thinking there is a door to a building with the address 125 South Clark. Does not exist. The flag-flanked entry to 125 South Clark is around the corner on Adams Street.
So I entered the building just about 10:30a.m. at the time the meeting was supposed to start. But you have to walk through the building to the Clark Street side to sign-in. Fortunately one of the two women who had just packed up the computer used for sign-in was willing to tell the security-receptionist people to give me a badge and let me in.
But I was too late to get into the actual board chamber on the fifth floor. I had to go to the overflow room on the fifteenth floor where about forty other people were watching the meeting on TV. A security person in that room explained to me that as people left the fifth floor room an equal number of people in this overflow room would be allowed to replace them. The people would be allowed in according to the number on the red entry pass they were given. Because of my post-computer processing arrival time I only had an orange pass but eventually even I was allowed into the board chamber.
The meeting begins at 10:30a.m.
The board meeting starts with two hours of two-minute-long comments from members of the public. To speak at the meeting one must register between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00a.m. Here is the link to the page that explains the public participation guidelines.
For today's meeting people were in line at 5:00a.m. One of those folks was a man who had flown in from San Francisco on the red-eye to attend the meeting and planned to leave as soon as the board dealt with the item that interested him.
I was impressed that there was a list available indicating the name of each speaker and the issue he or she would address. There were 49 speakers listed.
There were Aldermen concerned about people being paid to support school closings in their wards.
There were parents from the 19th ward that did not want the longer school day because it would interrupt the after-school programs they had.
There were parents from schools that were threatened with closure and turnaround that did not want to lose their schools.
Some parents were concerned about the safety of their children if they were moved to schools in areas "controlled by" different gangs.
All of the speakers were passionate about their issues but the board rarely reacted to any of the comments.
One women, part of a group protesting the closure/turnaround of Staff elementary, collapsed moments after delivering her forceful message about the importance of the school to her and her children. Fortuitously there was a retired registered nurse and a doctor in the room when the woman dropped to the floor.
It seemed like it took the paramedics longer to arrive than one would think in the center of the Loop. But then maybe the inaccurate address for the building was an issue.
While the proceedings were suspended awaiting the paramedics I paced around the chamber and viewed the impressive restored collection of early 20th century American impressionits paintings decking the walls.
After the public comment period ended. Most of the public left. And the board took up its agenda which included presentations entitled “Full School Day” and “Student Health Policies”. That took about an hour or so. And then the board went into executive session before taking action on any of the items on the published agenda. It was about 1:00 p.m.
I asked a couple of different people when the board would come back in session.
Anywhere between thirty minutes or four hours. Huh?
So, I went to the Subway in the lobby for lunch hoping it wouldn’t be a four-hour session.
When I finished lunch and tried to go back up to the fifth floor. Security informed me that I would have to wait until the board was back in session.
“And how would I know when that would be?” I asked.
“When the chimes ring. You can hear them anywhere in the building.”
About fifteen minutes later security let another man and I go up. Without any chimes ringing.
Outside the locked and empty board chamber about ten people waited for the meeting to resume. There were only three chairs and a bench. Four of the people were there from Office Depot awaiting the vote on a fifteen million dollar office supply contract. There was a radio reporter. Two graduate student fellows in journalism. A couple of women who never said why they were there. The guy from San Fran. And me.
Mr. San Fran wondered how long the meeting would take once it got started and they addressed the agenda. I said that if it was like the Chicago Park District meeting they would use the procedure of “applying the last favorable vote” and speed right along.
We waited and chatted for an hour or so before the meeting resume. And when the president of the board invoked “the last favorably vote” routine San Fran looked at me and laughed. His agenda item (which he never disclosed to me) was in one of the first groups of items that received a favorable vote. And then he was out the door to O’Hare and back to California.
I think the meeting adjourned a bit before five o’clock.
While in the CPS building I picked up information on this year’s Local School Council elections. Nomination forms are due at the Office of Local School Council Relations located at 125 South Clark Street by 3:00p.m. on March 1, 2012 or at 3:00 p.m. on March 8, 2012 at the school where one seeks to serve as a Local School Council member. Here is the link to get the details.