Today, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen GJ Lewis, NBCT, asked the inspector general of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to investigate why district officials accepted a $35 million grant two years ago requiring Union collaboration it did not receive. CTU objected to the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) proposal because its members are opposed to merit pay schemes that would link their salaries to standardized test scores and other value-added experiments.
The controversial grant proposal was submitted during the leadership transition shortly after Lewis and others were elected to office in June 2010. Upon review of the proposal, CTU decided it was not interested in the pilot project because it was deemed a merit pay study and several merit pay studies have already concluded that merit pay does not work. In early March of this year, Lewis received a phone call from U.S. Education Department (DOE) official Jo Anderson inquiring about the TIF grant. He (Anderson) was surprised to learn CPS and CTU had never agreed upon collaboration.
On March 9th, 19th, and 20th CTU repeatedly requested copies of all documents and correspondence given to the DOE regarding the TIF grant. It received none. On May 30th, Lewis learned from CPS officials that the district had been asked to return the federal dollars it had fraudulently received.
In an email today to CPS Chief Talent Officer Alicia Winkler, who oversaw the project, Lewis once again reiterated her objections to the TIF proposal upon learning CPS was aggressively pitching local reporters a misleading story suggesting she had somehow “caused the district to ‘lose millions of dollars.”’:
“Today I received several phone calls from reporters alleging that CPS is pitching a story about my involvement with the TIF grant,” Lewis wrote. “I am disheartened that CPS chose to go public with this matter, but since you have decided to be extremely disingenuous let us recap the entirety of this issue. This letter does not reflect the depth and breadth of our conversations. You knew when you submitted this grant in 2010, the newly-elected leadership of CTU was philosophically opposed to merit pay, performance pay or whatever euphemism currently in use.
“You knew when you accepted the first federal dollar that your actions were in violation of the terms of the grant, which was supposed to include Union “buy-in.” You asked for a last-minute discussion about the grant, yet you refused to provide the Union with your correspondence with the DOE since 2010. In essence, this entire discussion, prompted by a deadline, has been dealt with like so many other initiatives in your department – throw something together, slapdash and hope no one notices that it is a train wreck. We are serious about planning, while you want us to sign off on a plan that is not reflective of the written grant because you spent money to which you were not entitled. This letter is a bold attempt to shift responsibility from you to us. That is unacceptable,” she concluded.
Later, Lewis contacted Inspector General James M. Sullivan, and called for a formal investigation into Winkler’s actions. She wrote:
“CPS Chief Talent Officer Alicia Winkler accepted a $35 million dollar Teacher Incentive Fund grant from the US Department of Education in 2010. The terms of the grant included Union agreement and participation in a merit pay, differentiated pay, and performance pay scheme. Ms. Winkler accepted federal funds knowing she was in violation of the terms of the grant as the Union did not agree to participate. On May 30, 2012 I was notified by Ms. Winkler that CPS was forced to return the remaining $34 million. These monies should have never been accepted in the first place, given CPS had prior knowledge that the Chicago Teachers Union would not be party to a divisive pilot program that has been shown to be unsuccessful for over 100 years of previous research. This misuse of taxpayer funds is extremely regrettable in light of the fiscal neglect of our schools. I respectfully ask you to launch a full investigation into the fraudulent actions by CPS immediately. I will also request the US DOE to look into this matter. “