news conference Tuesday, mayoral candidate Gery Chico offered so much good stuff to students and their parents that it’s hard to imagine why any voter with a child, grandchild, niece, or nephew in the Chicago public schools wouldn’t vote for him. I asked him how he…">
Carol Felsenthal
On politics

A Laptop in Every Pot: Gery Chico’s Promises to Chicago Public Schools

At a news conference Tuesday, mayoral candidate Gery Chico offered so much good stuff to students and their parents that it’s hard to imagine why any voter with a child, grandchild, niece, or nephew in the Chicago public schools wouldn’t vote for him. I asked him how he…

At a news conference Tuesday, mayoral candidate Gery Chico offered so much good stuff to students and their parents that it’s hard to imagine why any voter with a child, grandchild, niece, or nephew in the Chicago public schools wouldn’t vote for him.

Here’s some of what Chico is offering:  

  • Laptops for all
  • School days extended by two hours—a boon to working parents
  • School year extended by 25 days
  • Full-day kindergarten
  • Preschool for all three- and four-year-olds

I asked him on Thursday how he plans to pay for all this.

“The first place I would look is in the textbook budget that we have today, which is tens of millions of dollars,” Chico said. Sleek laptops would replace the universally despised tomes. Though he held up an Apple MacBookPro at the news conference, he said the computers he plans to offer—first to high school students, next to first- through eighth-graders—could be Apples, Dells, or another brand. By the end of his first term, every student would have a state-of-the-art laptop to bring to class and to take home. “If I can do it sooner, I’ll do it sooner.”

Chico said he hopes that those nice people at Apple, who renovated the dingy North and Clybourn stop on the Red Line abutting the new Apple store, might want to kick in some money. “This would be the largest bulk purchase of hardware maybe in the history of education, and so you’re darn right we would have direct conversations with manufacturers.” Asked if he has heard yet from the likes of Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, he said, “No, not yet, but they will [call].”

His second step to pay for his proposed items would be to cut the central office staff by a third. “In the HR department when I was there [as board president from 1995-2001], it was about 90 people. Today it’s about 170 to 180, with fewer employees to manage.”

Chico told me that the feedback—particularly to the laptop part of his plan—has been ecstatic. “I walk down the street, and strangers shout, ‘Chico, great idea on the laptops.’”

I asked him about the student who gets jumped walking home with his computer, or the kid whose home life is so unstable that the laptop disappears in a drug deal. “I have more faith than that—in our parents and our kids. You’re going to have a certain percentage of loss, but that doesn’t mean we don’t do the program. We have to aspire to be better.”

“Has anyone accused you of offering a bribe?” I asked. “A laptop for a vote?”

“I’m not trying to pander to anybody,” Chico said. “I’m trying to make schools in this city the best in the country, and you’re not going to get there by namby-pamby, band-aid approaches.”

Chico’s opinions about the bloated bureaucracy at CPS were a surprise to Mayor Daley, who said Thursday: “He never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever mentioned that to me.” Asked if he had read Chico’s plan to revamp the schools, Daley snapped, “I have better things to do.” The mayor’s response was quite a turn from what he said about Chico in a September interview just after announcing his retirement. He had called Chico “a wonderful public servant” who was “closer to [him] than anyone else.”

Later on Thursday, Chico called another press conference and credited Daley for doing a “tremendous job” for Chicago. But the candidate held his ground: “This isn’t about Mayor Daley or any one person. I stand on my own two feet. If it ruffles feathers, what am I going to do about it?”

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