Challenges Chicagoans to Protect Children; Announces more funding for summer jobs for youth and summer parks programs, and a new CPS program aimed at easing the transition to high school for 8th graders
Mayor Richard M. Daley used his annual City of Chicago address to confront the city's challenges: gun violence, especially against children; a national economy in recession and a school system that is progressing but needs to redouble its efforts to keep student achievement going.
Chicago has made real and lasting progress to secure its future since he has been in office, Daley told an audience of community, government, political and other leaders at the Hilton and Towers, 720 S. Michigan Av. The city has come far since the days of "Council Wars," when the city was divided along racial lines.
"We've lowered our voices, raised our sights and put the racial divisiveness behind us so we can look to the future and address our shared problems. As a result, we've improved the lives of people from every walk of life and helped secure our future," the Mayor said.
Daley reviewed the city's progress in many areas: improving schools; creating new opportunity and diversifying the economy; better managing government; enhancing the city environment; improving neighborhood quality of life and being selected as America's candidate to host the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
"But, there is more to be done. This is no time to rest. The challenges we face are great," he said.
In the speech, the Mayor announced a city initiative that will expand summer job opportunities for young people this year and a new Chicago Public Schools summer program aimed at helping 8th graders make the sometimes difficult transition from elementary to high school.
The city will spend an additional $1.5 million dollars to provide an additional 1,000 young people with summer employment opportunities. The money will support the city's partnerships with the schools, the Park District, After School Matters and leading corporations.
The program will target the top ten communities with the highest levels of teen violence and the lowest economic opportunities.
"A summer job is a short-term way to give young people something much better to do than just hang around the streets. It puts money in their pocket and keeps them out of harm's way, too," he said.
"But government can't do this alone. Most jobs are in the private sector and today I want to challenge our business leaders to strengthen their efforts to provide jobs for young people.
They can do this by supporting our program and by hiring our young people themselves. We need everyone's help to keep our kids occupied in a positive way this summer," he said.
During the speech, Daley acknowledged nine Chicagoans who have provided numerous summer opportunities for young people over many years.
- Bernard Garbo, who has created two organizations to help make his neighborhood safer - one is an umbrella organization for new and existing block clubs and the other is "Hands Across Howard," a joint effort with residents of Evanston.
- Pamela and Tommie Bosley of Roseland, who lost their son, Terrell, to gang crossfire in 2006. They channeled their grief and anger into efforts to help other parents who have lost a child to gun violence.
- Colleen Frayn, who started her work by organizing a single block club in the Belmont-Cragin-Hermosa neighborhood. Now it's grown into a neighborhood association of 10 block clubs.
- Carlos Rivas, who is a National Honor Society member and a senior at North Side College Prep. Still, he finds time to be active in his block club, works as a CAPS volunteer and helps coordinate education programs at his church.
- Irma Alba, who has been an active parent patrol volunteer at the Scammon Elementary School since 2003 and is currently the chair of the group. She's also organizing block clubs around the school.
- Reverend Leslie Sanders, Sr., who has served the Englewood community as a minister for 35 years and whose work organizing residents is making the neighborhood safer for residents of all ages.
- Betty Swanson, who is President of the 79th and Carpenter Block Club , where she has turned a dangerous block into a model for the rest of the city.
- And Ann Deuel (DOO-UL), who is executive director of Jamal Place, a group home program in North Lawndale serving pre-teen and adolescent boys who are wards of the state.
In the long run, our young people need more than a summer job. They need to stay in school and graduate and go on to some kind of higher education if they are to reach their full potential, Daley said.
"For many of them, making the transition from elementary school to high school is very difficult. Many never successfully make it. They get frustrated, and they quit school. That's why this summer Chicago Public Schools will offer its new ‘Freshman Connection' program for eighth graders," he said
"Freshman Connection" is a four-week program that runs five days a week starting June 30. It has academic instruction in the morning and recreation activities in the afternoon at no cost to the students.
The program will be held at the students' destination high schools, so it will give them a chance to become familiar with their new school and their new classmates. And that will make it easier to get used to the new routine of high school, the Mayor said.
"Already 15,000 students have signed up. I want to stress this program has room for every 8th grader in the city that's starting public high school in the fall. The more kids who take advantage of "Freshman Connection," the more who will graduate from high school," he said.
Daley also announced that this summer the Chicago Park District will allocate an additional $500,000 to expand its NeighborSports program to serve an additional 1,500 teen-agers. Last year, the program served 4,000 young people.
For the first time, NeighborSports will be offered on Friday and Saturday nights until 10 p.m. at 20 sites in high crime neighborhoods. And the Park District also will be able to keep 17 swimming pools open until 9 p.m., Daley said.
Altogether, this summer, After School Matters and other programs will provide more than 140,000 children the chance to participate in arts, computer and sports programs or have a summer job. It's up to their parents to assure they take advantage of the opportunities we offer.
The Mayor detailed the major challenges facing the city:
"It has reached epidemic levels across the nation. On the one hand, in Chicago, we've embraced the latest technologies, new strategies and good policing to bring homicides and violent crime to historic lows. But, on the other, gun and gang violence are killing our children, devastating our families and outraging our city."
Daley reviewed the many steps that the city, community and religious groups and police have taken to protect our children and prevent gun violence, including extending and enforcing the city's curfew, adding police patrols to troubled schools, installing neighborhood and school safety cameras, adding more after school programs and getting more students to stay in school and go on to college.
Daley reviewed the findings from a meeting of city and community leaders he convened last week to ask what more could be done to protect our children and end the gun violence.
"On this we agreed -- we can make our neighborhoods safer for our children and all the people of Chicago. We will never turn our backs on protecting Chicago's children. We also agreed that the steps we're taking are solid and that we need to ask even more of ourselves to protect our children," Daley added.
He said that "more parents need to take responsibility. They need to know where their children are at all times. They need to guide them away from gangs and drugs and toward staying in school and going to college. More of them need to ‘lay down the law' in their own homes."
He challenged school and park leaders, as well as community and religious groups to expand their after school programs. He challenged every Chicagoan to rise up against the violence and report crimes and criminals in their neighborhoods and turn in illegal weapons. "Community silence means only more death and despair," Daley warned.
Daley went on to say that protecting our children and preventing gun violence also requires good policing and having stricter gun laws.
"I want the gang bangers and drug dealers who kill our children and prey on our families to know that that we'll always stand against them and their illegal ways," he said.
Daley said that includes everything from stepping up the presence of the Chicago Police Department in key areas to more effectively targeting resources to gang and drug hot spots.
He also asked Chicago's police to fully, but fairly enforce the law, adding that "we will not tolerate police misconduct or abuse of authority."
He also asked Chicagoans to support the city's ongoing efforts to pass common sense gun laws in Springfield and stand against the NRA and other gun extremists who will work to defeat them.
Daley also used the speech to address the nation's recession, making the point that since he's been Mayor, "we've strengthened the city's economy, made it more diverse and brought new businesses large and small both downtown and to our neighborhoods."
He went on to say that although Washington D.C. has yet to act on major economic challenges, Chicago has done its part.
"Years ago we saw the housing foreclosures crisis emerge and we acted," Daley said.
In 2003, Daley said, the city created the HOPI program which has helped hundreds of Chicagoans keep their homes and helped soften the impact of the nation's foreclosure meltdown in Chicago. The City has also implemented an early warning system for property owners and held nine borrower outreach days in the neighborhoods hardest hit by the problem.
Daley went on to say he has viewed the assessment system as "broken" for years. With his support, the legislature has twice passed legislation to cap the taxable value of property at 7%. Still, Daley said, this year the legislature needs to raise the exemption level or this fall property tax bills for many of our hardest hit homeowners will increase.
Daley said he has convened a group to advise him on how best to bring about fundamental reform in property tax assessments which, he reminded the audience, have the highest impact on property tax bills.
Daley added that to protect those who are struggling the city has assisted thousand of families in applying for the Earned Income Tax Credit and that it has contributed $2 million in the last two years to help low income Chicagoans pay their heating bills.
"Soon, we'll unveil our agenda for Washington, D.C. to protect those who struggle - whether in good economic times or bad -- including expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and updating the federal poverty line so that it better reflects the cost of living in modern times," he said.
Daley went on to say that "while the number of jobs we're creating is slowing, we are still creating opportunity - more than other metropolitan areas.
"Because of our efforts Chicago has again been rated by Site Selection Magazine as the nation's top city for business investment. We've received this accolade for the third consecutive year and for six out of the last seven years," he said.
Daley said another effect of the nation's recession is that city revenues have slowed. Daley reminded the audience that the city cut spending by $20 million a few weeks ago because of slowing revenues.
"So that we can continue to deliver on my commitment to keep any increase in taxes and fees as the last resort, we're already developing additional cuts in spending should they be needed in the months ahead," he said.
The Mayor said he will continue to better manage government to assure improved services and to employ private sector best practices to make government more accountable and transparent.
And, to assure that city actions have the confidence and support of the people of Chicago, Daley supported the Office of Compliance and its recently announced comprehensive code of conduct, including the commitments of his executive orders, that every city employee will be expected to understand and adhere to.
Daley said the city would continue to pursue the leasing of several city assets and that the agreements, if reached, would help guarantee ongoing investments in Chicago's neighborhoods for years.
Daley also said that the city will move toward employing a universal certification system for applicants to the City's Minority Business and Minority Women's Enterprise program, a step he said will enable the contract process to move more quickly.
Daley reiterated his appreciation for the progress our students have made in school, but also expressed his concern that school leaders not accept the status quo. "Every neighborhood school must offer a quality education. That's why I've challenged our school leaders to redouble their efforts on behalf of every student," Daley said.
Daley said that next year students will have more options than ever - from magnet to charter schools. Chicago Public Schools will continue to turn around troubled schools, including their high school transformation efforts, which are supported by the Gates Foundation and will involve 44 high schools across the city.
They'll work to reduce the drop out rate by offering more individual support for overage freshmen who are at risk. They'll also offer expanded evening school for students who might drop out because they must work.
To offer more learning time and to help close the achievement gap between minority girls and boys, they will create another 40 community schools, with longer hours so that more children can be involved in constructive activities.
This summer, they'll expand summer school programs and increase the number of children who can be involved in them by 5,000. To get more kids into college, they'll offer more college scholarships.
Daley once again challenged leaders in Springfield to do their part to fund education.
"The problem is that under the proposed budget, Springfield will provide only $60 million more next year, when our school leaders have said that even with the $90 million in spending they've already cut, they still need another $180 million. And, our schools haven't received any capital funding for years, a situation that is harmful to our children," Daley said.
He said that this year the city and its partners would invest another $422 million to support another 15,000 units of affordable housing. And, we'll support thousands of seniors through our five year senior housing plan and other programs.
He said that in the upcoming year, the CHA expects to deliver more than 1,000 new units for families and senior citizens, which will bring our total to almost 70 per cent of its 25,000-unit goal.
He went on to challenge the CTA needs to stay focused on its core mission -- improving the quality of service it provides to riders day by day.
"I'm confident that they're on track to build a quality system that is on time, that quickly gets people to their destination," Daley said.
In closing, Daley challenged our leaders in Springfield and Washington, D.C. to put aside their personal and political differences and end the partisanship. "They have the potential to accomplish great things."
Daley also challenged the city to continue working together.
"We've achieved so much because we've focused on what unites, not divides, us," Daley said. "Chicago can be even better. We can overcome the challenges ahead. With your continued support we can reach our full potential and offer the people of Chicago the best quality of life of any city on earth."