For Mayor Johnson to Succeed, He Needs to Prioritize Chicagoans

January 22, 2024

Misplaced priorities are a feature of Johnson's term

Imagine Mayor Brandon Johnson prioritizing the issues in the city of Chicago. One would think that the lowest tiers on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs would be the first to be met — shelter and security.

However, Chicago is in the throes of a homelessness and migrant crisis, both of which are spiraling out of control. First, Chicago’s homeless population in 2021, prior to the migrant crisis, was estimated at over 68,000 according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. To mitigate this problem, Mayor Johnson has thrown his support behind Bring Chicago Home, which would be funded by stiff tax hikes.

Then, Chicago’s woke solidarity with illegal immigrants and status as a sanctuary city is causing havoc on an unprecedented scale. On the City of Chicago’s own dashboard is information revealing that since August of 2022, nearly 40,000 asylum seekers have been “welcomed” into Chicago via buses and jets, and those seeking asylum are being sheltered at city airports and police stations until a long-term solution to house them can be found. The needs of migrants have superseded the needs of actual homeless Chicago natives, much to the dismay of those living in Chicago communities and suburbs. Once again, the budget to house these asylum seekers will be based on tax increases unless Johnson can secure billions from the Biden White House. Thus far, Johnson's appeals for a federal aid package have disregarded.

As far as security, it is true that the Chicago Police Department (CPD) reported a drop in homicides and shootings for 2023. Yet, the numbers are still staggering: In 2023, Chicago suffered 617 murders, and another 2,883 shooting victims. Clearance rates for homicides hover at only 50 percent. Alongside the troubling homicide number, car thefts and armed robberies have risen. Overall crime across numerous categories is taking a toll on Chicago. Either retailers are forced to exit the city, or they can take a cue from CVS by keeping goods behind locked glass.

What could be a savior for citizens is a stellar education. As Schoolhouse Rock aptly underscored: “Knowledge is power!” With an education comes the opportunity to escape poverty, lower crime rates, and employment and economic security. However, the Chicago Public School system is abysmal. According to Chalkbeat, in 2023 less than 30 percent of CPS students read at grade level, and a mere 18 percent met math readiness goals on standardized testing. Because of the unruly and overbearing Chicago Teachers Union, better options for Chicago's students are evaporating.

High crime, a lack of affordable housing and shelters, and welcoming illegals have placed an enormous strain on Chicago’s slim resources. Throw in supporting and overfeeding an educational system that fails students, has obscenely low standards, and faces no competition, and you have the most important issues facing Chicago. Where, one should ask, is the urgency from Mayor Johnson to meet the most basic needs of Chicago’s population?

Johnson is instead touting one shiny example of a positive future for Chicago. Though the federal government won’t scrounge up aid for sanctuary cities, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded Chicago a $20 million grant to purchase 50 electric school buses over the next three years. This, of course, will be the answer to all of Chicago’s problems.

Chicago’s 323,000 students have not been receiving adequate busing to schools because, though there are 13 contracted school bus companies serving CPS, there aren’t a sufficient number of drivers. CPS acknowledged the lack of drivers at the start of the 2023-2024 school year via a letter sent to parents. In an interview with NBC Chicago, Charles Mayfield, Chief Operating Officer for CPS said:

“To effectively operate the district and transport all students using our district run transportation takes about thirteen hundred drivers. Uh, we have about half of that.”

Instead, CPS cooked up a plan to use their bus drivers for the students most in need, roughly 7,000, while providing alternatives via a $500 stipend for parents to find their own transportation or CTA Ventra cards at a cost of $35 per month.

When reporter Courtney Sisk asked Mayfield if he was concerned that the lack of buses will cause absenteeism, he shook his head and casually replied, “No.” He believes that the transportation alternatives provided would satisfy the needs of general education students. Mayfield’s nonplussed attitude could be due to the fact that chronic absenteeism has been nearly 50 percent according to Illinois Policy. Even the Chicago Sun-Times published an article last November entitled “CPS must solve chronic absenteeism” stating that, of all places, Payton College Prep — the cream of Chicago's select enrollment schools — has a chronic absenteeism rate of 25 percent.

Thus, the problem of a lack drivers not a lack of buses, and the transportation alternatives presented by CPS has no causal relationship to chronic absenteeism. Nevertheless, we must go green. Perhaps seeing shiny electric buses will do the trick and inspire more men and women to apply to be bus drivers while, at the same time, get kids excited about attending school.

Meanwhile, there are the costs associated with purchasing electric school buses. In a NewsNation’s article, “Schools are switching to electric buses. Are they worth the cost?,” author Katie Smith learned only 1 percent of schools are using electric buses, most likely due to the excessive cost. On average, green buses cost $400,000 per bus as opposed to a new diesel school bus which costs just over $100,000. Additionally, NewsNation found the cost of charging stations “rang[es] from about $600 to $140,000 per port depending on whether districts opt for a slower, more affordable charger or a more complex and expensive high-speed charger.”

The federal government must have money to burn, as the buses will be paid for via grants. However, the cost of charging stations will fall on Chicago. Remember, though, all of this is for the children. After all, the U.S. Department of Transportation not only makes its case that going green helps our environment, but these electric school buses will make children healthier.

Their site points to an interview with Steve Bloch of ABB E-mobility buses where he makes the case for the need for electric buses to improve children’s health. Bloch states:

“Decades of research show how childhood asthma and related health issues are aggravated by air pollution and vehicle emissions – and recent studies have shown the air quality can actually be worse inside of the bus than outside of it.”

It's truly amazing that any of us above the age of 40 survived the dangerous plight of diesel school buses. But kids being able to breathe while on an electric CPS school bus for perhaps 30 minutes a day won’t make up for the hazards found in 100-year-old school buildings where they sit for six hours a day or the trauma they are exposed to daily when living in low-income areas.

Beyond the push for green energy are the questions surrounding whether our electrical grid infrastructure can handle increasing amounts of plug-in vehicles. For example, the average house uses 30 kWh of electricity daily. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Transportation states that electric school bus batteries are smaller and require more charges. Depending on the size of the bus, the batteries are anywhere from 50-250 kWh and will need to be charged twice daily. If we are to go all green without making necessary electricity grid upgrades, expect blackouts.

Additionally, temperature affects battery duration. We’ve already seen this year’s cold winter temperatures causing electric vehicles to run out of battery life faster. As Automotive News observed: “Freezing temperatures, offline charging stalls and high demand forced some Chicago-area Tesla owners to have their vehicles towed.” The Joint Office of Energy and Transportation concluded that the ideal outdoor temperature range for electric school buses was between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. How many days do we see those temperatures?

Recommendations provided to keep electric school buses operating at peak performance include garaging the buses, training drivers regarding the optimal use of range, making sure the bus has a heated drivers seat in order to turn down the temperature of the bus when empty of students, adding additional insulation during the manufacturing process, and recharging at the end of the day when the battery is already warm. All this will cost Chicago more money than the federal government is granting. So, these government recommendations could cause the wheels on the bus to not go ‘round and ‘round.

The inevitable question arises: Why? Why with all the other more pressing issues the city is facing does Johnson care about electric school buses? Moreover, why is our federal government using $5 billion in tax dollars to award these grants? Someone must be making money off the green agenda.

Or, perhaps, Mayor Johnson has the same fascination with school buses that Vice President Kamala Harris does. Remember October 26, 2022 when Harris said: “Here’s the thing. Who doesn’t love a yellow school bus?” The Chicago Teachers Union certainly doesn’t. They prevented CPS students from in-person learning during COVID and into 2022 when supposedly the Omicron cases were rising and CORE-dominated CTU members voted to return to remote learning. When they received push-back on their decision, then CTU vice-president Stacy Davis Gates replied: “I am so pissed off that we have to continuously fight for the basic necessities.”

Guess what, Stacy. Chicagoans feel the same way today. Their basic necessities are not being met. Instead, its politics as usual. One can only hope that the electric school bus arrivals won’t begin a string of armed busjackings.

As Gandhi once said, “Actions express priorities.” If true, Mayor Johnson’s actions are putting Chicagoans at the back of the bus.

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