While teaching social science at Roosevelt High School, Tim Meegan got deeply involved in civic life himself, running for alderman against one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s allies.
His students led a boycott of the Roosevelt cafeteria’s offerings from Aramark, the Chicago Public Schools’ lunch vendor.
And he blasted CPS CEO Forrest Claypool as a “hatchet man” at a Board of Education meeting.
Then, on Aug. 5, after 12 years with CPS, he was among more than 500 teachers who were laid off.
“My advocacy for Roosevelt High School got me fired,” says the 40-year-old father of two boys, ages 11 and 5.
Meegan had received a “warning resolution” signed by Claypool and the school district’s general counsel, Ron Marmer, on July 27. Among his “deficiencies” as a teacher: “You encouraged, solicited support, and congratulated students through social media for a student-led lunch boycott.”
Claypool also noted in the letter that Meegan ran for 33rd Ward alderman and gave classroom credit to students who volunteered to work on the 2015 council race.
“The fact that you were one of the individuals running for alderman of the 33rd Ward necessarily created a conflict of interest and an appearance of impropriety by, in essence, obtaining free labor from students to earn service learning hours,” Claypool wrote.
Meegan says he offered credit to students who helped any campaign, including his rivals in the aldermanic race. He appeared to have forced a runoff with Emanuel appointee Deb Mell, but absentee votes counted after election day carried the incumbent barely over 50 percent.
Asked about Meegan’s case, CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said all layoffs were done “in accordance with the district’s agreement with the [Chicago Teachers Union]” and that warning resolutions play no role in the process. She noted that there are many opportunities for teachers to be hired back.
Meegan wasn’t unemployed for long. Knowing that budget cuts were coming at Roosevelt, he had applied for other teaching jobs. An hour after he learned CPS was canning him, he got a call with a job offer from another state.
Meegan’s wife has quit her job as a clerk at the Cook County forest preserves, and he’s driving north to Minnesota on Wednesday.
The school board in Mankato, about an hour south of Minneapolis, on Monday approved hiring Meegan to teach Advanced Placement Human Geography and World History.
The new job pays about $10,000 a year less than what he was making at the Chicago schools, where his annual salary was roughly $75,000.
But rent for a three-bedroom house in his new hometown is only $950 a month, less than the family has been paying for an apartment in Albany Park.
“My wife and are extremely sad, because we’ve put a lot of time into fighting to save education, but you have to work,” he says. “Minnesota offers me opportunity I can’t have here.”
Meegan sees other benefits to being exiled from Rahmville.
“I’ll get to vote for my school board in Minnesota,” he says. The mayor here handpicks school board members.
In Minnesota, Meegan says, “Government taxes the rich,” through a progressive income tax, and the state has a $1 billion surplus. A graduated income tax has been proposed but not approved here, even as Illinois has fallen deep into the fiscal abyss.
Also, in Meegan’s new home state, “They don’t nickel and dime you with red light cameras and speed cameras. They’re not focused on flashy thing like a stupid river walk when they’re not funding basic services. And government isn’t corrupt.”
Meegan says he doesn’t expect to have to agitate against his new employer. He hopes to enjoy the stability that will allow him to focus on teaching.
CPS got rid of him, Meegan says, to send a message, “to discourage teachers from standing up for schools and students.”
“I would say to them, ‘Keep fighting,’” he says. “May God have mercy on Chicago.”