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'Transparency' or more cover-up? CPS releases information on selective contractors, consultants, but so far is leaving out charter schools

On the eve of Christmas Eve, the Chicago Public Schools issued a press release announcing that it was going to publish on the CPS Web site information about contracts. And, sure enough, a visit to the links noted in the press release did reveal some information about some of the contracts CPS has issued during 2009.

Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman during the December 16, 2009, meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. Huberman has been delaying the release of the "Agenda of Action" which tells the public what the Board voted to do every month since June 2009. The unprecedented editing of public records that are supposed to represent the final vote of the Board reached a new level in December 2009, when the Board Reports from the Agenda of Action were still not published on December 24, 2009, nine days after the Board voted on all of the agenda items. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.But as of Christmas Eve, the "transparency" promised by CPS is, to put it mildly, incomplete. No charter school contracts are listed, for example. The contracts with outside lawyers are so far (as of December 24, 2009) not up.

At the November 23, 2009, Board of Education meeting, for example, the Board approved 16 charter school applications or expansions. Typical of those was Board Report 09 1123 EX19, which increased the charter school funding for Urban Prep Charter School to open its South Shore "campus" by a total of $1,032,345 for a possible 135 students to go to the new "campus" next September. More than 40 charter school applications and modifications voted on by the Board of Education between January 1, 2009, and December 16, 2009, are not included in the contracts so far compiled on the Board's Web site.

The Board may be increasing what it calls "transparency" in one area, but at the same time Rob Huberman, the Chief Executive Officer of CPS, is decreasing it in another area.

As of the early hours of December 24, 2009, Huberman had still not authorized the publication of the "Action Agenda" from the Board's meeting of December 16, 2009. This delay, which began in May or June 2009 (the first time Substance noted it was in June) has become routine since Huberman became CEO, and it is unprecedented.

Once the Board of Education votes on a "Board Report," the report that the Board has voted to approve is legally in force. For years, the Agenda of Action for each Board meeting was available, in print and later on line, within 48 hours following the votes of the Board on the day of the Board meetings. Since Huberman became CEO, he has been editing the Board Reports before the Office of the Secretary (who works for the Board and not for the CEO, by the way) can release the information to the public. The practice of revising what has already been voted on by the Board is unprecedented and possibly illegal. But it continues into the end of 2009, with Huberman having delayed the publication of the Agenda of Action from the December 24, 2009 Board meeting for more than a week following the Board meeting. Members of the Board of Education of the City of Chicago listened to CEO Ron Huberman explain the new school closing policy at the Board's December 16, 2009, meeting. In the back above four of the Board members can be seen while Huberman, who was speaking from the podium, can be seen on the TV screen. Board members along the rear are (left to right): Roxanne Ward, Norman Bobins, unidentified student "shadow", Clare Munana, and Tariq Butt. The President's chair (center, under the seal of the Board) has been left vacant since Board President Michael Scott was found dead on the morning of November 16, 2009, two days before he was scheduled to chair another meeting of the Board. Not shown in the above photograph are Alberto Carrero and Peggy Davis. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.

Perhaps the biggest omission, in terms of dollars, deals with the pinstripe patronage that takes place whenever CPS issues bonds for construction and other purposes. Nothing appears in the CPS materials about the law firms and banks that do the work during the bond offerings — and how much they are paid for their work.

The CEO is not the only person avoiding real transparency.

Every six months, the members of the Board of Education vote to continue the secrecy of the notes taken during the "executive sessions" (behind closed doors) that are held at almost all Board meetings. The vote to maintain the secrecy of the Board's discussions has been repeated since July 1, 2009, when Mayor Daley took over the school system. No one has challenged the 15 year secrecy policy in court, and the Board simply refuses to provide the reports from inside its secret meetings to the public.

The following is the official CPS media announcement issued on December 23, 2009.

December 23, 2009

Chicago Public School officials announced today that vendor contracts are now available online for public viewing as part of a district-wide effort to foster transparency. Accessible contract information includes Board Report numbers, contract numbers, contract descriptions, vendor names, contract amounts, the dates contracts were signed and the contract amounts authorized by the Chicago Board of Education. Contracts awarded by pool — that is, to multiple vendors — are also available.

Currently, more than 100 contracts, which are in PDF format, have been placed on the CPS Department of Procurement and Contracts website. CPS officials note that new contracts are being added to the website on a near daily basis.

To view vendor contracts visit the Solicitations page on the Procurement and Contracts website and select Contract awards for fiscal year 2010. Only contracts awarded in fiscal year 2010 and in the future will be available online.

Learn more about Procurement and Contracts.



Comments:

December 24, 2009 at 8:27 AM

By: Retired Principal

Urban Prep

George, do you know where the new Urban Prep High School South Shore Campus will be?

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