Brizard, Carroll continue censorship of CPS public information with secret 'briefing call' on newly released local school budgets to selected reporters on Friday, April 27

Once again, on Friday, April 27, 2012, Chicago Public Schools officials and communications staff (the largest, by the way, in history; see below) censored most media reports on the latest budget activities of CPS by excluding Substance from an important "briefing call" regarding the Board of Education's release of the budget information to local school principals.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel arrives with his entourage at Disney II magnet school on April 10, 2012, for the press conference announcing that elementary schools would go to a seven hour (as opposed to a 7.5 hour) school day. While the mayor admires the quality of CPS teachers, CPS Communications Officer Becky Carroll (second from right) confers with CEO Jean-Claude Brizard. For that one media event, on April 10, 2012, Emanuel was accompanied by a dozen highly paid aides and press people, while CPS also provided the services of the $165,000-per-year Becky Carroll and others. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. The supposed decentralization of the budget process had been announced by CPS Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard and Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley at the Board's April 25 meeting. On April 27, 2012, CPS "Chief Communications Officer" Becky Carroll invited a selected small group of reporters to participate in a "briefing call" with CPS officials about the release of the CPS budget materials to principals. The call was based on a briefing book which seemed to indicate that principals were being forced to use the supposedly new discretionary money to purchase people and materials to promote the untested "Common Core" curriculum and the slogan that the purpose of the public schools is to make every child, from pre-school onwards, "College and Career Ready."

CPS had no explanation as to why its communications staff, once again, excluded Substance. But Substance has received many of the materials provided by CPS from reliable sources and verified that they are indeed CPS documents.

The April 27 briefing was supposedly regarding the new policy that supposedly provides more money to local schools.

All that was actually provided to reporters, however, was just another pretentious CPS document declaring another revolutionary CPS initiative, this one something dubbed the "College Ready Fund." The information was contained in a ten-page booklet originated in the CPS "Office of Instruction."

Once again, the Brizard administration is claiming that its policy is unprecedented, revolutionary, and completely new and novel...

While Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke to the press, more than a dozen aides, assistants, and media coordinators stood along the wall monitoring the April 10 media event. After reporters report their stories, CPS officials begin calling editors and the reporters to complain about each iteration of coverage. The expense of the City Hall and CPS media operations are unprecedented in Chicago history. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.In the ten-page document, CPS says...

"For the first time, each CPS school will receive a discretionary fund, called the College Ready Fund, aimed at increasing flexibility to align resources to drive academic achievement. The College Ready Fund was designed to give principals control over allocating resources that best support the needs of their unique student body, including staffing, curricular and intervention materials, out of school time services and other high priority needs to support college and career readiness. These resources are truly discretionary and can be used to fund people, materials, time, and professional development that support the school’s academic priorities..."

But a close reading of the actual requirements of the policy indicate that principals will have little or no real "discretion," although the manner in which CPS timed the released (late on a Friday afternoon) and the information provided indicated a tight control over the story under the guise of providing more money to the schools. For several months, CPS communications officials have been blocking reporters' on the record access to even the most experienced principals, ordering the principals not to talk with reporters without being watched by CPS communications officials. Given that most CPS "Communications" officials have been with the public schools for less than one year and know little or nothing about the complexity of actually running a real public school in the nation's third largest school system, the confusion that has resulted has been large.

During the mayor's April 10 media event at Disney II, former CPS budget director Beth Swanson (left) stood to the side with "Chief of Staff" to the Board of Education Abigayil Joseph among the more than a dozen mayor and CPS assistants, aides, and press people. Swanson is currently serving as Mayor Emanuel's liaison with CPS. Joseph was promoted in October to the $145,000 per year job of "Chief of Staff" to the Board of Education (which is separate from other chiefs of staff at CPS; there are at least three). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. The problem with the material released by CPS (aside from the fact that the so-called "College Ready Fund" is simply another example of strange "rebranding" that is the only consistent policy of the Brizard administration) is that all CPS officials seem to be doing is shuffling funds around — and then rebranding them.

In order to have a reasonable public discussion of this information, CPS needs to provide year-to-year budgets for all schools and then make all school principals available to discuss how much additional discretion they are being given. Until, then we have simply the latest example of CPS Emanuel - Era publicity stunt and possible nonsense.

Since the beginning of the 2011 - 2012 school year, CPS has added at least a half dozen new employees in the "Office of Communications," which has tried to control every aspect of the so-called "messaging" of the huge school system. None of the most recently hired public relations people has any knowledge of the real public schools in the nation's third largest school system.

In addition to "Chief Communications Officer" Becky Carroll, the Office of Communicatons now has 19 people working in it, according to the most recent CPS "Position File" provided to Substance under the Freedom of Information Act. Carroll, at $160,000 per year, is the highest paid publicity chief in CPS history.

She is being paid $10,000 per year more than her predecessor Monique Bond.

Carroll is being paid $40,000 more per year than the long-time chief of that office, Peter Cunningham. Cunningham is now at the U.S. Department of Education, with Arne Duncan.

But Becky Carroll is not the only "Communications" staff person being paid, this year, more than $100,000 per year.

Three others, all hired since last year, are listed at salaries over $100,000 per year.

A "Senior Manager" Mr. Daniel M Conley is now being paid $105,000 per year.

The new "Director of Communications and "Empl Branding" Ms. Susan L Birkholtz is being paid $110,000 per year.

The Brizard Administration's "Director of Media Affair," Robyn A. Ziegle, is listed at $110,000 per year.

And Becky Carroll, whose title in the Position File is "Communications Officer, is being paid $165,000 per year.

Emanuel and Brizard on April 10, while aides, assistants, and press people looked on. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The expansion of the Board's public relations office has come during a time when CPS officials were repeatedly proclaiming "austerity" and forcing schools to do more with less. A month before CPS officially hired Becky Carroll, Tim Cawley announced that CPS had a fiscal emergency and had to take away the four percent raises guaranteed to all unionized CPS workers in the final year of five-year union contracts (the largest of which includes those represented by the Chicago Teachers Union). No "fiscal emergency" existed, however, when it came to expanding the Board's public relations staff to an unprecedented level. Every month since July 2011, the Brizard administration has added people to that office. Most of the additions have been in violation of a Board policy that requires that the highest paid executives be reported in a public Board Report that appears on the Agenda of Action following each Board of Education meeting. The only "Communications" official reported in accordance with the policy has been Becky Carroll, whose $165,000 per year job was reported following the Board meeting of June 22, 2011.


April 28, 2012 at 10:52 AM

By: Danny van Over

But they need all those Communications staffers... that principals and APs have been instructed to go through CPS Communications department before speaking to any member of the Press.

I mean, you can't just let people speak freely, can you?

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