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CPS continues rapid — and illegal — expansion of 'Communications' staff, while assuring public it's broke and 'transparent'

We doubt it will ever compete with Spone Bob Square Pants, Bozo's Circus or other Chicago inspired classics, but we at Substance are meditating this morning on the wonderful new media opportunity Chicago teachers, parents and children will be having in the months ahead. Let's called it the "Jean-Claude Show..." Just when it seemed that there was nothing worth reading on some of Chicago's blogs, a reader insisted that we return to Alexander Russo's "District299.com" and take a look at the ridiculous "Town Hall..." produced by the CPS Office of Communications and featuring carefully screened and selected parents promoting Brizard's version of the Longer School Day. The URL for the link in through District 299.com is: http://www.chicagonow.com/district-299-chicago-public-schools-blog/2012/05/contract-reach-g-mail-youtube/

Chicago Public Schools Propaganda Minister Becky Carroll (right) speaks with CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard (left, top) at Disney II Elementary School on April 10, 2012. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.One of the opportunities that the video affords the attentive Chicago readers is the chance to see the CPS propaganda department in action. The show, produced by "CPS Office of Communications", is hosted by a guy named Alexander Soble, who began his career at CPS in August 2011, when the department had only seven people in it. Soble, who is listed as being in "Social Media," is one of nearly a dozen people added to Becky Carroll's Communications Department since June 15, 2011, when the Chicago Board of Education voted that it was too poor to fund the four percent raises for the system's more than 35,000 unionized workers.

The CPS Propaganda Center, er., "Communications Department," will be worth watching, and we'll probably owe a thank you to those who draw on its toutings and spew them along into the media mainstream.

But for others, the evolution of the heirs of Joseph Goebbels at 125 S. Clark St. might find facts at least as interesting as carefully scripted media events.

In October 2011, according to CPS Position Files obtained by Substance under a FOIA request, there were 12 people working in CPS "Communications." Half of those, including Sobel, had been hired after June 15, 2011 (when the Board voted it was too poor to pay the raises required under a bona fide union contract).

By February 2012, according to a later CPS Position Files obtained by Substance under a FOIA request, there were 18 people working in CPS "Communications" (and one vacant position waiting to be filled). Of those 18 people, 15 have been hired since June 2011 (as we note, the month CPS declared it was too poor to pay contractual raises). One of the things the "Communications" has been adept at is keeping its expansion out of the public record. CPS Position Files are not published or updated on the CPS Website, so the attentive citizen has to request the information and update it regularly.

But another interesting fact is that for the first time in history, CPS "Communications" has four people being paid more than $100,000 per year: Daniel Conley (hired August 28, 2011 as a "Senior Manager") is being paid $105,000 per year. Susan Birkholtz (hired August 28, 2011 with the delightful job title of "Director... of Emplyee Branding") is being paid $110,000 per year. And Robyn Ziegler (hired August 28, 2011 as a "Director of Media Affairs") is being paid $110,000 per year.

Of course, as we previously reported in Substance, Becky Carroll, who is "Communications Officer," was hired at $165,000 per year by the Board in June. Carroll's predecessor, Monique Bond, was never paid more than $150,000 per year, and Bond's most talented predecessor, Peter Cunninghman (who now works for Arne Duncan) was paid $120,000 per year as late as 2008. Neither Bond nor Cunningham has half the money to spend on "Branding..." and "External Relations..." people as Carroll has had during the less than one year she is atop Communications.

And apparently the members of the Chicago Board of Education now longer care about such fine points as legally hiring their highest paid PR flacks. The only one of these expensive "Communications" people whose hiring was reported to the public in a Board Report was Becky Carroll. For generations, CPS insisted that every expensive new hire in the central office be reported in a Board Report, which then becomes public record (in the Action Agenda) for the public.

CPS will continue to talk about "transparency" while doing exactly the opposite. The expensive expansion of the Brizard administration's Propaganda Team is just one small example of a much larger system of mendacities and hypocrisies — and likely illegalities (i.e., the hiring of executives and administrators to work in a school system in Illinois without full public disclosure).

As to Russo's version of reality, one thought. According to District299.com, the Ford Foundation is "left leaning." Who knew? "One thing you might not know is that the extended day effort is being supported by the National Center on Time and Learning,' Russo wrote, "a nonprofit funded by the left-leaning Ford Foundation..."



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