The quarter million dollar question: Why did Chicago get stuck with Jean-Claude Brizard (and why has he been truant from the bargaining table)?

A little over a year ago, Chicago's rookie mayor Rahm Emanuel held a press conference at Kelly High School and announced his new schools "team." Flanked by Rochester New York Schools Supt. Jean-Claude Brizard (whom he was appointing "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools) and billionaire Penny Pritzker (whom he was appointing to the Board of Education) Emanuel went into the first of hundreds of self-promotions about how he was about the bring about a new day for the third largest school system in the USA.

Along the way, Pritzker and the other six members of the seven-member Chicago Board of Education voted to approve a quarter million dollar pay for Brizard. This meant that Brizard's annual salary jumped to 25 percent more than his longest-serving predecessor, Arne Duncan. By May 2011, when Brizard was moving himself to Chicago from New York, Arne Duncan was serving as U.S. Secretary of Education. Duncan had never been paid more than $200,000 per year during the eight years he was CEO of CPS. Neither Mayor Rahm Emanuel nor anyone on his school board ever explained — or had to explain — how Brizard came to be worth at least 25 percent more than his main predecessor.

But the hiring of Brizard was not the only expensive mistake the mayor's people began making 13 and 14 months ago. In hiring Brizard, the Chicago Board also set a new precedent, agreeing to pay Brizard $30,000 in "relocation and transition expenses." The seven members of the Board also agreed to pay Brizard an undisclosed amount for "performance" (without ever revealing how that was to be measured).

And so a revolutionary new trend began in public education in Chicago, the city that had pioneered many of the most controversial projects of what is now widely known as "corporate school reform." Month by month, the Chicago Board of Education voted to replace its existing executive officers — from instruction to finance to personnel — with newcomers from out of town. And the out of town newcomers were usually rewarded with generous "relocation and transition" expenses. Each vote by the Board of Education was unanimous, and there was never any discussion of the major policy shifts they embodied. On the one hand, CPS was establishing a precedent that said that out of towners were more qualified to lead public education in Chicago than Chicago veterans. One the other hand, the Chicago Board of Education's members were proclaiming that they would pay not only high salaries, but what should have been controversial "relocation and transition expenses" to these outsiders as well.

The meetings of the Chicago Board of Education began a new set of rituals each month (the Board generally meets just once a month), another unprecedented thing. Each meeting was characterized by one or more Power Point presentations by various executives, followed by self-promoting and often banal questions from one or more of the Board members. Then the Board would recess into "Executive Session" (the time permitted by the Illinois Open Meetings Act when the Board can meet in secret to discuss certain matters, among them personnel), emerging late in the afternoon for a quicky vote on all of its agenda, with additions from Executive Session (usually, the appointment of more outsiders to lucrative executive positions).

At each point in the first year of the Reign of Rahm, the seven members of the Board came out from their executive sessions and approved another bunch of people from outside Chicago to the top executive positions at CPS. Brizard was the first of dozens to come in, at Rahm's behest, from outside to run the city's school system. Like Brizard, most of them also received "relocation and transition expenses" (some of them, even if they were already living in Chicago).


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