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Lawyering up at CPS... No 'Billion Dollar Deficit!' when Board hired a million dollars worth of new lawyers and paid one outside law firm another million dollars in eight months

The next time Mayor Rahm Emanuel or his hand-picked schools “Chief Executive Officer” Barbara Byrd Bennett tells you that sacrifices have to be made and that Chicago Public Schools has cut its budgets to the “bone” and beyond because of that “billion dollar deficit” caused, as everyone has heard, by the cost of pensions for retired teachers.

At least ask a few questions, all of which can be based on the public record.

Ask, for example, why Chicago’s schools have been adding lawyers while cutting teachers, security staff, lunchroom workers, and just about everyone else who actually does something for children.

Consider: Since October 2012, the Chicago Board of Education has voted to pay $1 million to one law firm outside CPS for legal work that could easily be done by the tribe of lawyers and legal helpers that fill almost all of the seventh floor of the CPS headquarters at 125 S. Clark St. (where the “Law Department” has its offices).

At its October 2012 meeting, the seven members of the school board (also appointed by Rahm) voted to pay the law firm of Franczek Radelete three quarters of a million dollars: That’s right, October 24, 2013 — $750,000 to Franczek Radelet, whose offices at on Wacker Drive, not at Clark St.

But the payments to the Franczek firm didn’t end there. On May 22, 2013 the Board voted to pay the firm another quarter million dollars, that’s right, $250,000. Bringing the total to one outside law firm in eight months to a million dollars.

As everyone knows, Rahm Emanuel dislikes paying public workers almost as much as he likes staging press events to promote himself at public expense. So maybe paying a private law firm a million dollars is OK because Rahm is "saving taxpayer dollars" by reducing the public payroll.

Think again.

To the citizen who might argue, maybe it was less expensive to the taxpayers for CPS to pay outside lawyers, a kind of privatization, instead of maintaining all those lawyers working for the school board, look at the available public record (the part that isn't blocked from public view by the lawyers)...

The argument about savings by privatization would only hold if the citizen ignored the fact that the Chicago Board of Education has been hiring new lawyers, some recently out of law school, for between $65,000 and $100,000 a year at the rate of two per month since CPS paid that three quarters of a million to the Franczek firm (October) and during the time CPS was getting ready to pay that latest million to the Franczek firm.

During those same eight months, CPS has been promoting (with large pay raises) or hiring newly more lawyers than it’s been hiring teachers.

On November 14, 2012, the Board voted to promote one of its lawyers, Ruchi Verma, from the post of “Assistant General Counsel” at a salary of $64,000 per year to the post of Deputy General Counsel, at a salary of $104,000 per year.

At that same meeting, on November 14, 2012, the Board voted to promote another one of its lawyers, James Ciesil, from the post of “Senior Assistant General Counsel” (at a salary of $113,347.19 per year) to the post of Deputy General Counsel, at a salary of $124,000 per year.

Apparently, the Board at its November meeting made a policy decision that it needed additional “Deputy General Counsels” on the seventh floor. Anyone who is interested can learn, after the fact, that the Board made that decision, by reading the Board Reports in the “Action” agenda of the meeting. The proposal to add the two “Deputy General Counsel” position was not on the regular public agenda of the November 19, 2012 meeting, however, because personnel matters like that are first discussed in “Executive Session” and then voted on when the Board members come out of “Executive Session.” But the curious public cannot learn why the Board members made that decision, because the minutes of the “Executive Session” of each Board meeting since Rahm Emanuel took over is secret. Each month, the Board votes on what some of us call the NONE OF YOUR _______ BUSINESS motion, and thus the discussions from Executive Session remain secret – from the public. The Board’s expansion of lawyers in November 2012 was not a one-shot deal. In a kind of “Christmas” at Christmastime gift to lawyers, the Board hired five new lawyers at its December 19, 2012 meeting.

In alphabetical order:

On December 19, 2012, the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education voted to hire Kathleen D. Crawford, a “New Employee” at a salary of $75,000 per year to the post of Assistant General Counsel.

Also, on December 19, 2012, the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education voted to hire Lisa A. Dreishmire, also a “New Employee,” at a salary of $91,000 per year — also to the post of Assistant General Counsel.

The Board members may have discussed why one “Assistant General Counsel” was worth $75,000 per year while another was worth $91,000 per year, but the public can’t find that discussion anywhere in the public record (see above: the NONE OF YOUR _______ BUSINESS motion.

But that wasn’t the end of the lawyering up of CPS in December 2012. Also, on December 19, 2012, the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education voted to hire Wynter C.N. Jackson, also a “New Employee,” at a salary of $72,000 per year — also to the post of Assistant General Counsel.

Also, on December 19, 2012, the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education voted to hire Julie C. Keller, also a “New Employee,” at a salary of $95,000 per year — also to the post of Assistant General Counsel.

Also, on December 19, 2012, the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education voted to transfer Libby N. Masse, from the post of “Employee Relations Specialist” to the post of Assistant General Counsel, salary $63,800.

And so, between the end of the teachers’ strike (which took place in September 2012) the Board of Education, while claiming it was facing that “unprecedented deficit” of a billion dollars, found the money to pay one outside law firm three quarters of a million dollars and to hire five new lawyers at combined salaries totaling just under a half million dollars. (And lets not forget that each full-time person working for CPS gets benefits that equal about 30 percent of her salary). So the cost of the new lawyers was well over half a million dollars. And of course the lawyers who were promoted (in November) received raises more than the raises won by the teachers and others who had been on strike.

Well, that was what happened up to New Year’s Day 2013.

But the lawyering of Chicago’s schools didn’t end on January 1, 2013, although most citizens will remember that the rhetoric about that “billion dollar deficit” began escalating regularly then.

At its January 23, 2013 meeting, the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education found some more lawyer money and voted to hire Andrew M. Slobodien, another “New Employee,” at a salary of $97,500 per year —to the post of Senior Assistant General Counsel. There was no public mention of why Chicago’s public schools needed a “Senior Assistant General Counsel” when it already had all those “Deputy General Counsels” (see November 2012, above) or “Assistant General Counsels” (see December 2012, above), but the Board of Education members were more than ready to criticize citizens who criticized the decisions of the Board, as the record shows. And if anyone wanted to know whether they discussed this new found need for extra lawyers, well, there were lawyers to tell citizens that its NONE OF YOUR _______ BUSINESS. If, that is, a citizen could find the “Freedom of Information Office” at CPS.

But the story doesn’t end there. Also at its January 23, 2013 meeting, the Chicago Board of Education voted to hire Mark J. Lubus, another “New Employee,” at a salary of $63,800 per year —to the post of Senior Assistant General Counsel. Also at its January 23, 2013 meeting, the Chicago Board of Education voted to hire Deborah Divis, another “New Employee,” at a salary of $90,000 per year —to the post of Senior Assistant General Counsel. The hiring of new lawyers has continued since January 2013, but the picture is clear.

By the time the public got to federal court on July 16, 2013 to watch the lawyers for Chicago Public Schools (eight or more of them at the table for the “defense”) defend the right of the Chicago Board of Education to close as many schools as it wanted based on whatever pretext it could come up with while claiming it was facing a “billion dollar deficit,” the one thing the Board would have was plenty of lawyers. Oh, and just a reminder. One of those lawyers sitting defending CPS in front of U.S. District Judge Lee in July 2013 was James Franczek, who had been paid a million dollars during the previous eight months to be an “outside” lawyer for CPS.

During the same months CPS was hiring lawyers to fill the empty spaces on the seventh floor, its Law Department, at 125 S. Clark St.



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