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CORRUPTION CPS: Why is CPS's cloying 'Mister Cover Up,' Jesse Ruiz, now 'Interim CEO'?... A look behind the eternal smiles of the Board's Vice President... and a closer look at how CPS voted, legally, to keep the public record secret despite Freedom of Information and Open Meetings laws...

By the October 23, 2013 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education (above), Vice President Jesse Ruiz had begun showing some of the strain on his special smile. By that point, Ruiz had voted in favor of every attack on the public schools that was ordered by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, from the "Longer School Day" fraud (Rahm's script ignored the facts of Chicago's actual school day length) and the massive school closings (which Ruiz voted for, except for two schools!). Ruiz was also losing the ability to talk about his Horatio Alger version of his own story (he talked about how his father only got through seventh grade, while ignoring most of the rest) from Humboldt Park because community leaders were fed up with hearing about how much he loved the "community" while he voted every month to help undermine its public schools. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt at the October 23, 2013 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education). "You lie!" The words, which broke out during a meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, were clear enough: "Jesse Ruiz! You lie!" They were spoken by a mother of four who came from the same "community" as the Vice President of the Chicago Board of Education. Jesse Ruiz is today a millionaire attorney who was always reminding people at meetings of his working class roots (until the laughing got too loud). Ruiz came out of Chicago's Wicker Park and Humboldt Park Puerto Rican neighborhoods, but as Rousemary Vega and others charged, he had not only forgotten but had betrayed his "roots."

Vega's outburst was cut out of the official video of the Chicago Board of Education for that meeting. Anyone who goes to the Board's website and watches the videos may notices that there are interruptions, or strange moments when speakers turn. And then all goes blank, because the Board's official video version will never show what's actually happening.

But the impact of Vega's words still resonates. The Board of Education has tried to bar Rousemary Vega and her husband, for all eternity, from the Board meetings. So the young lady who loudly proclaimed "You lie!" has been gagged, so to speak. And the Board is now facing a lawsuit about that, and about democracy in Chicago. Never, though, did anyone in power ask whether the "You lie!" from Rousemary Vega, a leading community activist, was true.

Chicago Public Schools 'Chief Executive Officer' Barbara Byrd Bennett (above right) gives directions to the Board's General Counsel, James Bebley, during the April 24, 2014 meeting of the Board of Education. Substance photo by David Vance.And so two days before another two of the highest-paid executives in America's third largest school system go to testify before a federal grand jury, it's worth asking who's been lying, who's been telling the truth, and how "legal" can some of the votes of the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education have been when those votes have been cast, for four years now, to undermine, privatize, and destroy the city's public schools.

By the end of the week after Clean Up Week in Chicago, the city once again was making national news. Earlier in 2015, the thunderclap came because Rahm Emanuel was forced into a runoff after he failed to get a majority of the votes in the February 24 municipal election -- even though every national pundit (and some on the international stage, like The Economist) had spent nearly four years writing about what a great guy and what a great job Rahm was doing. And who was this guy "Chuy" who was suddenly making a serious case to replace Rahm as mayor of the third largest city in the USA?

But that all ended when the news results were in following the April 7 municipal election. Not only had Rahm won decisively, but he had carried every majority African American ward in Chicago, proving, to some at least, the there were no hard feelings about all those school closings and charter school openings since Rahm had taken over in May 2011. The voters who supposedly were the most angry at the "racism" of the Rahm years had decided for Rahm (and "racism"?) when they had their chance, and in May 2015, Rahm Emanuel will be sworn in for his second term as Mayor of Chicago.

While the members of the Chicago Board of Education know precisely what they are covering up each month when they vote on the above motion (which means that the public is never allowed to read what the Board has been discussing in its "Executive Sessions"), the news of the cover ups has never been news. The Board of Education may vote to approve 52 "purchasing" Board Reports (most for further privatization) at its June 2013 meeting, but only one of those (giving more food services contracts to Aramark) was discussed in public. And the most controversial of those "Board Reports", the now infamous no-bid $20 million SUPES contract, was buried so deeply inside the Board's 300-page agenda (it was Purchasing item number 51 out of 52) that only the most determined reader would even have noticed (as reporters for Substance and Catalyst did, because the huge contract was no-bid). But, since May 2011 when the Board was appointed by Rahm Emanuel, the Board has voted on more than 1,000 purchasing contracts, and almost none of them has ever been discussed during the public portions of the meetings. And as long as the Board members continue voting to maintain as closed the records of the closed sessions of the Board, as the above indicates, the answer to the public about whether any of these decisions were discussed, and by whom and how, is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!But no sooner had Rahm got to announce his thanks to the voters than, less than a week later, a blockbuster (rumored for months) hit the city and even the corporate news people: Rahm's expensive and hand-picked "Chief Executive Officer" for Chicago Public Schools, Barbara Byrd Bennett, was facing indictment for some corruption problems.

Not only was the mayor's hand picked second CEO (the first had been Jean Claude Brizard, from Rochester), Barbara Byrd Bennett, facing a federal grand jury investigation, but a growing number of her personal "team" were being subpoenaed as well. For many, that's a sure sign that something serious was up with the feds.

But where was the "news" before election day? And why were regular policies and practices of the nation's third largest school system ignored by most of the supposedly gritty reporters in Chicago for years and years and years?

The fact is that few pundits of the plutocracy asked why the story, which was rather widely rumored, didn't break until a week after Election Day.

After all, the feds had been looking into the corruption issues in the nation's third largest school system for "some time." But the big story waited until after April 7 (and after Rahm had been safely re-elected) to become "news." It stayed on the front pages of the Chicago newspapers since most people filed their tax returns, and even began making the national news with a small notice in the April 18 New York Times national edition.

The current chief attorney ("General Counsel") for the Chicago Board of Education is James Bebley (above). Bebley has approved the "legal form" of every Board Report that has been voted into policy (and legality) by the Board of Education since he replaced Patrick Rocks in the job shortly after Rahm Emanuel appointed his seven-member Board of Education in May and June 2011. According to Bebley, the SUPES contract was "approved as to legal form" when it was presented (as one of 52 purchasing reports) to the Board's June 2013 meeting. Substance photo at the January 22, 2014 Board meeting by George N. Schmidt.By the time the Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale, a millionaire banker, finally held a press conference (which tried to exclude media such as this publication), the tumult was increasing. Not only was Barbara Byrd Bennett facing a federal corruption investigation ("no charges have been filed..."), but two of the top aides she imported from out of Chicago had also been subpoenaed (to testify in secret this Tuesday, April 21, nicely timed to be two weeks after the municipal election) and others may be called (or, possible, have been called...). And so, when the city's two daily newspapers began catching up to a story they had been hearing in rumor form long before April 7, they had to check out who Sherry Ulery and Tracy Martin Thompson had been -- and maybe even why these out-of-towners, along with dozens of others, had been hired into six-figure top executive positions in Chicago schools since Rahm Emanuel's school board took over in May and June 2011. Sherry Who-elry? "Oh. She's the 'Chief of Staff' to the 'Chief Education Officer,' BUT -- Chicago doesn't have a 'Chief Education Officer.' And hasn't since 2012. When Rahm Emanuel first got to Chicago he hired a lady from Colorado named Noemi Donoso to be "Chief Education Officer," but after making a number of public appearances with Rahm the first year or so, Donoso disappeared. And since then, no 'Chief Education Officer'. So WTF?..."

Tracy what's her name? "You mean Tracy Martin Thompson... Oh. She's the 'Chief of Strategic School Supports' and has been since the Board of Education voted to hire her at an annual salary of $170,000 (plus $5,000 for "relocation expenses"). BUT -- Chicago never had an "Office of Strategic School Supports' and nowhere in anything the Board of Education has published is that department defined. Well, Chicago DOES have an "Office of Strategic School Supporters" and has had one since 2012. And Tracy Martin Thompson, who never taught in Chicago (those "relocation expenses" were to help her move to Chicago from Ohio), is now in charge of that stuff. So WTF?..."

David Vitale at the April 24, 2014 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. Substance photo by David Vance.Legally, it doesn't matter. At every meeting since May and June 2011, the members of the Chicago Board of Education have complied with the letter of the law. Every item that Board was supposed to vote on was part of the public agenda (or a legal exception under the Open Meetings Act0. And every vote can still be found (going back no further than 2000, but what the heck, you can't have everything) under "Board of Education" on the CPS website (www.cps.edu).

On Friday, April 17, 2015, David Vitale sent an email to all CPS workers. The Board, according to our sources, has been deluged with calls asking what all this means. Vitale wrote:

Dear CPS Colleagues,

Board of Education Vice President Jesse Ruiz is assuming the duties of interim CEO of Chicago Public Schools while Barbara Byrd-Bennett takes an immediate leave of absence.

Mr. Ruiz is uniquely qualified for this position, having served on the School Board since 2011. Prior to that, Mr. Ruiz was Chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education and has served on the U.S. Department of Education’s Equity and Excellence Commission, which seeks to close the achievement gap for underserved students.

As a respected attorney and with his long career in public education, Mr. Ruiz will guide CPS through the upcoming budget process and teacher contract negotiations, while also ensuring that our students build on their impressive academic gains in the classroom.

I am confident in this time of transition that you will remain focused and continue to work cross departmentally and with our valued community partners on behalf of our students and their families. Your commitment will help create much needed stability as we work to deliver on our promise to provide each and every student with the opportunity for a high-quality education that prepares them for success in college, career and life.

This is a critical time for CPS. There are many challenges in front of us.

But I want to assure you we are working hard to maintain our momentum and stay true to our vision for this District. I thank you for your dedication, which is central to this effort.

Sincerely,

David Vitale

President

Chicago Board of Education

Whether Jesse Ruiz's "unique" qualifications to be an interim CEO include his ability to vote for the most controversial privatization schemes, support the SUPES contract, and vote every month to cover up the Board's discussions in Executive Session are part of what Vitale is talking about here, it seems that Ruiz's carefully scripted smiles and calm talking is what the Board hopes will prevail -- against the facts. The history of that Board since it was appointed by Rahm Emanuel in May and June 2011 shows that Ruiz voted in favor of every major controversial privatization proposal, from the "Longer School Day" and the school closings to the SUPES contract and dozens of other privatization schemes (from nurses to lunchrooms to recess workers). Apparently, Ruiz's ability to do it with a smile, while the Board's security forces drag out his neighborhood critics, is a plus at this point in history.



Comments:

April 19, 2015 at 6:16 PM

By: George N. Schmidt

Clarification on Jesse Ruiz story...

This afternoon, the new "Interim CEO" of CPS sent me a message on Facebook, and so I'll publish the following clarification to the above story about Jesse Ruiz. Mr. Ruiz was not raised in Humboldt Park, but according to Mr. Ruiz, as he notes below, on the South Side. My memories of his biographical comments at Board meetings were obviously in error and I am glad to now clarify them, providing our readers with Mr. Ruiz's email through Facebook (in full here).

The main point of my article, as noted, is that Jesse Ruiz, with one rare exception, voted in favor of every privatization action by the Board since June 2011 and jointed with the rest of the Board majority in all those votes which later resulted in serious questions about the Board's judgment on what was best for the city's real public schools. These included voting to hire all those out-of-town people imported (with "relocation expenses") since June 2011, the school closings, the now notorious SUPES deal, and, most pressing in the schools to this moment, the Aramark and SodexoMAGIC deals...

Below is our exchange. I look forward to checking my future reporting with Mr. Ruiz and others on the Board as soon as they contact Substance with contract information. As our readers know, the Board's "Office of Communications" refuses to send out press releases to Substance and has since Mr. Ruiz became a Board member in 2011. As a result, unless our colleagues in the press give us a heads up we miss events such as the Friday press conference at which Mr. Ruiz and David Vitale updated the press (while excluding Substance) on the latest grand jury and other stuff.

From: Facebook

To: George Schmidt

Sent: Sun, Apr 19, 2015 11:47 am

Subject: New messages from Jesse Ruiz

Jesse Ruiz

Jesse Ruiz 11:02am Apr 19

FYI---not sure where you got your info, but I grew up in Roseland, where my mother still lives in my boyhood home, and where I lived until moving to Hyde Park to go to law school. I currently live in Wicker Park---and my dad only attended school up to third grade in rural 1920's Mexico. Came here as guest farm worker, part of "Bracero" program, in 1943 and picked crops until 1947, before coming to Chicago as an undocumented immigrant. I've been pretty open about all this, so just look online and you'll find past info on all this, and my dad (in his obit of April 2013).

Jesse Ruiz

Jesse Ruiz 11:17am Apr 19

If you search Jesus Ruiz, 1917-2013 you should find my dad's obit in the Trib

My response... April 19, 2015

Jesse... Thanks for the info. I was listening to your comments month after month at the Board, and funny thing you never mentioned Roseland, and the implication always was the north side. So, I'll just run the correction and clarification.

Now back to your votes for all those privatization Board Reports month after month. When do you want to talk about that? I think it's best by phone, but that ball is rolling into your court, so to speak. Since I am easier to reach by phone, you can call me at 773 - 725 - 6182.

George Schmidt

April 19, 2015 at 6:24 PM

By: Bob Busch

Too little too late

All over but the weeping.

I wish I had a crystal ball to predict the future, or some information to bring an indictment but I have neither. From what I can gather the feds are investigating some aspects Of CPS . My one desire is that this investigation really goes into depth and has a little historical perspective It is too late for a lot of my friends who taught at Harper, Fenger, and Calumet, to name a few. They were fired, I mean honorably discharged, from those school for the crime of caring enough about Chicago’s Damaged Kids, to stick around and try to help. It seems like the change always began with a new Principal that nobody ever heard of and had limited CPS or teaching experience. Suddenly the school was transformed from a failure to what? from 1500 kids to 400? From an act test average of 14 to 15? Millions, perhaps Billions of dollars have gone through CPS hands for these non productive reforms .Hope like hell the feds check out the “ Partners” these turnabouts transformations, and advisers spent their grant monies to buy.

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