Chicago Public Schools 'Chief Executive Officer' Claypool ends 'Office of Innovation and Incubation'... Former Teach for America Jack Elsey dumped under tiny purge of central office bureaucracy, while a number of Byrd Bennett's out-of-town cronies continue in strangely named central office offices..

Chicago Public Schools "Chief Officer for Innovation and Incubation" Jack Elsey is seen above presenting to the January 22, 2014 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. Elsey was dumped from his $165,000-per-year job at CPS by Forrest Claypool during the second week of August 2015. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The Chicago Sun-Times reported on line late on August 9, 2015 and in print on August 10, 2015 that CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool was purging some of the remaining out-of-town executives appointed by Barbara Byrd Bennett. The most prominent among them is Jack Elsey, a former Teach for America guy who never taught in Chicago, but who was brought to Chicago by Byrd Bennett and immediately put in charge of the newly created "Office of Innovation and Incubation" at an annual salary of $165,000.

CPS also paid Elsey a $7,500 "relocation and sign-on" bonus to move to Chicago from Detroit, where he had been working with Barbara Byrd Bennett. The "relocation" bonus was typical during the months when Barbara Byrd Bennett was getting approval from the Board of Education for the hiring of dozens of out-of-town administrators at top dollar. The Board of Education's members voted unanimously without discussion or debate to approve each of the hirings at the time. Nor did the Board members, led by David Vitale and Jesse Ruiz, ask why the school system was creating new administrative offices with named like "Office of Innovation and Incubation."

Elsey was hired by a unanimous vote of the Chicago Board of Education at its December 19, 2012 meeting. The Board Report recommending that Elsey be hired as a New Employee was signed by Barbara Byrd Bennett. Because the hiring of Elsey was a "personnel" matter, it was considered by the Board to fall under the exemptions to the Open Meetings Act. As a result, the hiring of Elsey (and others at the same time) did not appear on the public agenda of the Board, but was only known to the few who studied the actual actions of the Board when the hiring appeared on the "Action Agenda" published about a week after the Board meeting.

Above, a copy of the Board Report from Barbara Byrd Bennett to hire Jack Elsey as "Chief Officer for Innovation and Incubation." Note that the Report was signed by the Board's General Counsel James Bebley as well as Byrd Bennett and then "Talent Office" chief Alicia Winckler. The Elsey hiring was one of dozens that eventually became part of the public record at the Board of Education did a massive amount of hiring from out of town during the first year after Byrd Bennett, who had been in Cleveland, D.C., and Detroit, was brought in to be "CEO" after the Board dumped Jean-Claude Brizard. The Board under David Vitale made dozens of hiring decisions such as the one bringing Jack Elsey to Chicago. Almost all of them included the "relocation" bonus that CPS had begun paying when Rahm Emanuel ordered the newly created Board of Education to hire Rochester Supt. Jean Claude Brizard in May 2011. The relocation bonuses ranged from the $7,500 paid to Elsey to as much as $30,000 (Brizard). There has never been a public discussion of why the Board hired dozens of administrators from our of town, or why it had to pay them a "relocation bonus" rather than hire people who were already working in Chicago and certified in Illinois.


Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool is taking a 20 percent whack at his executive budget — and laying off nine senior aides drawing $1 million in salaries — to dramatize the sacrifice needed to put more money into the classroom.

Claypool ordered the largely symbolic cuts as he prepares to unveil a 2016 budget that assumes CPS will receive $500 million in pension help from Springfield. Help that may never come.

Without it, Claypool has said he would have no choice but to order another round of “unsustainable” borrowing and mid-year budget cuts that would dramatically hurt students.

For more than 30 years, Claypool has been a go-to guy for Chicago mayors and local politicians, dispatched to troubled government agencies to cut the fat, challenge entrenched bureaucracies and battle unions.

Wherever he goes, the playbook has been the same. Start by cutting the heck out of your own executive budget. Then move on to the tougher job of challenging costly union work rules.

Now Claypool is bringing to CPS the strategy he executed at the Chicago Park District, the CTA and during two stints as former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s chief of staff. Claypool had planned to do the same as Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s chief of staff before the resignation of CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett altered the game plan.

Claypool is cutting two employees on his own, 10-member staff. In addition, nine senior executives who together collect $1 million in annual salaries are being laid off, including the last two in a cadre of educators hired by Byrd-Bennett.

The targeted employees include Jack Elsey, a $165,000-a-year “chief innovation and incubation officer” who oversaw charter schools after following Byrd-Bennett from Detroit to Chicago. That comes on top of the $15.8 million in cuts already ordered to startup funding for newly approved charters. The other Byrd-Bennett holdover is Nikki Bolden. She’s a $105,000 “director-talent generalist.” That’s CPS-speak for human resources.

Last week, Elsey refused to discuss his being laid off. Bolden also declined to comment.

In a farewell letter to his colleagues in the education community, Elsey wrote that, while “my heart is heavy,” he believes the charter and contract school movement is “in good hands” with Claypool and newly appointed chief education officer Janice Jackson.

The hit list also includes a $152,000-a-year “director of strategy management”; a $139,615-a-year executive director of sports administration; a $127,417-a-year internal audit officer; a $103,115-a-year “senior program development analyst”; a $100,000-a-year director of media affairs; an $80,000-a-year executive assistant; and a special assistant with a $55,000 salary.

Along with the staff cuts, Claypool is ordering reductions in professional membership expenses ($70,000); travel ($12,000); consulting ($8,000); and rental expenses ($8,500) in his office.

Also biting the dust is a “staff shuttle” from the central office to satellite locations that cost $60,000 a year. The shuttle made 20 trips a day and transported 13 people to an information technology office in Bridgeport and a personnel office in Garfield Park.

Claypool is also making a $250,000 change to the vacation policy for 49 senior managers. Instead of being entitled to five weeks of vacation on their first day of work, they’ll be required to earn their vacation time based on years of service. The maximum vacation time will be four weeks, instead of five. And it’ll take CPS executives 10 years to build up to that maximum.

Together, the layoffs and policy changes will save $1.7 million. That’s a drop in the bucket compared with the $1.1 billion budget shortfall and $9.5 billion pension crisis that CPS faces.

But sources said it’s a prelude to a “major restructuring” of the CPS bureaucracy. And the first step helps to deliver on the promise Claypool made on the day he became the seventh CEO at the Chicago Public Schools since Arne Duncan left in 2009 to become U.S. Education Secretary.

That is: To “manage the system and make it as efficient as it can possibly be” to free up the money needed to support principals, teachers and students “in every conceivable way.”

“Chicago is the only city in Illinois that has to take money out of the classroom in order to fund pensions. That is unacceptable. But I’ll deal with what we can deal with. That is to manage the system as best as possible,” he said on that day.

Last month, Emanuel’s plan to have CPS effectively borrow $500 million from the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund to ease a “cash-flow crisis” was shelved just days after it was introduced.

Days before the talks fell apart, CPS Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley had portrayed the five-month, $500 million loan as the alternative to cuts massively more painful than the $200 million in cuts already triggered by a $634 million payment to the teachers pension fund.

Cawley warned that without the loan, the size of classes would have to be increased to 35 students. Three thousand teachers would have to be laid off, triple the number of job cuts previously announced. And furlough days would be triggered systemwide.

But when individual school budgets were released, there were no additional cuts.

Instead, CPS decided to make a $500 million gamble that the General Assembly would correct what Emanuel and Claypool have called a “structural inequity” that has forced Chicago taxpayers to pay twice, once for the pensions of the city’s retired teachers and again for retired teachers outside Chicago.

Standard & Poor’s has raised concerns about the “vulnerabilities” of the board’s plan to count on $500 million in teacher pension relief at a time when Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders are embroiled in a protracted state budget stalemate over Rauner’s demand for pro-business, anti-union reforms.

But even as Rauner started pointing fingers at his old friend Emanuel last week, Claypool saw progress.

“We now have on record the governor, the speaker of the House and the Senate president saying pension inequity in Chicago versus the rest of the state cannot stand and should be addressed,” he said.

Emanuel has offered to raise Chicago property taxes by as much as $225 million for schools, but only if teachers accept the equivalent of a 7 percent pay cut and the state reimburses CPS for “normal” pension costs.

Rauner has embraced the idea. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has rejected it. She also has threatened to take her members out on strike over the issue — for the second time in three years — even though the earliest that could happen is January. That’s because teachers contribute just 2 percent toward their own pensions. CPS agreed to the 7 percent “pension pickup” years ago in lieu of a pay raise.

Claypool has said he foresees no solution under which CPS could afford to continue that arrangement.


August 10, 2015 at 9:12 AM

By: Rod Estvan

Claypool numbers may not add up to the proposed relief

If Ms. Spielman is to believed that CPS is counting on the Illinois General Assembly for $500 million in reduced payments for pensions then they did not communicate that properly to their ally Senate President Cullerton. SB 318 which passed the Senate last week and moves on to the House in its section 10 provides CPS with what are called its "normal" pension costs.

But then the bill raises the possibility that the State will not at some point even pay that amount stating "under this subsection, it shall be the obligation of the Board to seek payment of the required amount in compliance with the provisions of this Section and, if the amount remains unpaid,to bring a mandamus action in the Supreme Court of Illinois to compel the State to make the required payment." Not said of course is the fact if the State aruges it has a compelling public interest not to pay CPS could still be the loser.

The bill limits the State's obligated payment in 2016 to only $197 million, in years following it will be based on a complex actuarial analysis which the State can contest. The bill caps CPS payments in 2016 at $207 million and in 2017 to $211 million. This will create probably a $100 to $200 million dollar hole for each of those two years.

That hole is to be filled by CPS teachers in part who will be forced to give up 7% of their take home pay. But as CPS purges more senior and expensive teachers, as there are more lower paid charter school teachers in the CTPF, over time and the work force declines that hole even with the additonal forced contribution will expand. So the game continues.

Rod Estvan

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