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BUDGET WATCH 2015 II: Claypool says he's doing it 'for the sake of the children.' But his Proposed Budget shows a large increase in lawyers -- both at CPS and as outside contractors -- while a ruthless reduction from special education takes place in the days before the budget hearings...

Throughout his time as "General Counsel" of Chicago Public Schools, James Bebley, above second from left, has approved every proposal from top administrators on the Board Reports submitted to the Board members for legal approval. The Board members then would vote, unanimously and without debate, for whatever was put in front of them. Then, every couple of months, the Board members would vote to destroy the records from the "Closed Sessions" which take place at every Board meeting. Above, Bebley sits beside then CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett during the March 26, 2014 meeting of the Board, while Deborah Quazzo (rear left) and Carlos Azcoitia (bald head, finger to lips) listen. As usual, the Board approved Board Reports (two at that meeting) paying outside lawyers for CPS legal work, while at the same time Bebley supervised a staff of nearly 100 people, most of them lawyers. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.One question you won't see on one of the dozens of tests forced on the people of Chicago every school year in the city's public schools: What do Chicago's children need more of during the 2015 - 2016 school year -- lawyers or teachers? According to the actions of the Board and the Proposed Budget submitted for public review in August 2015, the Board needs to increase lawyers while decreasing teachers and others for special education children.

Rarely a day passes without the public in Chicago hearing, once again over and over, a statement by Chicago Public Schools "Chief Executive Officer" Forrest Claypool that all the so-called "cuts" being made at the administrative level are to save dollars and people for the schools and classrooms. A closer look at the Proposed Budget before the public as the annual hearings on the budget come near (they are scheduled for August 18, 2015), however, shows that real priorities of Claypool and the Board's new President, Frank Clark. As those who have followed the careers of both men know, they are experts at saying one thing and doing almost the opposite. Few examples are as clear as the Board's Proposed Budget's narrative of the present and future of the Board's Law Department. Not only will the Board's own lawyers (i.e., those who work for and are paid directly by CPS) be increased, but the Board has also been increasing the number of outside contractors who are lawyers.

First, the public should take a close look at the Board of Education's own lawyers, the CPS "Law Department." Although there is a small attempt in the new Proposed Budget to make it look as if the Law Dept. has reduced its budget from 2014 into 2016. But a closer look at the financial data provided shows a dramatic increase.

THE MISSION STATEMENT OF CPS LAW DEPT. ACCORDING TO THE PROPOSED BUDGET IS AS FOLLOWS:

MISSION: The Law Department provides a full array of legal services to the Chicago Board of Education and the various departments and divisions of the Chicago Public Schools. Board attorneys represent and counsel clients on general litigation, labor and employment matters, school law, school finance, student discipline, commercial transactions, and workers compensation.

The first Board Report to pay Neal & Leroy a half million dollars during 2015 was approved without discussion or debate by the Board of Education at its January 2015 meeting (see Board Report submitted by James Bebley, the current General Counsel, above). Since 2011, the Board has generally approved on half million dollar payment to Neal & Leroy in the early part of the calendar year and an additional one in the latter part of the year, bringing the total to the firm each year to at least a half million dollars. MAJOR PROGRAMS

-- Appeals: Represents the Board and its employees before the Illinois Appellate and Supreme Courts, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court.

-- Commercial, Torts and Workers' Compensation: Provides general litigation and counseling services to the Board and its management on a diverse range of issues including breach of contract, property taxation litigation, personal injury, and workplace injuries.

-- Employment Civil Rights: Represents the Board and its agents in all litigation matters filed in federal and state court involving allegations of discrimination or a violation of the United States Constitution or a federal statute.

-- Investigations: Investigates a multitude of allegations of employee misconduct, falsification of attendance records and documents, local school council related complaints and challenges, allegations of test cheating and fraudulent enrollment.

-- Labor and Employee Discipline: Handles traditional labor law matters involving unfair labor practice charges and arbitration demands filed by labor organizations, as well as prosecuting employee discipline matters before administrative agencies and the Illinois State Board of Education. This unit also acts as the CEO's representative in collective bargaining.

-- School Law: Advises District staff on student privacy, student discipline, student enrollment and transfers, local school council issues, legislative review, charter school matters, and educational initiatives.

-- Employee Engagement and EOCO: Respond to and arbitrate grievance and disciplinary issues ensuring timely and objective resolution; ensure all employees are being supported in a fair, unbiased, and non-discriminatory manner...

According to the Proposed Budget, the Law Department is supposed to increase its staff from 75 to 92! The explanation is that the Law Dept. is bringing in some people from the so-called "Talent Office," but such a shift has never been discussed at any public meeting of the Board.

Given the fact that the Law Department has an extensive "Mission Statement" and also lists an extensive listing of its work and supposed accomplishments, the public might ask why the Chicago Board of Education continues to pay millions of dollars every year to outside lawyers to perform work that can and should be done by the several dozen lawyers working for CPS.

Since January 2015, Chicago Public Schools officials, under three different "Chief Executive Officers", have been telling the public that the Board of Education was facing a "billion dollar deficit" because of the cost of teacher pensions. But that didn't stop the Board members from voting at every monthly meeting to continue paying outside lawyers large amounts despite the fact that CPS has a Law Dept. that includes dozens of lawyers and support staff, a total of at least 75 people in early 2015. Above, at its March 2015 meeting, the Board voted to pay the law firm of Franczek Radelet another $500,000, as the Board Report, which only appeared after the Board meeting on the "Action Agenda" shows.Since January 2015, the Board has voted, without discussion or debate, to pay $500,000 to each of two outside law firms. At its March 2015 meeting, the Board voted to pay a half million dollars to the firm of Franczek Radelet. Earlier, the Board had voted to pay $500,000 to the law firm of Neal and Leroy.

Both firms are "clout heavy" in Chicago politics. James Franczek's law firm handles almost all labor union negotiations for the City of Chicago and the Board of Education. Neal & Leroy does other work for CPS, worth noting that Langdon Neal served as head of the Chicago Board of Elections for several years until the November 2014 elections.

But the million dollars since January 1, 2015 to two firms is not the whole story of the Board's privatization of its legal work.

The Board has also voted to pay $200,000 to the law firm of Schiff Harden and lesser amounts to other law firms since the beginning of 2015, the year when the Chicago Public Schools budget was supposedly facing a "deficit" of more than a billion dollars, if press statements by CPS officials are to be believed.

Month after month, the members of the Board of Education have come out of "Closed Session" and voted to approve these additional legal expenses. There has never been a public discussion of why CPS needs to have its own large law firm in house and also hire major outside firms at great expense during a time of supposed austerity.

A serious investigative story in the Chicago Sun-Times of August 16, 2015, reported that attorney Langdon Neal, of Neal & Leroy, had brought a windfall 400 percent profit to a corporation he represents on a deal involving the area near McCormick Place. Langdon Neal's clout includes getting vaguely defined public business from many parts of Chicago, including the Chicago Board of Education. Since Rahm Emanuel appointed the Board in May 2011, Neal's firm has routinely received a million dollars per year in CPS business, despite the fact that CPS has one of the largest in-house law departments of any public body. Most recently, the Chicago Board of Education voted to pay $500,000 to Neal's firm at its January 2015 meeting. A Chicago Sun-Times investigative story published the same day this Substance story was being prepared (August 16, 2015) noted that Neal's firm had brought in a 400 percent profit for a client on land deals near McCormick Place. The Sun-Times didn't report that the Chicago Board of Education has been providing Neal with a million dollars or more a year business as an outside lawyer since Rahm Emanuel became mayor and appointed his first Board of Education and CEO in May and June 2011.

At its meetings of February 23, 2011 and September 28, 2011, the Board of Education voted to pay $500,000 to Neal & Leroy for vaguely defined legal work. The Board's vote on a Board Report submitted by the CPS General Counsel was without discussion or debate.

During 2012, the regular provision for Neal & Leroy continued.



Comments:

August 18, 2015 at 2:39 PM

By: Dr. Mark Thompson

James Laverne Bebley

James Laverne Bebley is a nutcase attorney who needs a psychiatric evaluation. He was involved in using a suicidal girl and recipient of mental health services to stage a false rape complaint against a teacher. Is Forrest Claypool was smart, he would get rid of this corrupt clown.

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