Chicago Public Schools may be 'broke', but CEO Forrest Claypool increased his bureaucracy at great cost, doubled the number of outside lawyers in contract negotiations, and forced out the Board's 'General Counsel' while maneuvering to illegally dictate the next Board Attorney despite state law!...

Why is only one of these men smiling? Above, Chicago Public Schools "Chief Executive Officer" Forrest Claypool (above right) sat with CPS "General Counsel" James Bebley during the August 26, 2015 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. But were the melodrama at the nation's third largest school system portrayed on stage, Claypool might have been depicted as putting a dagger in Bebley's back -- or perhaps ISIS-style slitting his throat. By the time the meeting was over and the last secret agenda items had been approved by the Board, Claypool had forced Bebley into retirement and was maneuvering, in violation of state law, to dictate the General Counsel's replacement. (Illinois law, which applies to Chicago, says that the Board's General Counsel, Secretary -- still Estela Beltran -- and Inspector General are to report directly to the Board members and not to the chief executive, whether that chief executive be a "superintendent" or, only in Chicago, a non-educator holding the title and power of "Chief Executive Officer"). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Less than a month after he received praise from some of Chicago's corporate media for supposedly "cutting bureaucracy," Forrest Claypool, the latest "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago Public Schools, has increased the size and cost of the school system's top administration at a rate greater than any of his predecessors.

The most dramatic example of Claypool's bureaucratic additions was the creation of a $225,000-per-year position of "Senior Vice President of Finance", given (with a residency exemption) to a man, Ronald Denard, who had never worked in Chicago's public schools before. The deal was kept a secret during the August 26, 2015 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education because of a loophole in the Open Meetings Act. It was not publicly known until the very end of the meeting at which the Board members voted in favor of "Final Budget" (which even the Board members admit is based on many assumptions that can't be counted on).

Most people at the August 26, 2015 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education meeting did not know who Ronald Denard (above left during the meeting) was, or that he was about to become the second highest paid person in the CPS bureaucracy. Denard, who had worked at the Chicago Transit Authority and the Chicago Park District, was appointed to his $225,000-a-year job after the public portion of the meeting had ended. To date, no one at CPS has explained why Denard, who has no experience in education, is being paid $30,000 more than the CPS "Chief Education Officer" (Janice Jackson, second from right) or $40,000 more than Denise Little, the "senior advisor to the CEO" for education matters (above right). By the time reporters finally went home on August 26, 2015, Denard's job had been created and his pay set at $225,000 per year. There was neither discussion nor debate on the proposal by Forrest Claypool to create the position for Denard and bestow its power. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Despite news reports to the contrary from Claypool's buddies in the corporate press (including Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman and her editors), Claypool is expanding both outside contractors and bureaucrats. The addition of outside lawyers comes at a time when the school system is supposedly broke and in danger of 'bankruptcy.' While gathering headlines and editorial praise for cutting "bureaucracy", Claypool has expanded the system's Law Department and executive hirings. And while Claypool forced cuts of hundreds of teachers and aides providing services to students with special needs because, his administration claims, there is no money, Claypool has brought in a large number (the total is still not clear as of this report) of his outside cronies at six-figure salaries, most in newly created executive jobs. Saying one thing while doing another has long been part of the Claypool game plan, and as long as selected reporters go along with it, it has worked. Claypool's ability to get away with similar behind the scenes maneuvers has been smoothed by his friendship with corporate media celebrities who then repeat their praises for his "progressive" ways in their reporting, often then added up into editorials. Even given the Claypool record, however, the speed and boldness with which the new CEO has moved to expand both bureaucracy at the top and extra layers of lawyers (outside and politically connected) might surprise even some who have observed the arrogant ways of the erstwhile "reformer" (originally from downstate Illinois) over his years at City Hall, the Chicago Park District, and the Chicago Transit Authority.

By the time the Board of Education voted to approve the Board Report hiring the law firm of Jackson Lewis for "labor negotiations" and something called "strategy", the man who signed off on the Board Report, James Bebley, was being forced out of CPS. The Board Report retaining Jackson Lewis was not on the Board's public agenda because of a loophole in the Illinois Open Meetings Act which allows school administrators to keep some of the most expensive and politically explosive items off the public agenda. Among those associated with the Jackson Lewis law firm are the members of the Daley family. At the time of the Board's August 26 meeting, the Board already had an outside law firm -- Franczek Sullivan -- handling labor negotiations and, supposedly, "strategy." Graphic appeared for the first time as part of the Board's "Action Agenda" for the August 26, 2015 Board meeting on August 28, 2015. It was voted on by the Board members without discussion or debate when they came out of closed session on August 26, 2015, late in the afternoon.Claypool's actions on August 26, 2015 were done largely out of the sight of the public and without being published on the public agenda of that day's Board meeting. Utilizing loopholes in the Open Meetings Act, Claypool was able to slip through millions of dollars in additional expenses to CPS without most reporters and members of the public even noticing. The facts are only beginning to become clear with the publication of some of them on the "Action Agenda" for the August 26 meeting, which came out on August 28.

By the time the Board members had come out of Closed Session and voted on the Final Budget, which was what got all the news attention, Claypool's maneuverings to put his cronies into new positions of power and pay had increased the costs to the school system by more than $2 million that had not been on the public agenda.

The details?

-- Without placing the items on the public agenda for the August 26, 2015 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, Claypool insisted that the Board approve the appointment of a second outside law firm to handle negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union (at a cost of a half million dollars).

-- Claypool moved again to pay an additional half million to the politically powerful law firm headed by Board of Elections chief Langdon Neal. Board Reports (the form an agenda item takes at a Board meeting) were approved on August 26 to pay Neal & Leroy another $500,000, while for the first time the Board is hiring another firm, also at $500,000, to work on contract negotiations. While one of Rahm Emanuel's most important City Hall propagandists, Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman, was reporting with breathless enthusiasm that Forrest Claypool was "cleaning house" following his appointment as CEO of CPS, the opposite was actually true. Despite Spielman's and the Sun-Times's fatuous praise for Claypool (see Claypool targets own CPS staff with $1M in salary cuts, Chicago Sun-Times, August 9, 2015), Spileman's buddy Claypool was actually planning the multi-million dollar expansion of his bureaucracy at CPS. While Claypool eliminated the job of "Chief Officer for Innovation and Incubation" held by Jack Elsey (above at the May 2015 Board meeting), Claypool retained the entire department. And while the Chicago Sun-Times utilized the media manipulation created by the ridiculous name of Elsey's department and position to make an editorial out of the deal -- praising Claypool -- Claypool was doing the opposite at CPS. Substance photo by David Vance.-- Despite widespread claims that CPS has to push "austerity" in all areas, by the end of the August 26 Board meeting, Chicago Public Schools had hired at least a half dozen new executives, most of them from outside the school system with no experience or certification in education, at unprecedented pay and benefits in six figures. Although the fact checking continues, almost all of them have been identified as longtime Claypool cronies. -- Despite Illinois law that provides for the independence of the Board's "Attorney" (recently called "General Counsel") making the Board's lawyers report not to the CEO but to the Board itself, Claypool has engineered the forced retirement of the incumbent Board Attorney, James Bebley, and is reportedly trying to dictate the lawyer who will take Bebley's place.

-- The claim was made by Board President Frank Clark that the nation's third largest school system had to stop utilizing its "credit cards" on extravagant spending. By the time the seven members of the school board went home on August 26, they had been asked to expand the bureaucracy -- at a great cost -- that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Claypool's propaganda department (the CPS "Office of Communications") had just claimed had been "reduced" to the smallest size in history.

Many of the facts leading to this report have only just become available at the CPS website ( on August 28, 2015, as "Board Reports" in the "Action Agenda" published by the school district. The "Action Agenda" consists of all the items the Board has voted to approve, but not all of those items were on the public agenda that was published 48 hours before the Board meeting, according to the Illinois Open Meetings Act. Among those items appearing for the public for the first time are:

-- A Board Report hiring, again, the law firm of "Neal and Leroy" for another $500,000.

-- A Board Report hiring, for the first time, a politically connected law firm, at an additonal $500,000.

One of the many Board Reports authorized by Forrest Claypool but not on the Board's public agenda for August 26, 2015, resulted in the creation of a new executive position of "Senior Vice President of Finance" and the appointment of an outsider named Ronald Denard to the $215,000-per-year position. In addition to being hired for the new post, Denard was granted a two-year waiver from the CPS residency requirement, allowing him to continue living in the south suburbs despite the fact that every year CPS fires teachers and others who live outside Chicago. The Board Report above did not become public until it appeared on the Board's "Action Agenda" on August 28, 2015.-- A Board Report creating a new position for some kind of financial executive (CPS now has a "Senior Vice President for School Finances" at a cost of $215,000 per year).who will be paid at least $20,000 more than the system's current "Chief Financial Officer" and who is being allowed to live outside Chicago in violation of the CPS residency requirement.

-- Board Reports hiring another dozen or more executives, many for newly created positions, at salaries far above those of their predecessors. The most expensive of the new Claypool hires is Ronald Denard, who will become a chief guy for finances at an annual salary of $225,000 per year. That salary will make Denard the third highest paid person in Chicago Public Schools, after Claypool (at $250,000 per year) and "Chief Administrative Officer" Tim Cawley, same as Denard. Other new appointments also appear on the Action Agenda for the August 26 meeting, but Denard is by far the most unique and most expensive. The Board even voted to grant Denard a waiver of the CPS residency requirement because of something calls "special needs." The irony of that move was not lost on some observers, given the fact that every year CPS spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to investigate and then fire workers who violate the supposed "residency" rules. There was no public discussion of why Denard is so important that he gets this exception.

A large part of the ability of Claypool and Clark to get away with these types of actions could be seen at the back of the Board meeting after the Board members voted to go into executive session ("closed session"). While the Board's highly paid propagandists held forth for the TV cameras and generally clueless reports against the wall at the exit from the Board chambers, both Claypool and Clark slipped out behind them, and not one turned to ask a question of those who should have been answering to the public.

Since Rahm Emanuel became mayor and appointed his first Board of Education in May 2011, the Board has shut down press conferences and worked overtime to make special arrangements with favored reporters, who are then granted exclusive access to certain kinds of stories as long as they push the official version of the facts, as Fran Spielman and others generally have done at City Hall.

The addition of the law firm of Jackson Lewis to the Board's list of outside lawyers becomes obvious when the reader reviews the firm's website. One of the principals in the firm is a Daley, James P. Daley.

"Mr. Daley began his career as a labor and employment attorney in 1980 by representing the City of Chicago in the 22-day Chicago Fire Department strike," the website states. "For more than 20 years, Mr. Daley has served as labor counsel to the Chicago Transit Authority, negotiating its major collective bargaining agreements with the Amalgamated Transit Union and building trades unions impacting more than 10,000 employees. He also serves as Chief Labor Counsel to Cook County, Illinois negotiating its major collective bargaining affecting more than 20,000 employees his work as labor counsel has been credited with helping to avert work stoppages or strikes and for negotiating union contracts which controlled labor costs."

Forrest Claypool made no mention of his plan to pay Jackson Lewis a half million dollars by the time the August 26 meeting ended.

But already by that time, Chicago Teachers Union observers had noted that the number of lawyers at the bargaining table for the Board. "By mid-August, they had eight lawyers at the table to our two," one CTU member who is part of the "big bargaining team (and who asked to remain anonymous for speaking about collective bargaining) told Substance.

James Bebley (left) announced his retirement as General Counsel of Chicago's public schools at the Board's August 26, 2015 meeting, according to Catalyst. During the meeting, Bebley sat beside Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool (right), while no one reported that Claypool had pushed Bebley out and was trying, against Illinois law, to appoint the Board's lawyer. Usually, when a front man for Rahm retires, they give a short retirement "thanks for the memories" speech. James Bebley was not given the respect to tell everyone thanks. Out the door and no respect. Substance photo by David Vance.Earlier in the month, Forrest Claypool had grabbed headlines by withdrawing all of the agreements that had previously been negotiated with the CTU bargaining team. One person familiar with the situation at the bargaining table said that the Board's chief negotiator, James Franczek, had been "rat fucked" by Claypool after months of good faith work on the most important labor contract facing the nation's third largest school system.

As of the end of August 2015, Franczek and his colleagues were still at the bargaining table, joined by the group from Jackson Lewis that had no previous experience negotiating the complex labor contracts affecting the nearly 40,000 people (including 27,000 CTU members) working for Chicago Public Schools. Franczek's negotiations on behalf of CPS began in the early 1990s, and continue to this day.


August 30, 2015 at 11:15 PM

By: david vance

James Bebley

Thanks for explaining why James Bebley was looking unhappy as he sat next to Forrest Claypool. I noticed it but I did not know why. In one photo James Bebley looked straight at me. He starred at me, like go ahead get your photos. Usually everyone is greeting and not concerned with the photographers.

The Catalyst News says that Bebley announced his retirement at the Board meeting. (The Board meeting was Wednesday August 26.) Is this true? I did not hear this until the next day. Here is the Catalyst news posted August 28.

James Bebley, who�s served as CPS general counsel the last three years, announced his retirement at Wednesday�s Board of Education meeting. Prior to becoming the district�s top legal advisor, he served for nine years in the law department�s No. 2 slot as first deputy general counsel. Before coming to CPS, Bebly worked in private practice, in the city�s law department and as a deputy chief of staff in the mayor�s office.

Add your own comment (all fields are necessary)

Substance readers:

You must give your first name and last name under "Name" when you post a comment at We are not operating a blog and do not allow anonymous or pseudonymous comments. Our readers deserve to know who is commenting, just as they deserve to know the source of our news reports and analysis.

Please respect this, and also provide us with an accurate e-mail address.

Thank you,

The Editors of Substance

Your Name

Your Email

What's your comment about?

Your Comment

Please answer this to prove you're not a robot:

4 + 1 =