SOPHISTRY AT CLAYPOOL CENTRAL... 'STRIKE!' or 'No strike...' or ... maybe strike and maybe notstrikeyet?... The real question is whether the CPS CEO has been honest and accurate about the school system's finances -- and the supposed 'financial crisis'...

The newest appointed Board of Education, most of whose members were put into power by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in June 2015, immediately appointed City Hall Chief of Staff Forrest Claypool to become the fourth "Chief Executive Officer" of CPS since Emanuel became mayor in May 2011. Claypool, who had no previous education experience or training (and who sends his own children to private schools) immediately began creating his "executive team" out of buddies who had once worked with him at the Chicago Transit Authority and other non-educational institutions. As the members of the Chicago Board of Education began rubber stamping Claypool's administrative team by unanimous votes at the July 2015 and subsequent meetings, it became clear that Claypool's claims to be "reducing administration" at the nation's third largest school system needed a close examination, but the Board of Education's members were not about to do that. Substance graphic from CPS Action Agendas.On July 22, 2015, the Chicago Board of Education voted to approve Forrest Claypool as the latest of its "Chief Executive Officers." Claypool's predecessors had been Jean-Claude Brizard (hired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel after a tumultuous time as superintendent of the Rochester New York schools, Barbara Byrd Bennett (hired after the mayor dumped Brizard after she had completed her part in the destruction of the Detroit public schools), and then as "Interim" CEO, Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz.

The result was a churning of management at the top of the nation's third largest school system. Each CEO insisted on bringing in his or her own "team," and each team lingered at great expense (since each executive costs between double and tripled the price of a teacher) into the next administration(s). But at the time and since, no one in Chicago corporate media has challenged the destabilization of the school system caused by the regular hiring of (a) outsiders who (b) bring in expensive executives, usually outsiders...

The "Board Report" hiring Claypool (see graphic to the left) also paid Claypool a quarter of a million dollars a year, the same annual salary that had been paid to his most recent outside predecessors. (Ruiz was not paid for his work as "Interim CEO" after the forced resignation of Barbara Byrd Bennett as far as public records show). The Claypool hiring was an "appointment" because the actual naming of a CEO for CPS is a power of Chicago's mayor under current law. The Board of Education was simply rubber stamping what the mayor has done. To date, the Board has not revealed in its public records other benefits that may be in Claypool's complete contract (although his predecessors each received "bonuses" for improved "performance" as measured by an ever-changing system of what are called in the jargon of today's businessspeak "metrics."

Chicago teachers and other union members who had been virtually assured by the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union that they would be on strike by April Fool's Day, April 1, 2016, woke up on March 5, 2016 facing more uncertainty. Most of it was not due to the union's leadership, but to the latest "Chief Executive Officer" of the nation's third largest school system, former transit authority head man Forrest Claypool and, as far as observers could tell, the "team" of buddies he has been assembling on the fly to run Chicago's public schools.

Chicago Public Schools "Chief Executive Officer" Forrest Claypool (left, in blue tie) sat beside "General Counsel" Robert Marmer (right, in pink tie) during the February 24, 2016 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Before detailing the claims and counterclaims of March 2016, readers need to be reminded that Claypool took over as "Chief Executive Officer" and Chicago Public Schools form his previous job as "Chief of Staff" to Mayor Rahm Emanuel at City Hall. Claypool, who has never held an elective officer, has had his executive experience mostly at the Chicago Transit Authority, leading the operations of the city's buses, subways, and elevated trains.

Claypool was appointed by Mayor Emanuel under the same legal authority that gives Chicago's mayor the power to appoint the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education. Claypool's predecessor, Barbara Byrd Bennett, had become CEO of CPS after her predecessor, Jean-Claude Brizard, had supposedly failed to head off the Chicago teachers trike of September 2012. Brizard had been appointed, along with a completely new Board of Education, when Emanuel was inaugurated in May 2011. Needless to say, by July 2015, Claypool was either going to be characterized as a genius -- being able to master all the complexities of the operations of the nation's third largest schools system -- or the fourth political hack appointed by Chicago's megalomaniacal mayor.

By October 2015 when the Board of Education, at the behest of Forrest Claypool, appointed Robert Marmer to be the "General Counsel" of Chicago Public Schools, Claypool had been assembling his team from his days mostly at the Chicago Transit Authority for months. Not once did a member of the Board of Education ask how experience with bus and subways qualified the slowly growing Claypool Bureaucracy to run the nation's third largest school system.Within three months, "hack" was the more accurate characterization, as Claypool began slowly purging some of the remnants of the administrations of Byrd Bennett (and her predecessors) and bringing in his buddies. Their qualifications for running the city's public schools? They had almost all of them been with Claypool at the CTA!

For month after month since July 2015, Claypool had been telling the public, parents, and the union that the only way that Chicago Public Schools could overcome what he claims to be a budget "deficit" (which term he never uses...) that can only be solved by "Springfield." This means more money to the tune of a half billion dollars, or maybe a billion dollars, from the State of Illinois. Claypool has also said, without that help from "Springfield," CPS was going to have to take more away from the city's unionized teachers and others represented by the 28,000-member Chicago Teachers Union.

But as Claypool's claims and numbers have shifted and changed since July 2015, it should have become more and more evident to the public that the latest cronyism at CPS was undermining the credibility of the school system: the numbers haven't made sense because the people cooking them up, most of them Claypool's buddies from the old days at the CTA, didn't know anything about Chicago's public schools. So they made up numbers, recycled City Hall claims, and because most of Chicago's corporate media never takes a close look at the realities, got away with their shifting promulgations.

And so, during the first days of March 2016, Chicago had been told that solving the budget "crisis" at CPS required -- ABSOLUTELY REQUIRED -- that CPS take away the seven-percent "pension pickup" by month's end. Union leaders responded that taking away the pension pickup amounts to a seven percent pay cut and would be a strike issue by law.

On March 3, Claypool added that he was forcing all union workers to take three "furlough days" between now and June 30 -- days when they would not work and would not be paid despite the fact that the days are in the school calendar. The CTU leadership did a quick calculation and concluded that the furlough days would be the equivalent to a 1.2 percent pay cut. On top of the seven percent cut represented by the taking away of the pension pickup. On top of the fact that this year, for the first time during extended contract negotiations, Claypool's administration has frozen the "Lanes" and "Steps" that union teachers get for added experience or advanced degrees and further study. But then, on March 4, 2016, Claypool told the press that he was not taking away the pension pickup at all. So -- no seven percent pay cut.

But still, by March 4, 2016, Claypool has told parents, teachers, and students there would still be "furlough days" -- that 1.2 percent pay cut.

It's time, during the first weekend of March 2016, to write a chronology of Claypool's cronyisms -- and how the expensive patronage he foisted upon Chicago's schools not only cost millions of dollars, but undermined the ability of the school system to actually talk factually about the budgets and finances repeatedly claimed in the talking points served up regularly.

Forrest Claypool, like his three predecessors in the CEO job, was appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to be the school system's top executive. Claypool got the job in July 2015. His immediate predecessor was Jesse Ruiz, who had served as Vice President of the Board of Education from May 2011, when he was appointed by Mayor Emanuel.

Ruiz's predecessor had been Barbara Byrd Bennet, who had been imported to Chicago in early 2012 from Detroit where she had been part of the management team the had been undermining the Detroit public schools. Byrd Bennet was finally forced to resign as CEO of CPS after a federal investigation revealed that she had steered a contract to the "SUPES Academy", a group for which she had worked, on a no-bid deal. Subsequent federal investigations showed how completely Byrd Bennett was selling the contract, on the promise she would profit later. Byrd Bennett assembled her expensive "team" from among her friends from Ohio, as well as a group of colleagues from Michigan and Tennessee.

Byrd Bennett's immediate predecessor was Jean-Claude Brizard, who had been brought to Chicago from Rochester, New York, in May 2011, when he was appointed by Mayor Emanuel. As usual, Emanuel assured the public that he had found the best man for the job. Brizard began assembling his "team" from afar.

Ronald Denard (above left) at his first Chicago Board of Education meeting in August 2015. Denard was appointed by the Board to the newly created position of "Senior Vice President for Finances" at an annual salary of $225,000 and granted a waiver from the CPS residency requirement. None of the Board members questioned the appointment, while continuing to bemoan the claim that CPS was facing a huge "deficit" and needed a half billion or a billion more dollars from "Springfield" in order to avoid massive layoffs. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. And so it came, in July 2015, to Forrest Claypool to begin assembling a "team" -- while repeating the City Hall talking points about how the massive "deficit" facing Chicago's schools had to be solved in "Springfield." Local revenues from Chicago property taxes were consistently ignored by Claypool and his "team."

The members of the Board of Education voted also to install two of Claypool's CTA cronies in July 2015 and has continued through February 2016. No member of the Board asked how the first two -- and many to come -- were qualified to lead the nation's third largest school system.

The one who made the corporate media was Ronald Denard, who was given the new job title of "Senior Vice President for Finance" at an annual salary of $225,000. Denard's qualification for the job was apparently that he had been at the Chicago Transit Authority with Claypool. In addition to getting the job at a high rate of pay, Denard also received a waiver from the Board of Education allowing him to continue living in the south suburbs. Again, there was no discussion of the impact of such a decision on the school system's other workers, many of whom are under investigation for alleged "residency violations."

By August 2015, Forrest Claypool was ready to move to begin stocking the executive ranks of CPS with his cronies from the Chicago Transit Authority. He recommended that the Board create a new position called "Senior Vice President of Finance" and to place Ronald Denard into that position at an annual salary of $225,000. The Board also approved a residency waiver for Denard, who demanded that he be allowed to continue living in the South suburbs. Graphic from the Action Agenda of the August 2015 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. So by August 2015, Claypool was ready to move to begin stocking the executive ranks of CPS with his CTA cronies. As the Board Report shows, Claypool recommended that the Board create that new position called "Senior Vice President of Finance" -- and to place Ronald Denard into that position at an annual salary of $225,000. The Board also approved the residency waiver for Denard, who demanded that he be allowed to continue living in the South suburbs, ignoring the impact the waiver would have on the rest of the school system's workers, most of whom are forced to follow the residency requirement.


March 8, 2016 at 8:48 AM

By: Rod Estvan

Fiscal crisis its reality and responses to it

t is not clear from this article whether or not George Schmidt believes CPS has actually no fiscal problem at all or that the extent of the CPS fiscal problem is being overstated by Mr. Claypool for the purposes of bargaining. Knowing George for years now I suspect he believes Claypool is overstating the immediate problem for bargaining purposes.

Really no attempt is made in this article to determine where CPS is at in terms of finances, but many of the high cost hires of administrators are noted, while the cuts issued to the same administration of those at lower pay grades are not noted. I would bet that if we were willing to strictly examine the administrative cuts and hires on a cost basis that CPS reduced the administrative costs overall. But in reducing the mass of the administrative apparatus CPS has even further made itself dependent on consultants.

I would suggest CPS borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars at extremely high interest rates in order to be able to make payroll and make on-going debt and pension payments. Enough information has been made public in the last year on the cash flow situation of CPS to indicate that Governor Bruce Rauners claim that CPS is fundamentally bankrupt has some validity to it. This does not mean that unionized educational workers in CPS have to roll over and surrender.

Governor Rauner has time on his side, CPS came near its legal borrowing interest rate limit of 9% in its last round of borrowing, and CPS does need fiscal help to operate. The Chicago City Council has done nothing up to now about using its power under the home rule provisions of state law to pass a property tax increase and transfer that money to CPS, the school district unlike the city has a tax cap. TIF money transfers can be done again, but that is also a shorter term fix that provides CPS with a limited time horizon for fiscal survival.

I think its very clear that Governor Rauner wants to implement the Wisconsin solution for CPS, which is part of his larger goal to break all teachers unions in the state, but in particular the CTU which hold a special place of hatred for him. Governor Rauner is willing to destroy human services and state subsidized colleges to help achieve this goal. Governor Rauner if he takes over CPS would charter off the education of most minority students who are lower income, and maintain or maybe even expand a selective enrollment sector for the small white and minority non-low income students in Chicago along with the poor deemed worthy based on test data.

The situation CPS now finds itself in is desperate over the longer run of two years and an elected school board if it comes into existence in 2018 would inherit a fiscal disaster and be forced to implement extreme austerity. I think unfortunately this article reinforces the CTU mantra of broke on purpose which also has another message and that is CPS is really not broke at all, its an accounting illusion. This become coupled with a variant of the old syndicalist theory of the mass strike, espoused by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which transforms the basis foundation of a capitalist economy into a radically different entity. In this vision a teachers strike is a transformational process that leads to a radical transformation of Chicago because it is linked to a mass uprising against corporate control of the city. I dont think that is at all a realistic vision of where this is all going over the next few years. The truth is you cant build socialism in one city to fix the disaster decades of corrupt machine politics have brought upon us.

Rod Estvan

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