Unprecedented example of ideology over responsibility... With dozens of recently hired and very expensive new executives, why would CPS privatize -- at great cost in a time of 'austerity' -- the sale of 125 S. Clark St.?

On March 4, 2013, Chicago Public Schools issued an RFP (Request for Proposals) asking that a real estate professional bid on the job of selling the central office building of the third largest school system in the USA. Given the claims by CPS lately that it has an "underutilization crisis" and is facing a "billion dollar deficit", the rumored proposal to sell the system's central office building came as no surprise, although the method of the sale has.

The first page of the multi-page RFP for the possible sale of the building at 125 S. Clark St., which was purchased by Chicago Public Schools at the end of the 20th Century and renovated during the time that Paul Vallas was "Chief Executive Officer" of CPS and Richard M. Daley was Mayor of Chicago.The unprecedented action, which was not subjected to a public disclosure on the agenda of the Board of Education, came to the public's notice a week after the Board's February 27 meeting. Insofar as Substance has reported and followed the history of the moves of the headquarters of CPS during the second half of the 20th Century, the simple fact that CPS has decided it doesn't have the staff to do the sale itself raises more questions than have been answered by CPS officials in the official public record. While the complete history of CPS is not yet written, it may be that this latest unprecedented action by the seven members of the Board of Education appointed by Rahm Emanuel is as unusual as any number of other actions that have been brought upon the public schools of Chicago since May 2011 when Emanuel was sworn in as Chicago mayor.

CPS officials are continually talking about saving money, but the seven members of the Board of Education who began their terms at the first of two Board meetings in June 2011 have never questioned one of the recommendations to increase the size of the system's top management. Although they have been officially claiming, along with some exaggerated statements by Mayor Emanuel, that they are "reducing bureaucracy," what they have actually been doing is purging the middle management and technical ranks of the schools system of veterans who know what they are doing. In any large and complex system, experienced middle managers and technicians make the system work. Payrolls must be accurate; records must be kept; and some all--important constraints of reality, from laws about special education to how the system's finances are to be distributed, must be followed.

Although Rahm Emanuel's 2011 claim that he "reduced administration" by $400 million during his first months in office was always obviously ridiculous, what his administration has done, with breathtaking speed, was undermine what was left of the central office's institutional knowledge, replacing veteran administrators and technicians with (usually out-of-town) people, very highly paid, whose twin talents are rendering a version of the world in Power Point and reducing reality to the bottom line of an Excel spreadsheet. The proliferation of Power Point and Excel at the expense of reality has been the signal feature of the Emanuel administration, and it has taken place at CPS with breathtaking speed.

But this attack on the common sense of public education is endangering the system's core functions. Since Rahm Emanuel took office, the top -- highest paid -- officials at CPS have actually been expanded, despite the mayor's prattle to the contrary. What has been cut has been those who actually do the work. While importing, mostly from out of town, cadre to follow the official talking points and Party Line, the seven members of the Board who took power after appointment by Emanuel in May 2011 have been simultaneously purging those with knowledge and experience in the middle ranks of the system have been purged or forced out.

February 27, 2013. The current CPS "Chief Executive Officer" Barbara Byrd Bennett (above right) and the current CPS "Chief innovation and Incubation Officer" Jack Esley (at podium) were neither in Chicago a year ago. Before taking over in her current quarter million dollar a year position in Chicago, Byrd Bennett was helping deconstruct the public schools of Detroit. Esley was doing some kind of educational work in Memphis. The seven members of the Chicago Board of Education have hired both since March 2012, Byrd Bennett at an annual salary of $250,000 per year and Esley at an annual salary of $195,000 per year. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The result has become an increasingly dysfunctional system, increasingly visible to parents, students, and teachers. In such a system, both workers and families are shuttled around from phone to phone facing people who are so inexperienced in their jobs that they can't do them. Dozens of people have reported to Substance over the past years that phone calls to people who are supposed to know what they are talking about are answered, finally, with tears when the caller becomes angry. For a little over a year-and-a-half, all that was summarized in Rahm's reference to "J.C.," the blasphemous nickname he gave to his first pick for "Chief Executive Officer," Rochester's Jean-Claude Brizard. Since Rahm pushed "J.C." off the flight (albeit with a golden parachute as a kind of hush money), the latest focus has been "B.B.B.", another example of Emanuel's penchant for George W. Bush-style demeaning nicknames. [Substance 'Style" demands that our reporters never use Emanuel's nicknames for these people, even at the cost of elaborating the full name in each new story.]

Most of the highest paid executives hired during the past 20 months (since the Emanuel inauguration) by the Chicago Board of Education have come from out of town. They have arrived without any Chicago teaching or administrative experience, as a search of public Board of Education records and some basic background checks shows. Their lack of Chicago knowledge and experience is deliberate. It shows on a daily basis in the schools, and at the regular meetings of the Board of Education, and has been on display to a certain extent at the "utilization" hearings. In every case Power Points and Excels -- along with some childish neologisms like the "Network" namings -- are the main language during the Emanuel era for discussing complex educational and human problems in the third largest city in the USA.

The Chicago Board of Education has a "Chief Portfolio Officer" in the person of Oliver Sicat (above right) for more than a year, but by the time it came for CPS to market the biggest and most expensive property in its portfolio, Sicat was on his way out the door and the "Portfolio Office" which had loomed large during the first year of Rahm Emanuel's Board of Education was being scaled back. No one on the Board asked why the Portfolio office can't handle the sale or lease of the Clark St. property. Above, Sicat and "Chief Talent Officer" Alicia Winckler sat at the December 14, 2011 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education just before the Board evacuated the Board after the Mic Check began. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Which brings Chicago to the point where it is poised to outsource one of the school system's core functions -- the management of the largest group of real estate holdings of any public entity in Chicago.

But the question of why so much is being privatized and outsourced has to begin with the very top.

News reports in Chicago's corporate media from the February 27, 2013 meeting of the Board of Education noted that CPS had finally voted to hold a couple of its more than 100 charter schools "accountable" and to establish what was reported as a future framework for charter school "accountability." Left out of the reports, but typical of the reporting in corporate Chicago, was the fact that the Power Point rushed into place for the February 27 Board meeting was narrated by a guy who had been in town less than two month in a job that nobody had been able to explain that hadn't ever existed in any school system before it was created -- without discussion or debate -- by a vote of the Chicago Board of Education when the Board members approved the above "Board Report" at the December 2012 Board meeting and hired Jack Elsey, who was at the time in Memphis.Barbara Byrd Bennett, who one year ago was still working in Detroit helping undermine the public schools there, currently hold the title of "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago Public Schools. She was actually hired in March 2012 as "Chief Education Officer" while Jean-Claude Brizard was still the school system's quarter million dollar a year "Chief Executive Officer."

Moat of the problem could be teased out of the people on display during the February 27, 2013 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, so I will begin this critique of the current human infrastructure with those people.

For more than a half hour during the Board meeting, while dozens of parents, teachers and community leaders waited to speak, the floor was held by a guy named Jack Elsey, who provided a Power Point on what was supposed to be charter school "accountability" for the seven members of the Board and the public. Seated adjacent to Elsey was the current CPS "Chief Executive Officer" Barbara Byrd Bennett, watching carefully lest Elsey slip up too largely. For those who didn't know him, Elsey is the current CPS "Chief innovation and Incubation Officer." He was not in Chicago were neither in Chicago. Like Byrd Bennett, last year he was elsewhere helping push the corporate "education reform" agenda in a large city. In February 2012, Byrd Bennett was helping deconstruct the public schools of Detroit; Esley was doing some kind of educational work in Memphis.

The seven members of the Chicago Board of Education have hired both since March 2012, Byrd Bennett at an annual salary of $250,000 per year and Esley at an annual salary of $165,000 per year. There was no public discussion by the seven members of the Board about the hiring of each, nor any indication in the public record of why CPS suddenly needed a highly paid, out-of-town executive to take over the newly created position of "Chief Officer for Innovation and Incubation."

A year and a half earlier, when Rochester's Jean-Claude Brizard was the chief of Chicago's schools, the same Board of Education had voted to establish another strangely named office, hire another person who had never taught in a real Chicago public school, and take the school system on a roller coaster ride of Power Points from its "Portfolio Office" courtesy of the "Chief Portfolio Officer," Oliver Sicat.

By February 2013, if a dose of common sense were in play in Chicago's public schools (and the media coverage of the antics of those who are spending the schools' $6 billion annual budget), a reasonable person might have asked why the newly privatized selling of the Board's headquarters wasn't being done by the "Portfolio guy." But by March 4, 2013, when the official announcement about the RFP for selling Clark St. became public, the "Chief Portfolio Officer," while still on salary at CPS, was in eclipse. "Innovation and Incubation" were in; "Portfolio" was out. But during the roughly 18 months he held the Portfolio spot, Oliver Sicat had delivered the Power Points with the same well rehearsed calm as Jack Elsey showed on February 27.



The Board of Education of the City of Chicago (“the Board”) invites the submission of proposals from real estate professionals or firms (“Proposers” or singularly, “Proposer”) to provide all services necessary for the real estate brokerage, transaction management and strategic planning (“Services”) related to certain real estate held by the Board. The Board’s targeted real estate is described in Attachment D.

The selected Proposer shall be responsible for the Scope of Services described in Attachment C, which includes producing a financially sound and comprehensive real estate analysis, study, plan or all related work product necessary for the Board to sell, lease or otherwise maximize revenue and space utilization through its targeted real estate.

The first "Chief Education Officer" under the regime of Rahm Emanuel was Noemi Donoso (above center), who was located working in Colorado after the members of the Board of Education (two of whom, Penny Pritzker and Andrea Zopp, rear) discovered that there was no one in Chicago who could do the job as well as someone from Denver. Within six months after the above photo was take (at the December 14, 2011 Board meeting) Donoso was on her way out, to be replaced by Barbara Byrd Bennett, whose talents were discovered by CPS while she was working in Detroit. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Proposers shall include proposed compensation for their Services. The Board understands that compensation from the sale of real estate and leasing commissions is variable and unpredictable but also recognizes that managing and predicting income from such a source is within the expertise of Proposers, and will consider the market compensation rate for similar services, the creativity and feasibility of the proposed compensation structure and the overall cost to the Board.


CPS Seeks New Central Office Location to Downsize and Save Up to $3 Million Annually... CPS Takes Additional Steps to Reduce Central Office Spending to Consolidate Resources; Will Direct Funds to the Classroom as District Faces $1 Billion Budget Deficit

March 4, 2013

As part of its ongoing efforts to consolidate resources and direct funds back into the classroom, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is seeking a new location for Central Office employees and operations. CPS is facing a $1 billion budget gap in its Fiscal Year 2014 budget. A Request for Proposals (RFP) to begin this process, which could save the District $2 to $3 million annually, was released today.

“We are exploring every option possible to consolidate resources and reduce spending downtown so we can continue to invest directly in students and their education,” said CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. “We have far fewer Central Office employees than we did a few years ago. We can’t afford to keep throwing our limited resources at space we don’t need, because it is our children who will ultimately pay that price. It’s time to downsize and find a new location that will better accommodate the scope and size of the Central Office today.”

Since 2009, CPS has reduced its Central Office staff by about 30 percent to its current 1,090 employees. The Central Office, located at 125 S. Clark, has over 500,000 usable square feet and formerly accommodated more than 1,500 employees.

"Every child in this city deserves to have a high quality education that will prepare them for success and we are working to build a school district that gives our students the best chance to excel," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. "CPS and CEO Byrd-Bennett will continue to make smart, necessary decisions to focus our limited resources so that we can continue to make smart, critical investments in our students' bright futures." The RFP seeks to engage a real estate brokerage firm to help explore a move to a new location and significantly reduce the amount of office space needed for today’s leaner Central Office. The RFP can be found on the CPS procurement website ( where interested parties can register to download the bid.

As part of the RFP process, CPS’s procurement department will then reach out to targeted, relevant organizations to move the process forward.

In the event that CPS does not find a suitable new location, it will consolidate within its current building and lease empty office space to third parties. Ultimately, CPS seeks to also sell its current property.


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