Claypool's patronage cronyism yields an executive 'team' experienced in buses and subways, not schools... 'Pants on fire'?...While crying poverty, Forrest Claypool has actually preserved a huge part of the CPS bureaucracy and expanded his own private army of cronies, consultants, contractors...

Before Forrest Claypool became "CEO" of America's third largest school system, no one suspected that Chicago's schools needed a "Vice President for Finance" -- a position that had never existed before. Yet by the time the Board of Education had completed its August 2015 meeting, CPS not only had a Vice President for Finances (at an annual salary of $215,000), but that guy (Ronald Denard, right above) had been granted a waiver of the CPS residency requirement so that he would be able to continue living in the south suburbs (while CPS was firing teachers and other workers for a much publicized "violation" of the supposedly sacred residency rule). Substance photo by David Vance.For more than 40 years, Substance has been checking the facts behind the claims of CPS officials. Examples of mendacity in high places abound -- and have always abounded -- but seldom in all that mendacious history has there been anyone as smugly mendacious as the current "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools, Forrest Claypool.

During the first week of February, while continuing to claim that CPS is "broke" and needs to go to Wall Street for hundreds of millions of dollars, Claypool preserved onehuge part of the administrative bureaucracy he was telling reporters he has cut (the "Network" offices) and kept in place the more than $2 million in new executive hires he has done since his appointment by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in July 2015. Were CPS officials being rated for the truth of their statements, Claypool's claim that he has reduced staff "at the top" would receive a "Pants on fire" rating.

The Chicago Tribune has already reported part of it: the claim by Claypool that he had to bring to CPS the best "experts" anywhere to deal with the financial crisis. Of course, Claypool's experts could not have been anyone working in CPS finances or administration -- or indeed anyone who had any knowledge or experience in public schools financing or administration. Every one of the more than $2 million of new executives imported by Forrest Claypool since July 2015 has experience -- in buses and subways, not in schools...

The onslaught of yet another "team" of administrators began almost as soon as Claypool left his City Hall offices (where he had been "Chief of Staff" to Mayor Rahm Emanuel) and moved a few blocks away to the CPS headquarters. The most expensive of the "team" Claypool hired (with a unanimous vote of the members of the Board of Education in each case, and without public discussion) was Ronald Denard, into the newly created position of "Vice President for School Finances." Before Forrest Claypool became "CEO" of America's third largest school system, no one suspected that Chicago's schools needed a "Vice President for Finance."

Before the Chicago Board of Education voted to approve the Board Report hiring Ronald Denard at the end of the Board's August 2015 meeting, no one at CPS had ever thought that CPS needed a "Senior Vice President of Finance", let alone that the only person who was qualified for the $225,000 a year job was living in Chicago's south suburbs and would require a residency waiver to do the CPS finance work. The Board voted on this Board Report at its August 2015 meeting unanimously and without public discussion or debate.The position had never existed before, so it was immediately created by a vote of the seven members of the Board of Education. By the time the Board of Education had completed its August 2015 meeting, CPS not only had a Vice President for Finances (at an annual salary of $215,000), but that guy (Ronald Denard) had been granted a waiver of the CPS residency requirement so that he would be able to continue living in the south suburbs. Meanwhile CPS was firing teachers and other workers for much publicized "violations" of the supposedly sacred residency rules, as the public can learn about easily in the annual report of the Inspector General.

Anyone looking for a public discussion by the seven members of the Board about their three major decisions regarding Denard (creating his job; putting Denard in it for $215,000 a year; and giving him the residency waiver) will not easily find it on the public record. At CPS, "transparency" is a word to be used only in its strange Orwellian context, not as most people believe to provide actual facts to a public.

Under mayoral control, the "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago Public Schools is appointed by the mayor, not selected by the Board of Education (which is also appointed by the mayor). But the Board does have to approve the terms of the CEO's employment, so at its July 2015 meeting the Board passed (unanimously and without discussion) the contract paying Claypool a quarter million dollars a year to serve as "CEO" of CPS.The only apparent "rule" of hiring in 2016 that CPS has been following in its expansion of the executive ranks has been the "diversity" requirement. Denard is not white, although several who followed him into the Board's executive offices are.

Claypool's extensive patronage hiring of cronies from his past has not gone unnoticed in the corporate press in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune reported last summer on Denard's residency waiver, and the hiring. The most extensive news report summarizing Claypool's new patronage army at the top was published in the Tribune in an inside article on January 30, 2016.

Forrest Claypool may have made a career in the city's corporate media as a "reformer" who is opposed to "patronage," but such claims did not stop Claypool from bringing Doug Kucia (above) into power at CPS as soon as Claypool was "Chief Executive Officer." Based on a Board Report signed by Claypool, Kucia became the "Chief of Staff to the Chief Executive Officer" by a vote of the August 2015 Board meeting. The Board already had a "Chief of Staff to the Board" in Abigayil Joseph (see next photo). Kucia was added to the CPS budget during the summer of 2015 while Claypool was first talking about a "fiscal crisis" and "financial emergency." Substance photo by George N. Schmidt."Former colleagues and past donors to [CPS CEO Forrest] Claypool's political campaigns have won district jobs and consulting contracts," the Tribune story by Juan Perez Jr. reported. "Companies hired to dig through district operations had previously received lucrative, no-bid work from the Chicago Transit Authority during Claypool's four years as president of that agency. Now, the self-styled reformer's trusted circle is playing a key role in moves that include the hundreds of job cuts the district executed earlier this month..."

While the Tribune article missed the cost of added administration that each new executive brings with him (or her), the story did summarize a big part of the Claypool Cronies department just in time for the Claypool's layoff of (supposedly) "central office administrators" and the subsequent claim by Claypool (playing out in schools across Chicago as this story is being reported on February 4, 2016) that at least 1,000 jobs at the city's more than 600 local schools must be cut now because of the "financial crisis."

The listing of expensive executives from the management of the city's buses and subways who suddenly became education experts continued expanding during all the months since Claypool took over.

Every "Chief Executive Officer" apparently needs a "Chief of Staff" (or three or four?). Above, Chief Executive Officer of Chicago Public Schools Forrest Claypool with "Chief of Staff" Abigayil Joseph. Joseph is not to be confused with "Chief of Staff" Doug Kucia, who is "Chief of Staff" to Claypool, while Joseph is "Chief of Staff" to Board President Frank Clark. There are other chiefs and chiefs of staff throughout the Chicago Public Schools administrative offices, all of them being paid more than $150,000 per year this school year. Despite Claypool's lies about "cutting administration," all the chiefs that existed before Claypool was appointed in July 2015 were still in office in February 2016 -- and some new ones like Doug Kucia had been added. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.In addition to Denard, Claypool immediately brought in Doug Kucia as his personal "Chief of Staff." This "Chief of Staff" is not to be confused with the incumbent "Chief of Staff" to the Board of Education, Abigayil Joseph, who continued in that job. And in order to have someone who knew education, Claypool promoted the former Chicago Public Schools "Chief of Chiefs," Denise Little, to the post of Special Advisor to the Chief Executive Officer for Education.

Kucia was approved by the Board (unanimous vote; no discussion) when it voted at its August 2015 meeting to hire Kucia at an annual salary of $175,000 and approve all of the actions he had taken since July, when, apparently, he began working at CPS simultaneously with Claypool taking over. Kucia had no experience in education in his record or resume.


During the six months since Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed him to take over Chicago Public Schools, Forrest Claypool has tapped into a network of his longtime aides, consultants and political supporters to help overhaul a district beset by scandal and poor finances.

Former colleagues and past donors to Claypool's political campaigns have won district jobs and consulting contracts. Companies hired to dig through district operations had previously received lucrative, no-bid work from the Chicago Transit Authority during Claypool's four years as president of that agency.

Now, the self-styled reformer's trusted circle is playing a key role in moves that include the hundreds of job cuts the district executed earlier this month.

Claypool, who took hard stances against patronage hiring during his days as a Cook County commissioner, said his decision to assemble his administration from a familiar cast of executives and companies fits with his plan to use "the very same techniques" he employed while running the CTA and the Chicago Park District.

"I don't have to apologize for hiring talented people," Claypool told the Tribune in a recent interview. "Again, there's a reason that you need good people, you need good consultants, you need good management plans, and I think you should measure us by the results that we achieve."

Claypool hasn't run for office since a failed run for county assessor in 2010, and his political fund has been dormant. The individuals and companies working for CPS did not donate major amounts of money.

Still, one campaign finance expert argued Claypool should have established an ethics policy prohibiting people who donated to his political campaigns from getting CPS work as part of a mission to restore credibility to a district in which the last full-time chief awaits sentencing on corruption charges.

"I think you bend over backwards to avoid situations where people are going to call into question whose interests are being promoted, or if there is a pattern of insider politics," said Kent Redfield, a campaign finance expert and professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

"If things were running really well, and there was a lot of trust in the people that are trying to solve the problem, then you would get a little more of the benefit of the doubt," Redfield said. "But they're certainly in a situation where people are going to be skeptical, and adding to that skepticism is just one more problem."

The roster of Claypool insiders hired at CPS include:

Carol Rubin, who donated $10,500 to Claypool's campaign fund and had high-paying consulting and executive roles at the CTA, was paid tens of thousands of dollars under a one-year CPS consulting deal before Claypool hired her full time to lead a district program management office.

Claypool says stalled CPS bond deal will be done by 'early next week'

Claypool says stalled CPS bond deal will be done by 'early next week'

Analytic Innovations, a company that won more than $1.3 million of no-bid consulting business from the CTA under Claypool, won a three-month CPS contract worth up to $72,500 to assess the district's special education services. The company, owned by Stuart Taylor II, is also one of about 40 companies eligible for $14 million in professional services work through 2018.

Public Services PS Inc., a company owned by Paul Stepusin, an executive Claypool has worked with for years, is also one of the companies eligible for a share of the $14 million in consulting work. The company won more than $2 million of no-bid work from CTA after Emanuel appointed Claypool to lead the transit agency in 2011.

Sally Csontos, who donated $7,500 to Claypool's political fund, was hired to direct a CPS "change management" office. Her spouse John Filan, a former state budget director, Park District aide under Claypool and also a donor works with a company that provides financial consulting services to CPS.

Paul Toback, a fitness company executive who worked with Claypool during a prior stint at City Hall and donated $8,500 to his campaign fund, has a one-year district contract worth up to $75,000.

Jose Alfonso de Hoyos-Acosta, hired by Claypool as the district's chief administrative officer, led a private risk analysis team for the CTA's Ventra fare system.

In addition, Ronald Marmer, who contributed $24,000 to Claypool's political campaigns, was hired as the district's lead attorney, and Ron DeNard, also a Claypool donor and top CTA and Park District aide, was hired as the district's top financial officer.

DeNard, who was present during the Tribune's interview with Claypool, interrupted at one point to summarize his credentials and qualifications for the schools job.

"I'd put my resume up against anyone, and not to say there aren't other qualified people, but I'm absolutely qualified for this job," DeNard said. "I'm not a political hack, I'm not patronage. I'm a polished professional."

When reached by the Tribune, Rubin asked a reporter to direct questions to the district's press office. Toback and Csontos did not return calls and messages seeking comment. Taylor and Stepusin could not be reached.

Claypool said the fact that some of his CPS advisers gave to his political campaigns is "irrelevant."

"Have some of those people been in government? Yeah," Claypool said. "They've been in government so they know people, they may have made a donation here or there to somebody? That's understandable, but it doesn't mean in any way, shape or form that they're not qualified. In fact, they're extraordinarily qualified."

Rubin worked with Claypool when he was chief of staff to then-Mayor Richard M. Daley. Then she took a job under Claypool at the Chicago Park District, where she helped recruit DeNard.

Between 2002 and 2010, records show Rubin donated $10,500 to the Citizens for Claypool fund during his time as a Cook County commissioner.

Claypool awarded Rubin about $250,000 worth of CTA consulting contracts in the months after he was tapped to run the agency by a newly elected Emanuel, according to invoice summaries listed in CTA procurement records.

By 2013, CTA employee records show Claypool hired Rubin as his chief administrative officer at the CTA at an annual salary of $120,000. In 2014, Rubin's CTA salary was $160,300.

In September, Rubin, a former corporate strategy director with Exelon, began work under a one-year CPS contract worth up to $65,000. Rubin's tasks included orders to "review existing organizational charts to determine opportunities to restructure and streamline non-core education departments."

Rubin's work was directed by chief internal auditor Andrell Holloway, who also supervised audits under Claypool at the CTA, and chief of staff Doug Kucia, who worked with Claypool at the CTA and the County Board.

Rubin submitted the third-highest of six bids for the contract, but Claypool's administration used a purchasing process that didn't require it to select the lowest bidder, according to a CPS spokeswoman.

Rubin was paid $36,060 under the consulting contract before Claypool hired her in November to a full-time position leading a project management office at an annual salary of $170,000.

Toback worked as an executive assistant to Daley while Claypool was chief of staff. By the late 1990s, Toback was an executive for the Chicago-based Bally Total Fitness Holding Corp., where he eventually became chairman and CEO. Toback led the massive fitness company until August 2006, when he was ousted amid steady annual losses, a plunging stock price and a lack of interest from potential suitors.

Between 2002 and 2010, according to state campaign finance records, Toback donated $8,500 to Claypool's campaign fund.

Now Toback works with Holloway's office under a one-year contract to "assist in the development of strategies for alternative delivery mechanisms for common core district services," according to district records. Since the school year started its 2016 fiscal year, district purchasing records show Toback has been paid $39,720.

Claypool said political donations don't disqualify people from getting contracts.

"Good managers don't say, 'Sorry, I know you're brilliant, and I know you've had great success in the past and we've worked well together, but I can't use you because you gave me that $250 check when I was in between careers too and running for County Board.' It's silly," he said.

Analytic Innovations began working with CPS last fall under DeNard's direction. The company was responsible for a "comprehensive assessment of CPS's Diverse Learners Program in all areas of operation," according to the contract. That program was hit by layoffs earlier this month.

Between March 2014 and September 2015, the CTA paid the company about $1.6 million for consulting services. The bulk of that money was paid under the authority of a contract approved by the Chicago Transit Board in summer 2014 that declared "public bidding disadvantageous."

Among the no-bid work Public Services PS Inc. won from the CTA under Claypool was a contract worth up to $619,500 to help with the 2013 budget, monitor a camera project and assist the finance and internal audit departments. The company's CPS contract calls for it to consult on construction and facilities management, finance, data analytics, organization consulting and other work.

Claypool said his team has worked with Stepusin, the company's owner, "since the Park District days," and described the company's work as "extraordinary."

"If somebody's already done extraordinary work and you have big challenges again, where do you go? Do you buy a pig in a poke, or do you go back to people you know can do the job over and over and over and do it successfully?" Claypool said.


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