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Rahm And Rauner Try To Weather CPS Federal Investigation

By aaroncynic in News on Apr 21, 2015 6:45PM

Both Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Bruce Rauner are scrambling to downplay their respective roles in an ongoing federal investigation of a $20 million dollar no-bid contract to a private education group that employed CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. “You obviously know that by all the information available. So, the answer to that is no,” Emanuel told reporters when asked to address his administration’s involvement in the decision to hire SUPES Academy, the Sun-Times reports. SUPES, where Byrd-Bennett worked as a coach before consulting for CPS and later being tapped by Emanuel to run CPS, was awarded $20 million to head up a training program for "leadership development services,” one of four contracts CPS gave them in 2012, right after it closed 50 schools.

Governor Bruce Rauner stepped into the fray yesterday as well, saying that the scandal is a symptom of CPS bureaucracy. “I hope there’s been no wrongdoing,” Rauner said according to CBS. “But Chicago Public Schools has been a source of patronage, cronyism… massive bureaucracy. It hasn’t really served the families and the parents and the children well for a long time.”

The governor had to quickly walk that statement back slightly, as federal investigators are also seeking information about the involvement of the Chicago Public Education Fund, which provided the seed money for SUPES. The Chicago Tribune reported last week Rauner chaired the board of that group, which also counted former CPS board member and current U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and current school board President David Vitale as members. Rauner told the Sun-Times:

“My experience with the education fund has been mostly good although I will say this: The fund didn’t make many of its own decisions as much as it was a facilitator for the mayor or the schools leaders. It was really more of a support group rather than a truly independent group. That was a source of frustration to me at the time. The investigation, I hope the potential wrongdoing that I read about didn’t occur, I don’t know.”

Emanuel defended the members of his appointed school board, saying Vitale does “very important work,” highlighting the experience of Pritzker and current members like Andrea Zopp, head of the Urban League and Henry Bienen, former President of Northwestern University. He then leaned on some familiar talking points straight from his recent mayoral reelection campaign, saying:

“As mayor, I want everybody at CPS — our teachers, our students, our parents, our principals our administrators — like a laser focused on our children’s educational gains building on the gains we’ve had the last couple years, from a rising graduation rate [to] making sure we implement universal pre-K this summer.”

Despite the growing scandal, neither Rahm or Rauner seem to be very interested in systemic changes within CPS or its board. Both men are vehemently opposed to an elected school board, something that could prevent the cronyism and patronage Rauner purports to oppose. Both also support further blurring the lines between public and private interests. And while they seem at odds on exactly how to solve the looming CPS pension crisis (Rahm criticized Rauner’s recent remarks about potential bankruptcy for CPS), neither has much love for rank and file teachers or their union. Rahm’s had anything but a cozy relationship with the CTU and Rauner blasted the union Monday saying:

“The schools don’t belong to the teachers union. They belong to the parents and the taxpayers of the system...We gotta change that whole conversation in Illinois. The power should be with the people.”

As we see with the makeup of the board, along with the small group of already wealthy people who’ve benefited from insider relationships with CPS however, when Rauner says “people power,” he really only means a select few. “There’s a whole culture of privatization.” CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey told the Sun-Times. “For the hundreds of turnarounds, charters and probation schools, it’s literally taken the voice away from the local school councils . . . It’s handing over school finance and decision-making power to people who don’t come out of an education world.”