Chicago School Board makes Brizard official; new ethics code welcomes incoming board members

Print More

At last month’s regular School Board meeting, board members who served under ex-Mayor Richard M. Daley were honored and bid farewell. Well, not so quick.

On Wednesday, the same board members were still warming seats. Their main task was to approve the appointment of Jean-Claude Brizard as new chief executive officer. They did so giving him a contract for an annual salary of $250,000 that will be in place until June 30. By that time, new board members, already chosen by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, are expected to be in place.

Again, the board meeting was a bit of a love fest, with outgoing board President Mary Richardson-Lowry presenting special resolutions thanking both outgoing Interim CEO Terry Mazany and outgoing Interim Chief Education Officer Charles Payne.

“They came and served because it was the right thing to do and, within that time frame, they were the right people,” Richardson-Lowry said.

Besides the warm words, the old board members also took care of some other tasks. They approved a new Code of Ethics, a $1.3 million contract for the Academy of Urban School Leadership and a long list of other expenses.  

The new Code of Ethics makes many significant changes (board members revised the one presented in the board packet, but CPS has yet to release the revised version). The new code adds an approval process for secondary employment and requires that reports of gifts and honoraria be maintained by the Chief Financial Officer, who will issue reports to the Ethics Advisor and the Board.

It also makes clear that local school council members who are also on the boards of non-profits that raise money for the same school must recuse themselves from discussion and abstain from voting on proposals put forth by that non-profit. This situation has become an issue because of the number of “Friends of (fill-in-the-blank) School” groups, raising money for schools in wealthy communities. 

Perhaps the most of interesting ethics changes involve charter schools and non-profits. Under Renaissance 2010, CPS aggressively opened charter schools and turned over the management of other schools to non-profits. Because millions (more than $200 million in 2010) now flow to these private entities, there’s plenty of potential for conflicting interests.

The new code prohibits board members, employees and their spouses, domestic partners, and partners in civil unions from serving on charter or contract school boards. Board members and employees are allowed to sit on the boards of other non-profits, but must recuse themselves from discussion and abstain from voting on matters that present a conflict.

CPS spokesman Frank Shuftan says the new code has been in the works for about a year, as the old code dates back to 2004 (when Renaissance 2010 was launched).

But making these rules clear for the incoming board members and CEO seems particularly important.

The seven-member board includes some heavy-hitters, among them Penny Pritzker and David Vitale. Pritzker, a member of one of Chicago’s wealthiest families, serves on the board of directors of AfterSchool Matters. On Wednesday, the Chicago Public Education Fund announced that Pritzker was stepping down as chair from that organization.  

In addition, Pritzker’s husband, Bryan Traubert, serves on the board of Noble Street Charter School and, in fact, there’s a Pritzker campus of Noble Street. Under the new code of ethics, he will have to resign in order for his wife to accept the appointment to the School Board.

As for Vitale, he is the chairman on the board of directors for Academy of Urban School Leadership, a non-profit that provides teacher training and manages schools for CPS. AUSL spokesman Jim Blomberg says the new code might clarify for Vitale whether he should stay on AUSL’s board, but that for now nothing has been decided.

It might be some time, however, before AUSL has another big contract on the board agenda. On Wednesday, the outgoing board members approved a $1.3 million contract for the organization to continue with their teacher residency program and professional development for the next school year.

This is a renewal of a contract that started in fiscal year 2010. Each year it has grown, from $346,000 in fiscal year 2010 to $990,000 in fiscal year 2011, which ends June 30. Blomberg says the increase reflects the program’s growth and the expectation that AUSL will play a big role in Emanuel’s education agenda around teachers.

“We are building an infrastructure,” Blomberg says.

With this money, AUSL plans to train 90 teachers. These teachers serve a year-long residency as they go to classes to learn how to be teachers, and must promise to spend four years working in CPS.

Teachers from AUSL’s program typically are hired to work in turnarounds, which are schools in which an entire staff is fired and a new staff is hired. AUSL operates 12 turnarounds and seven schools in which they run teacher residency programs. This year, however, district officials decided not to do any turnarounds, as they examine the costs and benefits of the initiative.

Also, teacher jobs might be scarce in the coming years as CPS grapples with ongoing budget deficits.  

But Blomberg says AUSL-trained teachers will still be in demand. About two-thirds of them will go into AUSL schools. He notes that one of AUSL’s schools, Solario High School in Back of the Yards, will have a sophomore class for the first time in September and will need teachers as it adds grades. Also, job openings will become available as enrollment grows at some of their schools, as well as because of natural attrition.

The AUSL contract isn’t the only big-ticket item approved Wednesday, including:

 

  • Homes for two Urban Prep Charter Schools, the all-boys high schools that have earned praise for sending 100 percent of graduates on to college. The Urban Prep -East Garfield Park Campus was supposed to move into Beidler Elementary School, but that plan fell through after CPS decided that sending Beidler’s current students to Cather presented a safety hazard. Instead, Urban Prep-East Garfield Park will move into Medill, located at 1326 W. 14th Place on the Near West Side.  Urban Prep’s South Shore campus will move into Williams Multiplex at 2710 S. Dearborn in the Douglas neighborhood. The estimated cost to renovate Medill is $5.4 million; for Williams Multiplex, $6.9 million. The board report notes that funding is contingent on the money for the renovations being included in the 2012 budget.
  • A $224,000 contract for the Education Pioneers program. The national program, supported by the Broad Foundation and the Dell Foundation, will bring 20 graduate students in business, education, law and public policy to Chicago this summer to work with area and central offices. Their job will be to “answer a key question that will inform district strategy.”

 

The public comment portion of the meeting lasted well past its usual two-hour allotment.  Some of those gathered to speak seemed disappointed that the new board, or at least Brizard, weren’t present. CTU officials passed out a press release on CPS interest rate swaps before the meeting began, but in her remarks Lewis only commented on it to say she would save the issue for later. 

Other community members spoke to support Culture of Calm, deride the recent teaching firings and student suspensions at Austin Polytechnical Academy High School, and ask for more support for early childhood schools whose funding is in jeopardy.  Breakfast in the Classroom, a recurring topic in public comments at board meetings since the program’s inception, was also addressed by both proponents and critics.