The news broke yesterday afternoon with the release of Governor Rauner’s emails calling Chicago teachers illiterate and Chicago principals incompetent.
It was embarrassing enough for the Governor that his people rushed to offer immediate apologies.
Rauner’s remarks were included in a batch of emails the Chicago Tribune requested from Emanuel’s office more than a year ago in connection with its reporting about a controversial $20.5 million no-bid CPS principal training program at the center of former district CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s guilty plea to federal fraud charges last year.
The mayor’s office heavily redacted some of the messages or withheld them entirely. The Tribune then sued the Emanuel administration, and this week Cook County Judge Anna Demacopoulos ruled the mayor’s office largely violated the state’s open records laws and ordered City Hall to turn over the emails.
Behind the Governor’s emailed insults was a discussion – call it a debate – among the wealthy and powerful on the Chicago Public Education Fund over plans and policies for our schools. Those plans included teacher training and principal training.
Who was the table for this discussion about our schools?
Rauner, Penny Pritzker, now U.S. commerce secretary; billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin; Chicago investment executive Mellody Hobson; and Helen Zell, wife of billionaire real estate magnate Sam Zell.
You remember Mellody Hobson. She is George Lucas’ wife and the woman behind the Lakefront Lucas Museum.
Who was never at the table?
Not you. Not parents. Not teachers or principals. Not the Chicago Teachers Union.
For the most part, The Fund supports projects meant to be scaled up as part of the school system. In recent years, it has also paid consultants to conduct searches for top district staff and to help develop plans for the district.
Yet no one outside The Fund’s staff and board of directors know how it decides which programs to support, what the results have been and how or whether the results are communicated to CPS.
As the Fund’s CEO and President, Heather Anichini, explains it, her staff meet and talk with numerous people — from teachers to principals to other foundations to players in the field — and then decide what initiatives to support. To keep their funding, initiatives have to meet benchmarks set by The Fund.
“So we actually don’t do a ton of formal reporting in the way that many other organizations might,” Anichini says. “But we do have these checks along the way.”
Information on outcomes is communicated to CPS through “conversations with administrators,” Anichini adds.
The process might seem innocuous enough. But it also sounds ripe for manipulation. And it is certainly not public.
The secret meetings of the power elite eventually led to the no-bid $20 million dollar scandal involving Barbara Byrd-Bennett.
Calling Chicago teachers illiterate and principals incompetent is insulting. But behind the insults are policy debates.
About our schools.
Debates that don’t include you.