Chicago

Chicago Public Schools Execs Lied, Altered Records to Cover Up Wrongdoing

The school system's CEO and general counsel have both resigned over the scandal.

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel
Jose M. Osorio/TNS/Newscom

A pay-to-play scandal at Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has prompted two top officials to resign.

Yesterday General Counsel Ronald Marmer announced his departure after an ethics investigation revealed he was receiving a $1 million severance package from the law firm Jenner & Block while also supervising legal work the firm was doing for the school system. And last week CEO Forrest Claypool resigned after the same investigation found he had engaged in "elaborate cover-ups" of Marmer's behavior, including a "pattern of attorney shopping, record changing and lies to investigators."

The revelations shine an unflattering light on the nation's third largest school district, which spends $6.4 billion in public funds managing 514 public schools. Three CPS chiefs appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel have now resigned under varying levels of disgrace.

Emanuel at first resisted CPS Inspector General Nicholas Schuler's recommendation that he fire Claypool, saying that the CEO had made a public apology for his behavior and that it was "a sign of character to publicly acknowledge where you're wrong and take responsibility for it."

Schuler found these public displays of "character" wanting, asking in a December 5 executive summary of his report: "What kind of signal would it send to CPS employees, parents and children if the CEO was allowed to change records as part of a cover up and keep his job?"

Schuler's investigation found that Claypool and Marmer's series of cover-ups began when four CPS attorneys determined that Marmer's supervision of Jenner & Block's work violated the school district's ethics policies. Claypool and Marmer then sought a second opinion from two outside lawyers, both of whom came to the same conclusion.

Claypool then solicited the opinion of a seventh attorney, J. Timothy Eaton, a longtime friend of Claypool's who had donated some $5,000 to his various campaigns for public office. Eaton's legal opinion, unsurprisingly, found that Marmer's conduct was totally above board.

Claypool then buried the opinions of the first six attorneys and used the seventh to secure the Chicago Board of Education's approval for yet more contracts with Jenner & Block. Claypool also had the outside attorneys he consulted alter their bills to CPS to remove any reference to "Code of Ethics" and "ethics issues."

Claypool then lied about his behavior in two separate interviews conducted by the Inspector General's office.

The weight of all these revelations prompted Claypool's resignation this past Friday.

Claypool's predecessor, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, resigned in 2015 over a bribery scandal that saw her sentenced to four and a half years in a federal prison. The CEO before her, Jean-Claude Brizard, resigned in October 2012 over his handling of a teachers strike.

Claypool and Marmer's resignations come as Chicago's school system receives a $499 million budget increase. Chicago taxpayers have also seen their property taxes increase by 10 percent, three-fifths of which is earmarked for the Chicago Teachers' Pension Fund.

NEXT: Just realized: Reason now has two blogs named after crimes

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  1. Chicago has some great things going for it, but it seems unusually steeped in corruption. Is perhaps only Philly worse?

    1. DC got to be DC. Because we didn’t get 20 trillion in debt by playing by the rules.

    2. Sorry, but to know Chicago and Illinois is to know that there is no place that excels better at corruption. Other locations are pure amateurs in comparison. Upon hearing of yet the umpteenth scandal locals will yawn and then reliably vote Democratic in the next election, ensuring more scandals to come in an endlessly repeating cycle.

  2. So, the hometown of ex-President Barack “checks and balances are for little people” Obama has a school system rife with corruption.

    Color me unsurprised.

    1. Color?! RACIST!

  3. it was “a sign of character to publicly acknowledge where you’re wrong and take responsibility for it.”

    Where have I heard this before? Something about it’s not so bad when you’re “working for the public good?”

  4. The whole concept of property taxes is fucked. It means you are paying rent to the tax collector, because if you don’t pay they can take away your home.

    1. Id like to see the numbers on homes ceased over property taxes nation wide & by state. Would be nice to see those numbers compared w the amount of tax funds used to “fight” homelessness.

  5. I don’t care about apologies. I want to see personal liability & restitution (jail or no-jail is secondary).

    1. Agree 100%. Restitution shows character. Apologies are meaningless bullshit. Given this guys position its close to impossible that some PR firm or attorney didnt write the heart felt apology anyway.

  6. Did Rahm Emmanuel think being the mayor of Chicago was a stepping stone on his way to the White House?

    Hasn’t local government, there, been neck deep in corruption since the days of Al Capone?

    1. Chicago has a long history of political corruption,[11] dating to the incorporation of the city in 1833.[12] It has been a de facto monolithic entity of the Democratic Party from the mid 20th century onward.[13][14] Research released by the University of Illinois at Chicago reports that Chicago and Cook County’s judicial district recorded 45 public corruption convictions for 2013, and 1642 convictions since 1976, when the Department of Justice began compiling statistics. This prompted many media outlets to declare Chicago the “corruption capital of America”.[15] Gradel and Simpson’s Corrupt Illinois (2015) provides the data behind Chicago’s corrupt political culture.[16][17] They found that a tabulation of federal public corruption convictions make Chicago “undoubtedly the most corrupt city in our nation”,[18] with the cost of corruption “at least” $500 million per year.

      1. Just statistically speaking, there’s no way he could be the mayor of Chicago for this long and not be deeply compromised by corruption–and it doesn’t have to be directly.

        If there are 45 public corruption convictions a year, what are the chances that none of them are out of the mayor’s office? It doesn’t have to be him–just somebody that works for him, and he’s over.

      2. Imagine how many of them get away with it… If the feds got a high percentage, they’d stop it. Obviously the risk of getting caught remains low.

  7. The weight of all these revelations prompted Claypool’s resignation this past Friday.

    Claypool’s predecessor, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, resigned in 2015 over a bribery scandal that saw her sentenced to four and a half years in a federal prison. The CEO before her, Jean-Claude Brizard, resigned in October 2012 over his handling of a teachers strike.

    … and yet, Betsy DeVos is the one who is going to DESTROY PUBLIC EDUCATION!1!ELEVENTYONE!

    1. It’s almost as if you think they are unaware of the corruption and Betsy’s effect on it.

  8. More funding for public schools would fix this problem.

  9. If it’s so good to get a second opinion, wouldn’t it be even greater obtaining a sixth opinion?

  10. But they vote for Democrats, so it’s OK.

  11. The never-ending glories of the Blue City model.

  12. Isn’t quid pro quo written into the illinois constitution?

  13. WOW! Criminals in Chicago, whoda thunk it?

  14. Remember, kids, Private Schools are bad because of the profit motive.

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