Just a few hours after Mayor Rahm officially apologized for the sex predator scandal that’s hit Chicago Public Schools, three of the city’s leading school beat reporters joined for the monthly talk show Mick Dumke and I host at the Hideout.
The latest wrong was uncovered by the Tribune in an investigation that found “widespread mishandling of student sexual abuse and rapes.”
Wow, just writing that sentence is upsetting.
Onstage Juan Perez Jr., one of the reporters who broke the story, was joined by Lauren FitzPatrick of the Sun-Times and Sarah Karp of WBEZ.
Karp is the reporter who broke the troubling story late last year about how CPS under Rahm had been shortchanging its special education program with a double-cross that was devious even for Chicago.
The mayoral-appointed school board paid some consultants millions to devise new ways to avoid spending money on special education. The consultants came up with new ways to keep kids from being designated as special-needs students—whether they needed assistance or not.
Fewer kids in special education classes means hiring fewer special education teachers, which means saving money on salaries so it can be spent on something else—like high-priced consultants.
The situation was so bad that the state recently appointed a monitor to oversee the program.
That was the scandal of the day until FitzPatrick broke the story of filthy schools in which hallways and classroom were littered with trash, debris, and rodent droppings.
After talking to janitors, FitzPatrick discovered that after Rahm privatized the cleaning contracts, schools were passing the inspections largely because they were getting tipped when the inspections were about to happen. So they could do a fast cleanup and keep the schools clean long enough to pass the test. Then it was back to mouse droppings again.
As any teacher can tell, it’s not hard to pass a test when you’ve been given the answers in advance.
And now the Tribune‘s investigating sexual predators on the payroll, including coaches, teachers, and security guards employed at CPS. Or as the Tribune wrote: “The district conducted ineffective background checks that exposed students to educators with criminal convictions and arrests for sex crimes against children, while some teachers and principals failed to immediately alert child welfare investigators when allegations of abuse arose.”
FitzPatrick, Karp, and Perez noted that there’s been a pattern to all the scandals.
First, parents, teachers or students tried to notify school officials of the problem at a school board meeting.
CPS officials responded by telling the parents that they had everything wrong and there was no problem and the matter got buried until reporters started asking questions. At which point, school officials stonewalled the reporters by stalling on public record requests. In short, doing everything they could not to correct the problem but to prevent anyone from knowing about it probably in the hopes that the reporters would get discouraged and go away.
And then the story broke, prompting Rahm to express various forms of anger.
In the case of filthy schools, the mayor said he was “beyond outraged.”
In the case of the sex predators, Rahm had to say something because we’re on the verge of a campaign season and his opponents—Lori Lightfoot, Paul Vallas, Garry McCarthy and Troy LaRaviere—were blasting him.
So he apologized and then sort of blamed everything on Janice Jackson, the woman he appointed as CEO of the system.
In the case of special education, he hasn’t apologized or expressed outrage.
No, even worse, he used his clout in Springfield to bottle up state rep Sonya Harper’s legislation that would have enabled CPS to spend tax increment financing funds on special education.
The TIF program allows the mayor to divert roughly $250 million a year in property taxes from the schools to a virtual slush fund under his sole control.
Apparently, this TIF money means so much to Rahm that the CPS lobbyist in Springfield got dispatched to argue against Harper’s bill.
How pathetic. A lobbyist for CPS—who’s supposed to be looking out for the kids—is fighting to keep schools from getting the property taxes that got diverted from them in the first place.
If anything points to the need for a school board that’s independent of the mayor, this is it.
During the question-and-answer part of Tuesday’s gathering at the Hideout, someone asked if an elected school board would make things better.
My response: We might as well try it, ’cause things couldn’t get worse.
Then FitzPatrick, who’s covered CPS for several years, corrected me: things can always get worse.