Forrest Claypool Credit: Rich Hein

It’s budget season at the Board of Education, which means we’ve entered that twilight zone of misdirection where the bosses say one thing and do something else.

In this case, Forrest Claypool, Mayor Emanuel’s latest schools CEO, is making a big public to-do about how he’s cut central office spending to the bone. All so that teachers, facing a 7 percent pay cut, and principals, worried about millions in budget cuts, will not feel so alone. Or as Claypool, who the mayor brought in from the CTA, recently put it during a press conference: “Everybody’s got to pitch in.”

Meanwhile, very quietly—with nary a press conference—Claypool’s padding the payroll with various rubber stamps, most of whom have no experience in public education. (If you think you’ve seen this trick before, you’re right: Ron Huberman, Mayor Daley’s last schools CEO, tried much the same thing.) As exasperating as this practice sounds to anyone who has to teach or attend a public school, it’s sort of a field day for reporters looking for examples of double standards in Chicago.

Just a few days ago, George Schmidt, the ageless writer for Substance News, broke the story that Claypool had hired a former CTA staffer named Ronald DeNard as his $225,000-a-year senior vice president of finance. (He’s at least the third former CTA official Claypool has brought on. If you hear of any more, let me know.) Basically, DeNard is now the guy in charge of the budget. CPS already had a high-ranking guy in charge of the budget, Tim Cawley, so now we have two. Lucky us.

Then Lauren FitzPatrick, ace education reporter for the Sun-Times, revealed that DeNard lives in Flossmoor. So the board needed to give him a waiver on the requirement that school employees live in Chicago.

Curiously, Cawley also needed a waiver to take the job, because he lived in Winnetka. Apparently the mayor can’t find any decent accountants who live in the city.

I now feel compelled to follow up on Schmidt’s and FitzPatrick’s pieces with a schools-CEO-budget-game-column. (It’s been five years since I wrote the last one, which was about Huberman. I guess annual columns—unlike central office budget cuts—aren’t what they used to be.)

For starters, how about some good news?

In the budget that the Board of Education passed last month, Claypool eliminated the four-person, $864,000-per-year chief operating officer unit.

I’m gonna miss that unit, man.

That office was headed by Thomas Tyrrell, the former marine brought in by Mayor Emanuel to oversee the closing of 50 schools. Tyrrell resigned in January, so you really can’t credit Claypool for eliminating a unit whose reason for existence no longer exists. Unless, of course, Mayor Emanuel’s gearing up to close 50 more schools. Hey, you never know with this guy.

Claypool also phased out the chief of staff unit. Well, sort of. He renamed it. It’s now the executive office unit, and it has eight employees.

In addition to Claypool, who makes $250,000, the executive unit has a chief of staff ($175,000), a deputy chief of staff ($140,000), a portfolio plan and strategy officer ($135,000), a director of special projects ($125,000), a special assistant to the CEO ($90,000), and an office clerk ($34,000), who, if I know CPS, is probably the only one who knows what the hell is going on.

Oh, wait, how could I forget? The unit also has a senior adviser to the chief executive officer ($180,000). That position’s filled by Denise Little, a former CPS principal who, as the mayor explained it, will advise Claypool on school matters.

Claypool needs advice on schools because he has no experience with them. Other than having attended a few. (I may have used that joke years ago in regard to Huberman, but it never really goes out of fashion with mayoral appointees at CPS.) The last CEO, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, didn’t have a senior adviser on school issues, presumably because, as a former principal, she didn’t need one.

In case Denise Little feels lonely, surrounded by all those CTA types in Claypool’s administration, Forrest and Rahm also hired another former teacher and principal to work at the central office. That would be Janice Jackson, who’s the chief education officer ($195,000).

So far it looks as though her job will entail breaking the bad news that the mayor wants nothing to do with. As such, she was the official who told reporters that there might not be enough demand or money to make good on the mayor’s election promise to reopen Dyett High School, as hunger strikers are demanding.

CPS managed to survive three years without a chief education officer. The last person to hold that position was Byrd-Bennett back in 2012, during the reign of Jean-Claude Brizard, Emanuel’s first CEO appointee. Back then, it was a mystery as to why Emanuel felt compelled to hire a chief education officer when Brizard himself was a former teacher and principal.

Brought on just before the teachers’ strike, Byrd-Bennett’s main task as chief education officer, as it turned out, was to let everyone know that Brizard’s days as CEO were numbered. After all, Emanuel had to blame someone for the strike.

Mystery solved!

With Claypool’s appointment, Mayor Rahm has momentarily dropped the requirement that CEOs have any previous experience working in a school. Apparently, the mayor has also abandoned his practice of giving nicknames to the people he hires as CEO.

If you recall, the mayor called Brizard “J.C.” and referred to Byrd-Bennett as “B3.” It’s not clear what he privately calls Claypool—it might take a FOIA request to find out.

Anyway, welcome to the central office, one and all. As always, my advice is to watch your back.  v