To the editors:

There are some factual errors in Ben Joravsky’s Neighborhood News article (“Annals of school reform: Has the central office been cut to the bone?”) which ran in your December 6 issue. Here is some clarification on the misinformation printed.

1. There are only 1,722 Board of Education workers at the central office, of which 903 positions are funded by non-Board monies (e.g. federally reimbursed funds, grants, et al). Mr. Joravsky incorrectly wrote that there are 10,000 central office workers.

2. According to Mr. Joravsky’s piece, LQE cites an annual $500,000 subsidy for the Board’s employee cafeteria at the Pershing Road facility. However, the Board controller’s office indicated a shortfall of $130,000 for the cafeteria last year. This year, through cost-effective management practices, we have significantly raised meal prices, improved purchasing practices, installed vending machines and greatly reduced overhead and labor costs by shortening the hours the cafeteria is open. The upshot is, we expect to operate our cafeteria without any loss or subsidy this and every year in the future, in accordance with our budgetary constraints and Supt. Kimbrough’s mandate.

3. Mr. Joravsky’s article also reported that “activists contend . . . that the board spent thousands of dollars on fountain-pen ink . . . ” Actually, during the Board’s October meeting, the Board approved a purchase order of $200 worth of office supplies, which included $37 worth of ink for a pen used by Superintendent Kimbrough.

4. Ms. Lauber is quoted as saying that she sends the Board of Education copies of LQE’s press releases and reports. To my knowledge, the Board’s communication office has not received a single press release, news announcement or missive from LQE for the past six months.

Linda Matsumoto

Press Secretary

Chicago Board of Education

Ben Joravsky replies:

It’s painful to have to publicly apologize to the Board of Education, but apologize I must. I don’t think anyone really knows how many employees there are at the central office, but there aren’t 10,000. That statistic comes from an old article that predates reform’s reallocations. I should not have cited it; I won’t do it again. I’m sorry.

Having said that, I feel obliged to add that Ms. Matsumoto’s numbers are also off, at least according to statistics kept by the Chicago Panel on Public School Policy and Finance, a not-for-profit watchdog that keeps track of the budget. They count 3,124 workers in the central office (plus another 303 at the district level), of whom 959 are social-service providers who do much of their work in the schools. That leaves 2,165 other employees who do who knows what at Pershing Road. (The system’s overall work force has increased in the three years of reform, the panel reports. That’s because more teachers and classroom aides have been hired–which, I gather, is what many reformers have always wanted.)

I don’t know who tallied Ms. Matsumoto’s figures or how they were calculated. Let’s just say that number crunching has always been something of an inventive science at the central office.

As for the cafeteria–how nice to see the board finally acknowledge that it lost money. They used to deny that fact; only after reformers reported a $500,000 shortfall for last year did they push Ms. Matsumoto to say it’s really only $130,000. (Why they don’t just farm the damn thing out for competitive bidding is beyond me.) It’ll be interesting to see what numbers they come up with next year.

This is the third time I’ve seen someone chided for exaggerating the amount spent on Mr. Kimbrough’s ink (there was also a letter to the Sun-Times and a general press release). OK, some of the board’s more exasperated critics occasionally lapse into hyperbole. Can you blame them? The point is not really how much the board spends on Mr. Kimbrough’s ink (or his flight to Atlanta, or his meals in pricey restaurants, or his nights in swank hotels). It’s that a nearly bankrupt system should waste any money on such extravagances.

Finally, I can’t account for the missing LQE press releases. But I’m sure Ms. Lauber, in the new spirit of mutual admiration, will be happy to send Ms. Matsumoto a whole new batch.