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The [Thursday] Papers

I finally got a chance last night to read Ben Joravsky's week-old (sorry!) cover story in the Reader about CPS CEO Ron Huberman and other top personnel taking raises even as they put the screws to teachers, classrooms and schools - in other words, kids - while proclaiming The End Is Near due to horrific budget problems.

Well, one thing you can say about Huberman is that he's running the schools as a business.

In the private sector, CEOs and their executives - as well as managers on down the line - get rewarded handsomely for firing people to "right-size" their budgets.

But aside from the obvious outrage, two things really struck me about Joravsky's piece:

1. How utterly uncooperative CPS is with the media. Perhaps the folks over there believe the schools are theirs.

2. How, when all is said and done, we don't really know how much Huberman is making.

"When it comes to budgets, test scores, dropout rates - anything, really - you can't take the central office's word at face value," Joravsky writes. "The truth is a work in progress. If it serves their purpose they'll tell it one way. And if it doesn't, they'll tell it another."

Take communications director Monique Bond.

"Bond is budgeted to make $130,000, up from $111,000 a year ago - that's a 17 percent raise," Joravsky reports. "Prior to following Huberman to CPS a little over a year ago, she was the spokeswoman for the city's police department and before that the aviation department. Last December Reader media columnist Michael Miner reported on her reputation among journalists for making it hard to get information about the schools and wondered whether that's what she'd been hired to do. I for one can attest that she does a pretty good job of blowing off my calls and e-mails."

More than once, Bond told Joravsky she would get back to him with answers to his questions and failed to do so.

Of course, that's partly a consequence of having a communications director as a go-between in the first place. Ben Joravsky is a great reporter and he doesn't need me advising him, but I wonder if he tried calling the CFO or some other budget official instead of going through Bond; it's always a good idea to go right to the source. If they tell you that you have to go through the press office, it's always a good idea to ask why (sometimes it yields highly useful quotes, too) and to suggest it would be a waste of time to merely pass questions through a third-party.

But I digress.

Bond isn't the only one doing well in bad times.

"The director of intergovernmental affairs, Eduardo Garza, got his pay boosted from $109,000 to $113,000," Joravsky reports. "Garza was once a southwest-side independent and in 2006 ran a strong race against state senator Martin Sandoval, an ally of powerful 14th Ward alderman Ed Burke. Burke was so impressed that he found a place for Garza on his City Hall staff. Garza moved over to CPS in 2008 and has been working his way up the food chain ever since.

"The Board of Ed also took care of its own. Last year it had 20 employees; this year it has one more, an 'acting director' of the board who makes $146,000. Other high-paying board jobs include deputy chief of staff ($155,000) and secretary to the board ($111,000), both making more this year than last. The salary for the chief of staff to the board - a position held by David Pickens until March 26, when he resigned - was bumped to $163,000 from $155,000. That's the same David Pickens who recently said that when he was an aide to Huberman's predecessor, Arne Duncan, he kept a so-called clout list of supplicants who'd begged administrators to get their kids into one of the high-performing schools. The admissions policies at these schools are now the subject of a federal investigation.

"Employees in Huberman's office were also rewarded. Besides Huberman himself, the office has two other employees making more than $100,000 a year: a "manager" whose salary went from $98,500 to $103,400 and a 'senior professional' whose pay was trimmed a few hundred bucks and now stands at about $102,000.

"And Huberman himself? His budgeted salary jumped from about $204,000 to $230,000 - a hike of $26,000, or 12.7 percent."

But as Joravsky shows - go read the whole thing to trace the trail - other sources contain different figures for Huberman's salary (the State Board of Education has him at $237,000).

This is not just an education story, of course. It's also about the media, by my way of thinking. Daily reporters tend to not do their homework. What Joravsky did shouldn't be seen as extraordinary, though it is in this town. It should really be considered routine - the baseline of reporting.

Writes Joravsky:

"Last week Mayor Daley weighed in, admonishing teachers to enter the 'real world' and forgo their 4 percent raises. 'Government has to diet,' Daley told reporters on March 22. 'You have to be able to cut back and start sharing the loss that people have.'

"Wow - that sounds like decisive leadership. But having spent the better part of the last week poring over the 350-page Chicago Public Schools budget, I can tell you there's little evidence that the central office has gone on a diet.

"How can CPS dole out raises while claiming to be cutting back? Let this be a lesson about the difference between a press release, disseminated far and wide for mass consumption, and a governing budget, buried on a Web site and read only by insiders and a few really motivated geeks."

Yes, let this be a lesson. Joravsky read the budget. I wonder how many other reporters in town have done so. That should be the starting point, not the ending point.

*

So much of the media is so credulous. Do they ever learn?

"He modernized Chicago's emergency-response center, served as Mayor Daley's chief of staff, and led (albeit briefly) the CTA - all before his 38th birthday," Chicago magazine proclaimed in a profile last August. "Now Ron Huberman, the Israeli-born gay ex-cop, has brought his intensity and his technocratic management style to the city's public schools. Failure is not an option."

Really? Failure is not an option? In Chicago? At CPS? Failure happens every day.

The piece goes on to credit Huberman with "chang[ing] the accountability system for city government, and rescu[ing] public transit from the brink of bankruptcy."

Um . . . okay. Did I fall asleep and wake up in a different city than everyone else?

The obligatory critical paragraph comes late in the story, which quickly reverts to reverence:

"Despite promises to slash the budget, Huberman watched silently as the seven school board members doubled their receipt-free expense allowances to $24,000 per person per year, with $36,000 for Scott, the board president. And Huberman approved at least two no-bid consulting contracts - including one of up to $150,000 for Barbara McDonald, his former boss at the police department, who has followed him to several agencies. McDonald's indistinct role is to 'provide advice and consultation' to Huberman on communication and outreach, according to the approval agreement submitted to the board. 'She'll add so much value, she's going to more than pay for contract costs,' Huberman says."

What seems to be missing is: Why? Why did you watch silently as school board members doubled their expense allowances? Why, run did you offer a no-bid contract to your pal? And what value exactly does she add? Just tell us.

The piece is also yet another paean to Richard M. Daley's management skills - you know, the skills that landed his patronage chief in jail because city hiring was rigged, among a cascade of scandals during Mr. Manager's reign.

Huberman, in fact, became Daley's chief of staff in the aftermath of the Hired Truck scandal, ostensibly with the mandate to, you know, clean things up. Who hired Angelo Torres, Ron? Apparently unasked and certainly unanswered.

"At times, Huberman's emphasis on riders irked overseers."

He cared about riders too much!

Finally:

"Though Huberman had barely spent time in the private sector, he developed a reputation as a brutal, corporate-style executive."

Reporters love this in everyone's workplace but their own. Being a brutal, corporate-style executive is always sure to gain you points in a profile.

"None of the critics or victims of Huberman's sometimes-brusque style would speak on the record for fear of angering a powerful man who has the mayor's ear."

Managing by fear is a sign of weakness, even incompetence. But it stifles critics who might otherwise stifle a glowing profile.

Chicago would have done its readers a much bigger favor if it had done what Joravsky did: Read the budget.

Claypool Piffle
On Chicago Tonight on Tuesday, Forrest Claypool said that Democratic nominee Joe Berrios had "snuck in" to his spot on the slate. Huh? It's not like Berrios put his name on the ballot in the middle of the night.

Somewhat by way of explanation, Claypool said the early primary date was installed by party bosses like Berrios to discourage voter turnout. Ahem. The primary date was moved up expressly to game the Democratic presidential primary in Barack Obama's favor by giving him a big-state victory in the early going. That's not a secret - that was the public rationale, and if Machine hacks gained in the process, so be it.

*

"He's been called a reformer and campaigns as such," John Kass writes today. "But then Claypool also was chief of staff for Mayor Richard Daley when so many kinky deals went down, when the Hired Trucks ran free and the wrought-iron fence was installed. And Claypool has never been called on it."

So Huberman was brought in to clean up Claypool's messes?

Convention Wisdom
Finally, a little perspective on the struggles at McCormick Place: Things are tough all over.

Neighborhood Ninnies
"President Obama has new neighbors," the Sun-Times reports.

"The first family's pals next door, Bill and Jacky Grimshaw, today closed on a $1.4 million deal for their 6,000-square feet 1906 colonial mansion with an unfettered view of the Obama's Kenwood estate."

Here's the good part:

"The Grimshaws had attempted to cash in on the 'Obama factor' by not listing an asking price when the house went on the market in September. They hoped to starting a 'nutty bidding war' for the mansion and coach house near 51st and Greenwood."

Classy. And bright - nothing like trying to attract fame-seekers and nutty bidders to the home next to the president's.

"We marketed the house worldwide and talked to people all over the world about it hoping a non-traditional buyer would emerge and pay a premium," said Matt Garrison, the Grimshaws' real estate agent. "But it was sold to an ordinary Chicago home buyer who was in our backyard the whole time."

Should have made reality show out of it, Matt. One couple who would have made perfect contestants are also in our backyard.

And Grimshaws: You are Today's Worst People in Chicago.

-

The Beachwood Tip Line: Sell in.



Permalink

Posted on April 8, 2010


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