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The [Monday] Papers

What are Chicago Public Schools officials so afraid of?

Don't they want to lead by example - you know, practice what we presume they want taught to the kids in their charge?

I guess not and I'll guess why: They're more beholden to their political minders than to the children they are responsible for.

Take the recent lesson CPS gave the Reader's Ben Joravsky's in English, math, political science, sociology and journalism.

Upset at Joravsky's recent claim that budget figures showing raises for top CPS officials meant that top CPS officials had gotten raises, Joravsky was invited to school headquarters for a briefing meant to show otherwise.

"[CPS spokesperson Monique] Bond met me on the ground floor and ushered me to a conference room on the fifth floor, where three officials were waiting: operations manager Jerome Goudelock, chief human capital officer Alicia Winckler, and CFO Diana Ferguson," Joravsky writes in his follow-up.

"They told me they thought I would benefit from what amounted to my own personal budget briefing. Of course, since this was a meeting to clear things up, they placed a condition on the conversation: I could write about what they said, but the only person I could quote directly was Bond."

Ah, a lesson in accountability. But at whose behest? Ron Huberman's? Richard Daley's?

And to put it simply: Why? Why won't CPS allow its chief financial officer to be quoted?

Or maybe the officials in the room that day simply didn't want to have their names attached to the ridiculous statements they were about to make.

"They didn't refute any of the facts I'd reported," Joravsky writes. "But they also indicated that the source I'd cited was misleading.

"Oh, I said - you mean the school district's official 2009-2010 budget?"

You know, Ben, with a smart mouth like that you're going to end up in detention - or even worse, like having to stay in the rest of this meeting.

"What they wanted me to know was that you can't depend on the budget to determine exactly how much the CEO or any other employee is making at any given time because it might have changed since the budget was put into place. And it might change again. Instead, they said, you have to look at the payroll for an up-to-date look at who's earning what.

"Great, I said - show me the payroll.

"To see that, Bond told me, I'd have to file a Freedom of Information Act request."

See how quickly CPS moved from a math lesson to an English lesson? You have to write an essay now explaining why you want to see a public document!

"I pointed out the irony: the budget, which is reliably inaccurate, is posted online for everyone to see; the payroll, which is supposedly accurate, is removed from public scrutiny."

Nice try, Ben, but we're not teaching irony until next year. We're still on misdirection.

Which leads us to political science.

"[Arne] Duncan wasn't making $204,000 when he left," Bond told Ben.

"But the budget says that's what the CEO was allocated for 2008-2009.

"Yes, she said, but between August 2008, when the board passed that budget, and January 2009, when Duncan left to become President Obama's secretary of education, the board gave him a raise.

"And when exactly was that?

"Goudelock looked it up on his laptop and wrote the answer on a piece of paper: on September 1, 2008, the board raised Duncan's salary from $202,475 to $212,502. Incidentally, that was less than a week after the school board passed the 2008-2009 budget that listed Duncan's salary at $204,000.

"So in the midst of the greatest economic meltdown since the Great Depression - when it was clear they would have to cope with declining property tax revenues - the board gave Arne Duncan a raise? Why?"

Ben, if you had completed your reading assignment, you'd know that public officials who give themselves raises a week after a budget is passed in order to avoid public scrutiny are showing just the kind of savvy that gets them promoted under our way of governing. Sheesh!

Or, as Bond said: "We weren't here. We can't comment."

Are you proud of yourself, Monique Bond? Do you feel like you are serving the public good? What goes through your mind when you deposit your paychecks from the taxpayers?

"We sat in silence, Goudelock, Winckler, and Ferguson looking at me, me looking at them. Bond responded to a text message on her cell phone."

Probably checking on her Chase points.

"My story had also pointed out that this year's budget increased the amount of money dozens of central office departments got to spend on things like magazine subscriptions, seminars, and travel expenses. So I asked them about that as well.

"'That was under a previous board president,' said Bond, referring to Michael Scott, who committed suicide last November. 'The new board president, Mary Richardson-Lowry, is making extensive cuts.'"

Sure, throw the dead guy under the bus.

"By then we'd been talking for an hour. This is what I'd learned: Salaries had gone up, but they weren't really raises. And office allowances had gone up, but the guy responsible for that was no longer around. Arne Duncan had made more than any budget said he'd made, and in fact no budget can ever be counted on to provide an accurate representation of what anyone makes. And if some pain-in-the-neck reporter really wants to know what's going on, he should file a FOIA request."


"I needed only one last thing: confirmation of everybody's full names and titles.

"Ferguson gave me her business card, which included a work number and e-mail address - but then worried aloud that I might try to e-mail her."

Oh, how nice - she prefers phone calls.

"She reiterated that if I wanted any further information I would need to request it through Bond."

Oh. Then why even print up business cards? How much did that cost us?!

"The other two didn't offer cards, instead writing their names, titles, and e-mail addresses on a sheet of paper."

And they ate it.

"I told Ferguson not to worry. I copied her name and title down on another piece of paper and handed her card back to her.

"We exchanged friendly smiles but she made no move to give me the card again. And with that my personal budget briefing was over."

Ben later got word that he'd been held back and wouldn't be graduating from the Chicago School of Spokespuppetry this year.


See also:
- What Ben Joravsky did shouldn't have been extraordinary, but in this town it was: He read the budget.

- Suddenly, CPS is showing Ben Joravsky the love - though not necessarily the facts.

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Clear as Christ
It can be very exciting when I get the formula right.


The Beachwood Tip Line: Crystal.


Posted on April 19, 2010

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