GOP leader files ethics complaint over Chicago schools letter
Illinois Republican Party Chair Chris Cleveland, who is also a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) parent, filed an ethics complaint against CPS CEO Forrest Claypool following a letter sent home with all 381,000 CPS students in February.
The complaint was filed with the Office of the Inspector General for the Chicago Board of Education.
The CPS letter began with an accusation that Gov. Bruce Rauner "decided to attack those who need the most help." It continued with a claim that the governor, a Republican, blocked $215 million in funding for the city schools. It referred to the loss of the funding as stealing from the children.
The letter also said the district would have to force all CPS employees to take four furlough days and freeze $50 million in school spending. After comparing Rauner to President Donald Trump -- whom Rauner did not endorse -- the letter closed with a call for parents to demand that their "children receive their fair share of the money Illinois spends."
It was signed by Claypool.
The letter did not mention the Democratically controlled Legislature. Rauner vetoed a $215 million bill in December, but it was intended for the teachers pension fund, not the students.
Chicago television station WGN reported some parents' reactions to the letter.
"This is so inappropriate," one parent wrote. "How can he send political propaganda home?”
Sarah Brune of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform also weighed in on the letter.
“Invoking partisan politics – especially at the national level – is not the most effective way to build trust with parents and students," she said.
Rauner's office released a letter from Secretary of Education Beth Purvis the day after the Claypool letter went home with students. Purvis expressed surprise at the CPS letter, since Rauner had agreed to help make the CPS pension payment part of a pension reform package.
"CPS doesn’t have to make its full pension payment until June 30th," Purvis wrote. "The Illinois Senate is currently considering a balanced budget package that would include comprehensive pension reform, including funds for CPS pensions, and a new school funding formula."
Purvis also suggested that CPS avoid cutting services and instead work with the governor, legislature and city to put together a balanced budget package. The package would include a new school funding formula that would benefit low-income students.
Cleveland submitted his complaint at 1 p.m. on February 8. He was available for questions afterward.
"Using public time and resources on such a letter should always be considered a misuse of taxpayer funds, but it is made even more egregious in light of CPS’s self-declared financial crisis," Cleveland said in his complaint.
He also pointed to the inspector general's ongoing review of Claypool's alleged interference in two investigations. One probe involved a $250,000 contract with the CEO's former law firm. The second involved allegations that he interfered in an investigation of a CPS employee accused of theft and criminal conspiracy.
Cleveland compared the current investigations and alleged misuse of taxpayer dollars to former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett's no-bid CPS contracts and kickback scheme. She agreed to a plea bargain with a sentence of seven and a half years in prison in 2015.
After Cleveland submitted the ethics complaint, Claypool held a press conference at CPS headquarters. He blasted Rauner for the lack of a state budget and reiterated his claim that the governor was withholding funds from Chicago schoolchildren.
“Just like President Trump, Gov. Rauner, when he doesn’t like the facts, changes the facts to an alternative universe -- alternative facts -- and when other people try to tell the truth, he engages in bully tactics to try to silence those who are telling the truth,” Claypool said.