A Chicago Public Schools principal who is among Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s fiercest critics won an election Thursday to head a CPS principals organization, though he’s currently suspended without pay and faces possible termination.
Former Blaine Elementary School Principal Troy LaRaviere won 69.1 percent of the vote to become president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, soundly defeating a lone opponent, retired Prosser Career Academy Principal Ken Hunter.
“Until now, I’ve represented my own voice. On July 1, I will have the honor and responsibility of representing yours. Please know that I do those two things quite differently,” he wrote on his personal blog. He also launched a new website for members where he laid out his strategies for tackling a lack of school funding and reducing burdensome paperwork.
The election of the typically quiet organization was filled with drama as the Chicago Sun-Times first reported online Thursday that Hunter, who was recently arrested on phone harassment charges, had been formally warned by CPS for “conduct unbecoming a principal” after letting two problematic coaches into his school, one accused of sexually harassing a female student, and the other who videotaped a locker room hazing incident.
Outgoing CPAA president Clarice Berry even called the antics a “zoo of an election.”
She said members had called her to ask whether the race could be postponed or re-started given the troubles of both candidates, but the bylaws of the 117-year-old organization
permitted neither option.
Members “heard the worst of both and made a choice,” she said Thursday.
CPS CEO Forrest Claypool also dodged questions about which candidate he would prefer to work with. Nor would he comment on why two top CPS officials supported Hunter’s campaign to run against LaRaviere, a longtime critic of the mayor’s education policies who even campaigned against Emanuel.
Hunter declined to comment on his case. When asked about the election, he would say only: “Best of luck to Troy.”
But the warning documents the Sun-Times obtained laying out Hunter’s 30-day suspension raised questions about why CPS chief education officer Janice Jackson and Denise Little, a
special adviser to the mayor’s handpicked CEO, supported his campaign to run against LaRaviere.
CPS filed several charges against Hunter in early 2013, and warned him he would lose his job if he didn’t make specific improvements. Then they told him to stop lying in a directive that read: “When interviewed in official inquiries, investigations, or other official proceedings, you shall not make false, inaccurate, or deliberately incomplete statements.”
Last week, Hunter, 63, was charged with misdemeanor electronic harassment after police say he kept texting a woman dozens of times a day after she told him to stop.
Chicago Police said they didn’t know the content of the text messages, but a source who saw several of them told the Sun-Times they were sexual in nature.
Through a CPS spokeswoman on Wednesday, former principals Jackson and Little both said they had nothing to do with Hunter’s past suspension, nor did they know about his troubles when they signed his petition, as LaRaviere had reported on his blog.
“Dr. Jackson and Mrs. Little withdrew their support from Mr. Hunter last week, after learning of his arrest,” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in an email.
She wouldn’t say whether the women should have checked out Hunter before endorsing him.
In January 2013, Hunter was issued a formal Warning Resolution by the Board of Education, an early step in CPS’ termination process. He started a 30-day unpaid suspension the previous August, according to CPS.
Hunter had failed to instruct his staff about background checks required for anyone who had “direct daily contact with students,” according to personnel documents, which the district does not release.
CPS found out about the lapse only after a female Prosser student complained she had been sexually harassed by an assistant coach at Prosser who had not been cleared by human resources, according to the document signed by CPS’ then-general counsel and CEO.
The district also accused Hunter of downplaying a 2011 student hazing incident in the boys locker room that was videotaped by another assistant coach — telling CPS it was merely a student conflict instead of a situation involving potential employee misconduct.
“When questioned by the Board’s Law Department, you made false, inaccurate, or deliberately incomplete statements in an effort to minimalize the situation and hide your own culpability,” the warning resolution continued.
The boy who was hazed sued and won a $25,000 settlement, court records show. He said in his lawsuit that he “endured pain, embarrassment, depression, fear, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, psychological damage, and sustained severe emotional shock and distress, and left” the school.
Following his arrest, Hunter emailed members of the CPAA alleging it was “politically motivated,” by a woman with whom he claimed a nearly two-year relationship. He said the same woman, who works for an alderman, organized an event where LaRaviere spoke.
“I am certain that when the facts are known, I will be cleared of this charge,” Hunter wrote. “Please know, this woman is an ACTIVE SUPPORTER of my opponent, and though I hold him in no way responsible, please know that her actions were designed to help his campaign and destroy mine.”
The woman Hunter is accused of harassing declined to comment and referred all questions to her attorney, who said she did not yet know details of the case.
Meanwhile, LaRaviere awaits a state hearing to find out if he will be fired. He is suspended without pay, accused of failing to complete district paperwork and opposing district policy on standardized testing. He has characterized the charges against him as “politically motivated.”
Contributing: Rummana Hussain