State superintendent speechless on CPS budget woes

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Tony Smith, state superintendent of schools, attebded a City Club of Chicago lunch Tuesday. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Tony Smith, the state’s superintendent of schools installed earlier this year by Gov. Bruce Rauner, was apparently rendered speechless Tuesday when asked to weigh in on the ongoing fiscal woes of Chicago Public Schools.

After a lunch panel at the City Club of Chicago, Smith spent at least 10 minutes shaking hands and chatting with a line of well-dressed audience members. He shook the hand of a reporter, too, but when asked if he thinks CPS deserves the $480 million in financial help the district has long been seeking, Smith remained mum.

Smith did not say a word.

The state’s top education leader flashed a wordless, toothy grin for the several long seconds that a City Club videocamera was pointed toward him, then turned his back and walked out with a press aide.

That same spokeswoman, Laine Evans, did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Smith’s boss is still fighting with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a fight that has recently escalated after the mayor passed a city budget for 2016 that includes a property tax increase, but the state has been without its budget for months.

“Stop name-calling and just do your job,” Emanuel advised Rauner on Friday morning.

The governor responded by promising to send dead fish — in the guise of shrink-wrapped tuna steaks from a posh North Side market — to Emanuel, who once famously mailed a dead fish to an adversary. “He’ll appreciate the gift as only the mayor can,” Rauner said.

On Monday, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool repeated his cries for pension help from legislators to close a remaining $480 million gap in the current schools budget. Claypool warned again that massive layoffs and program cuts — on top of hundreds of millions already cut over the summer — will be coming by February should Springfield remain deadlocked.

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