Editorial: Claypool best man to pull CPS back from fiscal cliff

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Nothing matters more for the Chicago Public Schools than finding a path out of its fiscal morass.

Few people are better suited for that leadership job than Forrest Claypool.Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s pick for schools CEO is a fine, strong choice.

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Ordinarily, a professional educator would make for a better schools chief. We said that just six weeks ago when the CEO position became vacant. But in even that short time, the extent of CPS’ fiscal troubles have become more clear — and more dire. Claypool is a hard-nosed manager who has decades of experience slaying government bureaucracies while keeping his eye on the larger goal of providing the best public service possible. He offers CPS its best shot.

Claypool knows his way around City Hall and Springfield, where at least parts of the answer to CPS’ problems lie. And, crucially, he is his own man politically and professionally. He can stand up to the mayor.

Claypool’s appointment makes sense, though, only because he will have two strong educators on his team. Claypool can home in on the finances while they focus on education. Given CPS’ fiscal problems, this is a needed change from the set up of the last few years where the CEO oversaw both finances and education. Janice Jackson, a rising CPS star who graduated from the public schools, will become chief education officer. Denise Little, a respected veteran educator, will be Claypool’s senior adviser. We trust they will advocate for Chicago’s under-funded and often ignored neighborhood schools.

Emanuel also replaced Board President David Vitale, who had been a positive force at CPS for many years. But some of Vitale’s questionable financial decisions, most notably supporting the no-bid contract that ensnared former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, and his domineering ways have become problematic. To replace Vitale, Emanuel appointed Frank Clark, a retired ComEd CEO who began his career there as a mailroom clerk. He is also a CPS grad.

The knock against Clark is that he, like Vitale, is a corporate guy who also has a charter school named for him. The burden is on Clark to show he’s there not to do Emanuel’s bidding but to do what’s best for all students.

State law allows Emanuel to make these appointments unilaterally(or with support of his hand-picked board), but CPS would be better off with a more democratic process. As we’ve said previously, a better model is a partially elected school board that retains mayoral control, with the board or a public committee having some say in choosing the CEO.

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