Hispanic caucus angry Ruiz was bypassed for CPS board president

SHARE Hispanic caucus angry Ruiz was bypassed for CPS board president
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Hispanic members of the Chicago City Council say Jesse Ruiz (left) stepped into a difficult situation when he agreed to serve as interim Chicago Public Schools CEO, and he deserved a shot at the board presidency that Mayor Rahm Emanuel instead offered to retired executive Frank M. Clark. | Associated Press File Photo

The City Council’s Hispanic Caucuson Fridaydemanded to know why Mayor Rahm Emanuel bypassed Jesse Ruiz for the job of school board president when it was Ruiz who rode to the rescue after a federal investigation forced the ouster of Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

Ruiz, who used to chair the Illinois State Board of Education, was bypassed in favor of Frank Clark, retired chairman and CEO of Commonwealth Edison.

DIVERSITY IN EDUCATION CPS teacher workforce getting ‘whiter and less experienced’

Clark, who is African-American, co-chaired the mayoral commission that held countless public hearings across the city that culminated in the mayor’s decision to close a record 50 public schools.

He was part of a new leadership team led by newly appointed Schools CEO Forrest Claypool: charismatic former principal and network chief Janice Jackson will serve as chief education officer.

The appointment of a white male as schools CEO to replace a black woman — who was part Puerto Rican, though few knew it —made it all the more important for Emanuel to make Claypool part of a racially mixed leadership team.

Hispanic aldermen saidFridaythey understand the politics behind the decision. But, they added, that doesn’t justify the lack of respect shown to Ruiz, whoselflessly agreed to put his law practice on hold for three months to serve as acting CEO after Byrd-Bennett took a leave of absence, then resigned.

Sources said Ruiz confided to them he was so miffed about the slight that he is considering the possibility of resigning from the board altogether.

Ruiz would not discuss that with the Sun-Times on Friday, saying only: “I believe diversity is critical in any organization, and its leadership should be reflective of the people it serves.”

But CPS later released a statement quoting Ruiz that said he had no intention of leaving because, “Remaining on the board allows me to have a greater impact on behalf of the students, families and communities I represent.”

The leadership void was triggered by a federal investigation of a no-bid, $20.5 million principal training contract awarded to a company that once employed Byrd-Bennett.

“This is a big deal,”said Ald. George Cardenas (12th), chairman of the Hispanic Caucus.“It’s huge. You leave your law practice, come in and try to fix the problems that get bigger and bigger every day. I’m disappointed for Jesse. He’s a great leader, a great legal mind and a great person who deserved a shot at that.”

“It’s gonna be up to Jesse to see how he reacts. We have a great respect for him. All Latinos do. You would think you would ask such a person if he wanted that spot. That should have been the first question. We’re now 46 percent of the system. We represent the district’s face.”

Ald. Danny Solis (25th), the former Hispanic Caucus chief who still chairs the Council’s powerful Zoning Committee, agreed that Ruiz got the shaft.

“I’m disappointed,” said Solis, who was reached by phone in Taiwan.“Jesse came into a difficult situation and it seems like he’s been passed over. When I get back, I want to ask why and what happened. Jesse is a good soldier who was doing a good job. I don’t know why he wasn’t asked. I want to know why he wasn’t even considered.”

Exacerbating the problem is the presence of only three Hispanics in Emanuel’s City Hall cabinet at a time when Hispanics are Chicago’s fastest-growing group.

The caucus, citing state Board of Education figures, says Latinos make up just 4.8 percent of all teachers at Chicago Public Schools, even though 46 percent of CPS students are Hispanic. Emanuel’s rejiggered Board of Education lost a Hispanic member, too — Carlos Azcoitia was not replaced by another Latino when he left on June 30. It now has Ruiz, four whites and two African-Americans.

Just one CPS department head is Latina, according to CPS: Karen Garibay-Mulatierri, chief of language and culture.

“Jesse Ruiz is just one example of where Latinos are not being invited to the table,” said rookie Ald. Ray Lopez (15th).“The larger question is our overall presence in CPS, period.”

“We’re the fastest-growing demographic in the city, but our numbers are not reflected in employment in CPS. Hopefully, we’ll see greater participation and opportunity for Latinos — not just in the hiring of teachers, but in the hiring of administrators and support staff as well.”

Cardenas added: “There’s a lot of anxiety out there about [a lack of Hispanic] leadership at all levels. Ours as well. Are we failing? We need to step up so we get more people in the right places and improve things. The priority is to get more Hispanics in government and in the school system in leadership positions so things are more equitable. . . . We have to push on our end, and we’re gonna do that.”

The mayor’s office had no immediate comment on the aldermen’s complaints.

Ruiz attendedThursday’snews conference at Westinghouse High School called to announce the new school leadership team, but stood in the back of the room.

He listened as Emanuel went out of his way to praise Ruiz for putting his life on hold. The mayor said he had promised Ruiz that he would be asked to hold down the fort at CPS for only three months and kept his word — Friday marked exactly three months.

ButJuan Padilla, a 17-year-old rising senior at Steinmetz High School of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent, found it “strangethat there aren’t more Latinos represented on the board.” He was more troubled by Clark’s history with charter schools than his race.

“There is a disconnect between what the community wants and what Clark has advocated for in the past,” said Padilla, a youth leader of Communities United, an organization in Albany Park.

Edelea Correa, of Belmont-Cragin, was one of many CPS mothers who said she’d be happierif more Hispanics led and worked for CPS.

“This is a form of discrimination from the representation, because we have fought for equality and it feels like we’re not being heard,” she said through a Spanish interpreter. “We’ve talked with CPS, the board, we’ve talked with the mayor’s office.”

Correa expressed another concern “not only from Latino parents but from all parents that the new CEO doesn’t have an educational background.”

Still, she said, she’s hopeful that he will listen to the needs of parents like her across the city.

In a move that had the appearance of a consolation prize, Emanuelon Fridayappointed Hispanics to seats on the Chicago Plan Commission and the board overseeing McCormick Place and Navy Pier.

Current Plan Commission member Olga Camargo will take Frank Clark’s seat on the McPier Authority board. Juan Linares, executive director of the Latino United Community Housing Association, will take Camargo’s seat on the Plan Commission.

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