Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced on Wednesday the appointment of Jaime Guzman, who has served on the state’s Charter School Commission and considered charter school proposals for Chicago Public Schools, to fill a vacancy on Chicago’s Board of Education.
Guzman currently heads the Taproot Foundation, a not-for-profit that connects white-collar professionals with organizations in need of volunteers, and he has been one of nine Charter School commissioners tasked by the state with evaluating charter decisions made by school boards — including the one he has just joined.
Guzman joins the board weeks before Chicago Public Schools considers mass layoffs, thanks to a $480 million deficit in its current operating budget. The district has asked for help from Springfield to plug that hole.
A CPS spokeswoman said he resigned from the state commission once he accepted Emanuel’s appointment to replace Jesse Ruiz. Guzman will be recommended for vice president at the Jan. 27 meeting.
Ruiz officially resigned at the end of the year to become president of the Chicago Park District.
That Emanuel replaced Ruiz with another Latino comes as no surprise in a district where nearly half of all students are Hispanic. His office would not say who else was considered.
The mayor championed Guzman’s two years as a bilingual teacher in Little Village, but he never mentioned Guzman’s ties to Teach For America as a teacher and a director of the organization’s Chicago office in the early 2000s. Teach For America, which once targeted districts lacking teachers, has been criticized for ousting veteran union teachers, often of color, with recent college graduates, often white, who get five weeks of training.
Guzman also ran CPS’ department overseeing the approval of new privately run but publicly funded charter schools from 2007 to 2009, according to the district. He did not return messages seeking comment.
Ald. George Cardenas (12th), chairman of the City Council’s Hispanic Caucus, is concerned that Guzman’s background could send a pro-charter, anti-union message at a time when the Chicago Teachers Union has already voted overwhelmingly to authorize a second strike in four years.
“It’s definitely a concern that this could exacerbate the situation with the union,” Cardenas said. “If he can’t be a unifying force, we can’t support him.”
The union lamented the replacement of Ruiz, “one of the most independent voices” on the school board, with Guzman, given the latter’s ties to charters and Teach for America — though it did see a small bright spot in Emanuel’s rare selection of someone with classroom experience.
The CTU took Guzman’s appointment — which it says now puts the majority of the Board of Ed as “unabashed charter supporters” along with chairman Frank Clark, Dominique Jordan Turner and Mark Furlong — as an indication that CPS intends to expand charters in the city despite budget woes and shrinking enrollment overall.
“He’s a charter school guy,” CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey said. “Putting him on the Board of Ed is like putting a known steroid user in charge of the performance-enhancing drug department of a sports league. He’s not neutral.”
Charter supporters such as the Illinois Network of Charter Schools applauded the pick.
“He has been a thoughtful, passionate advocate for children throughout his career and brought a level of professionalism to the CPS Office of New Schools and the State Charter Commission,” Andrew Broy of INCS said.
Former school board president Gery Chico knows Guzman from their days together at the Chicago City Colleges when Chico served as board president and Guzman was his chief of staff.
Chico called Guzman a “powerful addition” to the Board of Education who will use his “rich experience and background in education” to deliver for the children of Chicago.
“Jaime lives in Pilsen,” said Chico, whose law firm has done work for years for the powerful Noble Network of Charter Schools.
“He understands very clearly how strong schools make for strong neighborhoods. He’ll work in the best interest of the entire public school system. That means traditional public schools as well as high-performing charters. He’s not going to favor charters over public schools. He’ll do both,” Chico said.
A City Hall source, who asked to remain anonymous, said the decision to replace Ruiz with the little-known Guzman follows a familiar pattern for the notoriously controlling Emanuel.
“The mayor likes to appoint people who are not politically active who nobody knows. It’s a way for him to make sure people are accountable to him and nobody else. He can mold them,” the source said.
“Anybody who is independent-minded and thinking for themselves doesn’t fit the bill,” the source added. “Carlos Azcoitia is a perfect example. . . . He was thrown out the door for not kow-towing to everything he was told.”