CPS invests 1 teacher’s salary to get more money from Springfield

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Forrest Claypool, the Chicago Public Schools CEO, speaks to school leaders, students, parents and others at a rally in Springield last month for improved education funding. AP file photo

The Chicago Public Schools system has spent $103,000 — about the cost of a full-time teacher — in its so-far unsuccessful effort to pry more money out of Springfield, records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.

That’s the tab to date for schools chief Forrest Claypool’s effort to lobby legislators and the governor to put more state money into the beleaguered city schools, a campaign he calls “20% for 20%.”

The bulk of the money paid for buses and lunches for a late May lobbying trip in late May during which Claypool urged parents and principals to join him in pressuring lawmakers to help CPS.

Also as part of the lobbying campaign, CPS has hired a marketing firm with ties to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s former transportation commissioner Gabe Klein, enlisted the services of a foreign animation firm that does “fear-based marketing” and employed a consulting company run by a former official of the New Schools for Chicago, a private organization that’s helped fund charter schools, according to the documents obtained by the Sun-Times.

The Chicago school system is facing a projected $1 billion budget gap, officials say.

Claypool and Emanuel say the state is shortchanging CPS. Claypool argues that the city of Chicago accounts for 20 percent of the state’s schoolchildren and 20 percent of the taxpayers, so CPS ought to get more than 15 percent of state spending on schools.

The lobbying comes as Claypool has warned principals not to spend any money left in their budgets until the hoped-for help from the state arrives. This spring, he asked those who’d already undergone mid-year budget cuts to stop spending their remaining cash so he could scrape together a $676 million pension payment due at the end of this month. As a result, some schools canceled summer programs and held off on buying technology and textbooks.

As part of Claypool’s 20% for 20% campaign, CPS agreed in April to a yearlong $21,600 contract with Phone2Action, a Washington firm that describes itself as a “digital grassroots advocacy” firm and has Klein as one of three advisory board members. Klein’s tenure as Emanuel’s head of the Chicago Department of Transportation overlapped Claypool’s stint as head of the Chicago Transit Authority for about two years.

Under its $1,800-a-month contract, Phone2Action provides CPS with buttons on its website to “email the legislator” and “tweet the legislator” and provides “smart targeting to send “Spank” and “Thank” messages to lawmakers.

CPS also hired a British company, Cartoon Media Ltd., for $4,000 to create a two-minute-and-17-second video using whiteboard animation to spell out the district’s argument online.

Voicing for the animation was done by Steve Mayberry, a mayoral spokesman who’s also a professional voiceover artist. Mayberry says he wasn’t paid extra for reading the script at CPS’ request.

Amundsen High School students and a teacher already had made a similar video in January, at no cost to the school because a group of filmmakers called Luma donated production services to help spread the word about how projected budget cuts would affect their education.

But CPS officials say they would have been charged by Luma to use that video online.

CPS paid Citizen Consulting of Chicago $3,500 to design a “20% for 20%” website at www.cps.edu/equality, according to Chris Butler, who founded the company after leaving New Schools for Chicago.

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner says the lobbying effort worked, to a point.

“The General Assembly responded by advancing two major funding-reform bills,” Bittner says, though neither proposal passed both the House and Senate.

Jeff Jenkins, a Local School Council member at Coonley Elementary on the North Side who has been a critic of CPS for failing to fund schools properly, views the spending on lobbying as “tone-deaf.”

“We’re nickel-and-diming, our principals are told to stop spending immediately, but then magically $100,000 appears for this,” Jenkins says. “Boy, it just seems in really poor taste, really out of touch. And a slap in the face, too, for parents who are counting every penny and still doing fund-raisers to get the essentials. “And CPS can whip out the credit card and charge $100,000.

“It also seems a bit disingenuous — that this thing was born of CPS parents, the people who send their kids to the school — and that’s not the case,” he says.

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