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New CPS board appointee resigns from organization that got a school contract

As one wealthy member of the Chicago Board of Education accused of conflicts of interest with the school system is about to end her term, her replacement has chaired the board of a politically connected nonprofit awarded a $250,000 contract by Chicago Public Schools.

Deborah Quazzo’s investments in companies doing business with CPS attracted the eye of the CPS inspector general after the Sun-Times revealed an increase in CPS business to companies in which she had invested since her appointment in June 2013 — for a total of about $3.8 million. The millionaire will leave the Board of Education at the end of the month along with three other members.

“I notified the mayor’s office and CBOE leadership that I would not seek another term earlier this year,” Quazzo said Tuesday in an email. “It was a total honor to serve and I will continue to serve as I have done prior to and while being on the board.”

Mark F. Furlong, a longtime BMO Harris Bank executive and recent LEAP Innovations board chair, was picked by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to fill one of the four vacancies. The mayor did not mention in his announcement Furlong’s role at LEAP, a technology nonprofit that was awarded a $250,000 contract by CPS in August. Furlong received no pay for his service and has resigned from LEAP.

Furlong could not be reached for comment. A BMO Harris spokeswoman said the mayor’s office requested all questions be directed to Adam Collins, who did not respond to Sun-Times messages.

Furlong was a founding board director at LEAP in late 2013 when the nonprofit incorporated with the secretary of state’s office, though tax filings show — and a LEAP spokeswoman repeated — that he received no compensation for his service. The organization was founded by Phyllis Lockett, formerly of the charter-backing New Schools for Chicago and of The Renaissance Schools Fund, to connect tech companies and educators to “help pilot the best teaching and learning tools,” according to LEAP’s website.

Furlong resigned from LEAP by telephone on Friday, according to LEAP spokeswoman Jennifer Cline. He also retired from BMO Harris as of June 1.

CPS has paid LEAP $65,000 to date, procurement records show but has a renewable annual contract authorizing the district to spend up to $250,000 this year for “consulting services.”

Quazzo, who championed LEAP’s services, abstained from that vote. She also abstained from a vote on a $6 million CPS contract to a company she invested in called Think Through Math but has voted to expand seats at charter schools that also are her companies’ customers.

Quazzo told the Sun-Times she saw no conflict of interest between her roles as steward of the cash-strapped school system and as a private investor. In addition, she has promised to donate any profits from her investments or the sale of the companies for a year after her term on the board ends, totaling about $2,600 to date.

The inspector general continues to investigate.

Also leaving the Board are Andrea Zopp, who resigned May 20 to seek a U.S. Senate seat; Carlos Azcoitia, an education professor at National Louis University; and Henry Bienen, president emeritus of Northwestern University.

In addition to Furlong, joining the board are the Rev. Michael Garanzini, retiring president of Loyola University; Dominique Jordan Turner, president and CEO of the Chicago Scholars Foundation; and Gail Ward, a 35-year veteran of CPS who served as the first principal of Walter Payton College Prep.

“If you look at the four people that I appointed,” Emanuel said Tuesday, “they bring a new set [of eyes], a fresh level of energy to see CPS through what it needs through the next stage.”

Action Now, which advocates for working-class people and called for Quazzo’s resignation in the wake of the the Sun-Times’ revelations, said Emanuel’s changes hardly clean house and “fall woefully short of [February’s] voter mandate for an elected representative school board.”

Spokesman Aaron Krager said that “Emanuel’s appointees do nothing to divert from the ways of the past. . . . These new appointees reaffirm the mayor’s commitment to privatizing Chicago’s public school system.”