At the end of a year when he lost more principals than ever under his tenure, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is trying to make nice with school leaders, inviting principals to a first happy hour reception the night before their budgets are due.
“An evening with Mayor Rahm Emanuel for Chicago’s principals,” read the invitation obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.
“We invite you to join us for a celebration to express our gratitude and appreciation to the principals of Chicago Public Schools. We wish to thank you for your hard work over the past year and to personally recognize you for your ongoing commitment to the students, teachers, families and communities of Chicago,” it continued.
Drinks and appetizers are to be served Thursday evening in the Cancer Survivors Garden at Maggie Daley Park for “all active principals,” Board of Ed members and top CPS brass. Added guests are not welcome “due to limited capacity.”
Emanuel appears to be extending an olive branch to school leaders who are constantly asked to do more with less. The gesture is reminiscent of the first-ever meeting he called in the spring with the City Council’s 16 committee chairmen to try to build the relationships with increasingly emboldened alderman in his second term that he failed to do in his first.
Recently released school budgets — due back to CPS on Friday, nine days after principals received them — contain per-pupil funding levels that are lower than what was available in September 2014 and consistent with unprecedented midyear cuts made in February. The new school-by-school budgets now put the onus of hiring and allocating special education staffers on principals instead of the central special ed department.
“These principals are dedicated, diligent fighters for their communities and for their students and I think we’ve seen that from the past year probably more than ever,” CPS CEO Forrest Claypool told reporters before unveiling budgets last week. “They were instrumental in the grassroots campaign that secured the funding that prevented the devastating cuts that we anticipated earlier this year, and they deserve all of our thanks.”
The last school year saw more principals resign than any other year since Emanuel became mayor in 2011 — at least 42, according to CPS. Another 23 decided to retire.
Troy LaRaviere, a former principal who now heads the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association told the Sun-Times recently that principals had been under pressure for years and dealt with a steady trickle of cuts and reductions, saying, “Our ability to do our job depends on resources, and they take more of them away every year impairing our ability to do our job more and more.”
On Tuesday, LaRaviere was more succinct: “Rahm wants to buy you a drink. Ask him if he can buy you an assistant principal and a special-education teacher instead.’ ”
One elementary principal told the Sun-Times she wouldn’t attend because she had too much work to do on budgets that came out later than usual and have a tight turnaround for planning and approval by Local School Councils.
CPS declined to comment on the party, referring all questions to the mayor’s office.
Mayoral spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said the party had been planned before the budget deadline was set. She said the mayor is footing the bill — no city or district money will be used for the party.
The mayor’s office says more than 200 have said they will attend the event.
“Mayor Emanuel invited principals from across the city to attend an event this week to celebrate the city’s appreciation for the tireless work they do on behalf of our schools, including the record progress our students are making today under their leadership,” Huffman said in an email. “While this past school year has been a challenging one for the entire District, the Mayor regularly hosts events like these to recognize city leaders for their hard work and commitment to serving families and communities across the city.”