Chicago’s Republican Party filed an ethics complaint Wednesday against
schools CEO Forrest Claypool, charging that a letter he sent home to
students this week blaming the governor for budget woes is “political
The action, which Claypool dismissed as a “circus,” is the latest
volley in an ongoing battle between the schools chief and the state
over money desperately needed by the beleaguered school district.
Chris Cleveland, head of the city’s Republican party, dropped off a
formal complaint Wednesday afternoon to schools’ Inspector General
Nicholas Schuler, alleging that Claypool’s letter violated ethics
policies and perhaps broke state law.
“It’s entirely improper to send political propaganda home with
children,” said Cleveland, the father of a student at Lincoln
Elementary School in Lincoln Park.
“Using public time and resources on such a letter should always be
considered a misuse of taxpayer funds, but it is made even more
egregious in light of CPS’s self-declared financial crisis,” read a
copy of the complaint he proffered, surrounded by sign-waving
supporters — Republican activists, not CPS parents.
CPS’ inspector general confirmed he had received the complaint and
then declined to comment on it.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner have gone toe to toe over
Rauner’s veto of a bill that would have sent $215 million to CPS for
teacher pensions. The governor nixed the measure in December right
after Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said it wasn’t tied to
overall pension reform that Rauner wanted.
The $215 million is attached to the Illinois Senate’s grand bargain
package, which also now includes a pending statewide fix to how the
state doles out money to school districts.
This week, Claypool and Rauner ramped up their rhetoric, each blaming
the other for CPS’ budget woes.
Claypool sent letters to parents, via principals, reading, “Governor
Rauner, just like President Trump, has decided to attack those who
need the most help. Governor Rauner and President Trump regularly
attack Chicago because they hope to score political points. It is
On Wednesday afternoon, an unusually emotional Claypool defended his
communiqué, saying it is “well within my authority, well within my
responsibility to communicate correctly with people who are most
affected by the governor’s decision and explain to them what has
happened” with funding.
Claypool lamented that the state allocates less per-pupil to CPS
students than kids elsewhere in Illinois.
“That is wrong, that is the system Gov. Rauner is perpetuating. And
all the smokescreens, all the sending the Republican party down to
hold a circus and divert attention, coming up with fake Trumpian facts
that Chicago gets more not less, doesn’t ignore the reality that is
verifiable with math that our kids get the short end of the stick,” he
said. “Their futures are being threatened.”
Echoing what he said Monday when he first likened Rauner to
President Donald Trump, he told reporters that “just like President
Trump, Governor Rauner, when he doesn’t like the facts, changes the
facts to an alternative universe, alternative facts, and when other
people try to tell the truth he engages in bully tactics to try to
silence those who are telling the truth.”
On Monday, Claypool gave principals letters to distribute to parents
and to Local School Council members informing them that half of their
discretionary spending for things like school supplies would be frozen
indefinitely — some $46 million over which schools previously had
Tuesday, Rauner fired back via an open letter penned by his education
secretary Beth Purvis who essentially told Claypool to look in the mirror. She
placed the blame for the financial mess squarely on CPS’ “continued
mismanagement” and calling the latest cuts “curiously timed.”
She called the spending freezes “a shock to all of us,” noting that
CPS’ pension payment isn’t due until June.
The governor’s office also has called the Trump comparisons “a
misleading attempt to rewrite history and distract from 20 years of
fiscal mismanagement by Chicago Public Schools.”
CPS’ code of ethics does specifically prohibit political campaigning,
saying that, “No Official or Employee shall use his or her official
Board position to engage in Political Activity or endorse a Candidate
for Elective Office” and “No Official or Employee is permitted to use
Board resources to perform any Political Activity.
But as long as no staffer is coerced into the activity, “Nothing in
this Section prohibits Political Activities that are otherwise
appropriate for an Employee to engage in as part of his or her
official employment duties,” the policy reads.
Not all principals printed the letter or emailed it home. CPS wouldn’t
say how much district money had been spent on its distribution.