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GOP files complaint over CPS’ ‘political propaganda’ letter

Chris Cleveland discusses the ethics complaint he filed Wednesday. | Lauren FitzPatrick/Sun-Times

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

propaganda.”

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.

Chris Cleveland plans to file an ethics complaint over a letter to CPS parents sent by Schools CEO Forrest Claypool. | File photo
Chris Cleveland plans to file an ethics complaint over a letter to CPS parents sent by Schools CEO Forrest Claypool. | File photo

“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

shameful.”

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

control.

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.

Purvis Letter to CPS Parents 2.7.17 by Scott Fornek on Scribd