CPS wants ethics rules, state law changed so board member Rivera can become COO

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Arnie Rivera, the Chicago Public Schools’ chief operating officer, pulled the contract amid concerns regarding a would-be contractor’s poor response to employee complaints of sexual harassment. | Provided photo

Chicago Public Schools latest chief, elevated to her post after an ethics kerfuffle ousted her predecessor, will ask the Board of Education and the state to change their rules to allow a school board member to become her chief operating officer.

Former mayoral aide Arnaldo “Arnie” Rivera stepped down from the school board Wednesday morning ahead of the announcement that acting CEO Janice Jackson tapped him to head the day-to-day operations of the country’s third-largest school system.

State law governing schools says that “for a period of one year from and after the expiration or other termination of his or her term of office as a member of the board: the former board member shall not be eligible for employment nor be employed by … the school district governed by the board.”

CPS’ ethics code has similar clear language: “The Board shall not hire a former Board Member in any capacity for a period of one year after the termination of his or her membership on the Board.”

The school board has set a special public hearing on Jan. 24 to gather input on its petition to the Illinois State Board of Education for a two-year waiver of state law so Rivera can join CPS within 30 days instead of waiting a year.

School board members will vote on that proposal as well as proposed changes to its own code of ethics later that same day.

They also are expected to make Jackson’s promotion permanent as Rahm Emanuel’s fifth schools chief. She was promoted to acting CEO last month after Forrest Claypool was forced to resign following an ethics investigation sparked by Chicago Sun-Times reporting.

If Rivera wins approval,he’ll be paid $180,000 a year, the same salary he made in his most recent position as a senior strategic advisor at the well-connected, non-profit After School Matters, CPS spokesman Michael Passman said in an email. That’s $20,000 less than the last person to hold the post.

“Rivera’s employment is contingent upon approval from the Chicago Board of Education and the Illinois State Board of Education. The Board will not appoint him as COO unless ISBE approves the modification,” Passman said.

Rivera has deep ties to CPS. Once a first grade teacher, he served as a budget director and a public policy chief for CPS before joining the school board, where he cast rare dissenting votes. His wife is a CPS teacher, and their child attends CPS as well.

He also wasCOO of the politically-influential Chicago Public Education Fund, whichhas directed millions from its powerful donors toschool programs during Emanuel’s tenure. And he served as Emanuel’s deputy chief of staff for education; even so, the mayor’s office dismissed as “off-base” any suggestion that Rivera would be Emanuel’s eyes and ears in the school system.

“Arnie’s contributions to the Board will be missed, but his sophisticated understanding of district operations and extensive experience leading key components of Chicago Public Schools makes him the right person to work alongside Dr. Jackson as the district’s Chief Operating Officer,” school board president Frank M. Clark said in a press release.

Rivera declined to comment. Hisdeparture leaves two vacancies on the seven-member school board appointed by the mayor and only one Latino board member overseeing the district whose student population is 46.8 percent Latino. Emanuel has yet to say when he’ll fill either of the empty seats.

Jackson announced several other key hires asshe rounds out her new administration, which unlike the last cabinet, reflects the diversity of CPS students so far, leans on career educators and is drawing from talent within.

Taking her old job as Chief Education Officer will be LaTanya McDade, a former teacher and principal promoted from heading the Teaching the Learning department at $175,000 a year. Jackson has chosen veteran staffer and former teacher Heather Wendell, lately the $160,000-a-year head of the grants department, as budget director. Her chief of staff is Pedro Soto, previously CPS’ $165,000-a-year head of school operations, though Claypool’s chief of staff, Doug Kucia, also remains on the payroll in his $175,000-a-year position.

CPS has not disclosed the new salaries.

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