It’s the wrong first impression to send and a terrible idea.
That’s the message Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey conveyed Wednesday morning ahead of a Chicago Public Schools board meeting that’s set to include a vote on relaxing its own ethics rules so the school system can hire a former board member.
“The ethics rule is there for a reason. Boards should not be hiring themselves to lucrative six figure jobs,” he said.
Sharkey, speaking at a brief news conference outside of CPS headquarters at 42 W. Madison, said the move is indicative of a school system that’s been plagued by ethics issues in recent years.
“The problem is there’s a cloud of ethics violations that go back for several administrations in a row now.”
To highlight the issue, he pointed to Forrest Claypool and Barbara Byrd-Bennett — the two immediate predecessors of new CPS CEO Janice Jackson.
Claypool resigned last month amid accusations he lied to thwart an ethics investigation by the district’s inspector general.
Claypool’s predecessor, Byrd-Bennett, was sent to prison after admitting her guilt in rigging a no-bid school contract in exchange for more than $2 million in kickbacks.
Jackson is seeking to change ethics rules so she can hire Arnaldo “Arnie” Rivera as her chief operating officer.
Rivera stepped down from the school board earlier this month, just before Jackson announced she’d tapped him to run the day-to-day operations of the country’s third-largest school system.
Not only would the board need to change its ethics rules to accommodate the hire, but so too would the state.
Under the current law, Rivera would have to wait one year after leaving his position on the board before he could take the job.
The CPS’ ethics code mirrors the state’s in this regard.
“The new administration has to draw a clear line between the policies of the past and going forward. And starting that off by ignoring your own ethics rules is not the way to go,” Sharkey said.
“I think they can’t help themselves, and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that ultimately it’s the mayor calling the shots,” said Sharkey who echoed previous calls for an elected school.