CPS’ new CEO says IG who ousted 2 school chiefs is ‘an honest person’

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Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson in her office at CPS Headquarters on Jan. 4, 2018. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

The new homegrown CEO of the Chicago Public Schools said Thursday that the sprawling school system she just inherited needs an independent inspector general, calling the one whose probes ousted two of her predecessors “an honest person.”

Janice Jackson — a former teacher and principal with children enrolled in the country’s third-largest district that educated her — ascended to CEO after last month’s resignation of Forrest Claypool, who replaced the currently imprisoned Barbara Byrd-Bennett. She is Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s fifth appointed CEO since he took office in 2011, and the eighth schools leader CPS high schoolers have known since starting kindergarten. Her role as acting CEO is expected to become permanent pending school board approval later this month.

As she works to rebuild trust and instill stability in the troubled school system, Jackson said she met “early on” with Nicholas Schuler, the independent watchdog who caught Claypool lying repeatedly during an ethics probe sparked by the Chicago Sun-Times. He also is credited with handling the day-to-day investigation of Byrd-Bennett.

Inspector General Nicholas Schuler wants to close a loophole that allows the Chicago Public Schools to hire companies City Hall or sister agencies have banned from getting government business.

Chicago Public Schools Inspector General Nicholas Schuler (left) at the CPS Board meeting, on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

James Foster / Sun-Times

“I think it’s critically important,” she said from her newly occupied corner office overlooking State and Madison. “My personal opinion is that the Office of the Inspector General has to exist. Again, if we want people to trust the district, they have to know there is a place where they can trust what’s happening in the district.”

“I see us having a good relationship so that he can do his job and I can do mine,” she said.

The relationship between Claypool and Schuler was rocky at best, and at times openly hostile. Claypool hired an outside attorney to stonewall Schuler’s probe into CPS’ top attorney and Claypool friend, Ronald Marmer. That prompted Schuler to take the rare step of appearing at a public meeting of the school board to complain about the stalling. Claypool also launched an unprecedented internal investigation to defend a high school principal Schuler said should be fired for falsifying attendance numbers. And he ignored IG recommendations condemning as unfair residency waivers for a top Claypool financial aide.

Claypool also bulked up the internal auditing department, multiplying its staff and budget under a longtime aide in an effort, critics said, to quietly head off the IG whose findings must be publicized each year by Jan. 1. It’s not yet clear what’ll happen to that department under Jackson.

Schuler’s most recent report covering the 2016-17 school year revealed thefts of gift cards by some CPS principals and staff.

Asked whether she believed his findings, Jackson called Schuler “an honest person.”

“What I want people to know is that this is a large district,” Jackson said. “I’m not making any excuses but I want to be judged on how we act, when there are bad actors in our district and when things are brought to our attention, how do we hold individuals accountable, but also how do we ensure that we have the right policies and systems or conditions in place so these things don’t continue to happen?”

Schuler confirmed the meeting, saying, “I thought we had a really good first meeting.”

“I came away encouraged. I think we’re going to have a better working relationship than we did with the past administration.”

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