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Lightfoot demands investigation into CPS CEO’s starring role in school ads

Lori Lightfoot announces her candidacy for mayor of Chicago in front of supporters and reporters at the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Chicago. | Rick Majewski/For the Sun-Times

Mayoral challenger Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday asked the inspector general of the Chicago Public Schools to determine whether it’s appropriate for Schools CEO Janice Jackson to star in commercials touting the progress at CPS bankrolled by a nonprofit with close ties to Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“It is troubling that at a time when all Chicagoans are hoping that CPS can move past the scandals and constant reshuffling of leadership, that the new CEO (the fifth one in the past six years) took time to participate in what is clearly a political ad for the Mayor of Chicago — the man she reports to directly,” Lightfoot was quoted as saying in a press release.

“It is highly doubtful that an elected school board would have allowed this to happen,” she said. “At the core of CPS’s problems is the fact that parents and communities do not have a voice in the direction and management of our schools.”

Jackson is currently starring in what Lightfoot called a “politically-toned” television commercial bankrolled by a nonprofit that calls itself “Progress Chicago.”

The group’s donors are three unions that are among Emanuel’s most reliable campaign contributors, and Michael Sacks, the mayor’s biggest donor.

CPS employees are forbidden from using their positions to engage in political activity. That’s at least part of the reason why Troy LaRaviere, president of the Chicago Principal and Administrators Association, was fired from his job as a principal.

The Chicago Board of Education’s Chief Executive Officer Dr. Janice Jackson at the board’s monthly public meeting, Wednesday, May 23, 2018. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times
The Chicago Board of Education’s Chief Executive Officer Dr. Janice Jackson at the board’s monthly public meeting, Wednesday, May 23, 2018. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Even so, Jackson was free to star in the Progress Chicago commercials because the group is a nonprofit. That status also allows the group to avoid immediate disclosure of its donations.

Lightfoot noted that the commercials “portraying academic success at CPS” are being used to “counter the steady unveiling of CPS scandals and misdealing.”

On Tuesday, the Chicago Sun-Times disclosed that former school board member Deborah Quazzo had a financial interest in no fewer than eight different firms doing business with CPS.

Lightfoot noted that even as calls for Quazzo’s resignation intensified in 2014 and 2015, Emanuel was quoted saying, “The city was lucky to have her.”

CPS Inspector General Nicholas Schuler’s report also disclosed that now-convicted and imprisioned Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett accepted lavish meals at some of the city’s priciest restaurants from a CPS vendor whose investors included Quazzo.

Schuler, whose investigation led the FBI to Byrd-Bennett, also concluded that:

• Byrd-Bennett steered a $6 million contract to Think Through Math, a company in which Quazzo was invested.

• Byrd-Bennett and the coterie of top aides she brought with her to CPS had a series of expensive meals on that company’s dime during the bidding process for that deal.

• Quazzo violated the school system’s ethics code by talking up her companies’ products to CPS principals and introducing them to company representatives — which she at first denied to Schuler she’d done but acknowledged after being shown emails proving that.