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Vallas wants to dismantle Emanuel’s City Colleges makeover

Mayoral challenger Paul Vallas released his education plan on Friday. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Mayoral challenger Paul Vallas vowed Thursday to dismantle Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s signature colleges-to-careers makeover that has allowed each of Chicago’s seven city colleges to prepare students for jobs in a particular growth industry.

The idea originated with former Mayor Richard M. Daley and Mayor Rahm Emanuel picked up the ball and ran with it.

Kennedy-King trains students for jobs in the culinary and hospitality industries. At Olive-Harvey, it’s transportation, distribution and logistics. Daley College focuses on engineering and advanced manufacturing. Malcolm X specializes in nursing and health sciences. Harold Washington’s specialty is business and professional services. At Wright, it’s information technology. At Truman, it’s education, human and natural sciences.

On Thursday, Vallas made the dismantling of those programs a centerpiece of his economic development plan for Chicago.

“Compare what’s being offered at Olive-Harvey with what’s being offered at Malcolm X and I’ll rest my case. Ask yourself whether the job training being offered at Olive-Harvey, 10 years from now, whether those same jobs are gonna be even in existence as opposed to the jobs being offered at Malcolm X,” Vallas told a news conference at his campaign headquarters.

“What I’m saying is that there should be a series of core programs that are offered in all the colleges and that are accessible to everybody.”

Video by Fran Spielman | Mayoral challenger Paul Vallas talks about economic development in the city.

Vallas noted that local Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), whose Far South Side ward includes Olive-Harvey, has been “trying for years to create a medical corridor on the South Side to revitalize Roseland Hospital and partner with other medical providers.”

“Wouldn’t offering, like nursing and medical careers, EMT training … serve the people in the Roseland-Pullman area? You should have a series of core programs at each. Maybe you would boost the community college enrollment if that were the case,” Vallas said.

Emanuel campaign spokesperson Caron Brookens was incensed by Vallas proposing to undo a program that she said has made City Colleges relevant with curricula designed by executives in those fields.

“The fact that he would propose decimating a pipeline from Chicago’s City Colleges to good jobs and good paychecks might be another telling reason he was pushed out of Chicago State,” Brookens wrote in email to the Sun-Times, referring to Vallas’ brief tenure as chief administrative officer at the Far South Side school.

Brookens was equally sour about the rest of Vallas’ plan to rebuild what he called, Chicago’s “forgotten communities.”

Vallas’ plan includes: earmarking up to 50 percent of city contracts for Chicago companies and 50 percent of jobs on city projects for city residents; using the “Federal Opportunity Zone” program, tax-increment-financing and other incentives to revitalize South and West Side neighborhoods; and creating a “fourth-tier education system” to assist the “huge number of disenfranchised Chicagoans between the age of 17 and 50 who need basic education and occupational training.”

The plan also includes reversing the longstanding practice of dumping polluting industries in poor communities and building a “community-based social service infrastructure” in long-neglected South and West Side neighborhoods, including reopening mental health clinics shuttered by Emanuel.

“This is another installment in the saga of Paul Vallas’ financial failures, promising a ‘plan’ with no way to pay for it,” Brookens wrote.

Emanuel has spent the last three years trying to shed his “Mayor 1 percent” label and rehabilitate an image with black voters that took a beating after his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

The mayor created a series of incentive programs to boost minority contracting and employment and allowed downtown developers to build bigger and taller projects so long as they share the wealth with impoverished neighborhoods.

Already $11 million in grants have been doled out to minority-owned businesses to rebuild vacant commercials strips, with $10 million more in the pipeline.

More recently, he has used public buildings — like the new fleet maintenance facility and City Colleges headquarters in Englewood and the controversial new police and fire training academy in West Garfield Park — as catalysts for economic development.

Last week, Emanuel went to Bronzeville to tout his plan to invest in the “building blocks of strong neighborhoods” — schools, parks, libraries, public transportation and public safety — and said that same “coordinated strategy” would target six more neighborhoods: Austin, Belmont Cragin, Brighton Park, Chatham, North Lawndale and South Shore.

On Thursday, Vallas condemned the mayor’s neighborhood investments as too little, too late.

“Who do you think is gonna bear the tax burden if these communities continue to deteriorate? Many of the challenges now spreading to other areas of the city emanate over the fact that we’re now looking at two-to-three generations of neglect,” he said.

“I see nothing of substance going on in Roseland. I see nothing going on on the other Michigan Avenue or the other Halsted Street that runs through Englewood. This mayor has had seven years to focus on those communities. Moving the Fleet Management garage [to Englewood] is not economic development in my book.”