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Bill Daley proposes merging CPS and City Colleges

Mayoral candidate Bill Daley wants to merge the Chicago Public Schools with the City Colleges of Chicago to save administrative costs and free up money to offer tuition-free college to all CPS students. | James Foster / Sun-Times

Bill Daley wants to turn America’s third-largest school system into what he calls the “nation’s first pre-K-through-14” system — by merging the Chicago Public Schools with the City Colleges of Chicago.

By turning two giant bureaucracies into one, Daley hopes to generate as much as $50 million worth of administrative savings — enough to provide free community college to all CPS graduates, not just those who maintain a B average.

But the ground-breaking merger is not about saving money. It’s about positioning CPS to produce more students prepared and trained for jobs without the back-breaking burden of student loans.

“In the private sector and not-for-profit entities, if you don’t move fast and big, you usually die. Governments are the only entities in existence primarily structured as they were 70, 80, 90 years ago. But it’s not working as well as maybe it did” long ago, Daley said.

“We’ve got to look at things differently . . . When you look at public education and the preparation for careers and jobs in the future, our system as it’s structured hasn’t served the kids well.”

Daley acknowledged the merger would require both a complex intergovernmental agreement as well as a change in state law.

CPS has roughly 35,000 employees. City Colleges has about 4,315 employees.

He did not say how many of those jobs would be eliminated by merging the two bureaucracies. Nor would Daley say whether he would retain Schools CEO Janice Jackson or City Colleges Chancellor Juan Salgado.

“I don’t underestimate the challenge of this. But we’ve got to start to think more out of the box than just, how do we bend this rule or bend that rule a little,” Daley said.

“When this system was probably started, all anybody tried to do was get through a couple years of grade school. High school probably came later. All I’m trying to do is say to people we’ve got to look at this system a little differently.”

On the eve of his 2015 re-election bid, Mayor Rahm Emanuel rolled out a Chicago Star Scholarship that offers free City Colleges tuition to CPS students who maintain a B average.

It has since benefited 4,500 CPS graduates from 75 ZIP codes and more than 200 high schools.

Emanuel has also made “having a plan for post-secondary success” a graduation requirement for CPS high schools without fully remedying a shortage of trained guidance counselors needed to help high school students develop those plans.

Daley argued that it’s time to take the Star Scholarship “to scale so that every” CPS graduate “has the skills to find meaningful and rewarding work or pursue a four-year degree.” He noted that only 18 percent of CPS students currently earn a four-year college degree.

Mayoral candidate Gery Chico served Daley’s brother, former Mayor Richard M. Daley, as both school board president and City Colleges chairman.

Chico argued that merging the “two statutorily-created bodies” just to save $50 million would not be worth the monumental effort it would take to accomplish.

“I don’t see the savings as much as I do the cost involved in combining these places . . . It’s rearranging the chairs to not come up with a substantive difference,” Chico said.

“Rahm has most of that issue solved with his Chicago Star program. People who are getting C’s and D’s — I don’t know where they’re going in City Colleges anyway.”

Instead of merging the two bureaucracies, Chico proposed a “massive expansion of vocational and technical education” at CPS.

“We’re not waiting for community college to do that. We have to start earlier,” he said.

Mayoral candidate Paul Vallas, a former Chicago Public Schools CEO, said he, too, doesn’t see “the logic” of merging “two struggling and shrinking school systems — both of which are still in severe financial distress, lacking in essential resources and not producing effective results.”

“To claim that you are going to magically save enough money to give everybody free tuition shows that Daley has no practical experience in educational systems,” Vallas wrote in a text message to the Sun-Times.

Daley has already unveiled a strategy to grow Chicago out of its financial crisis — to a population of 3 million within the next decade — even as he opened the door to a commuter tax to solve a looming pension crisis.

He’s also established a goal of reducing both shootings and homicides by 75 percent over four years.

Now, he’s setting an equally ambitious goal for the mega-bureaucracy he hopes to create to run both CPS and City Colleges: raising the percentage of CPS grads earning both two-and-four-year degrees to 50 percent over the next 10 years.