Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool hired two longtime associates to help him with layoffs of hundreds of central staffers at the cash-strapped district, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
Carol J. Rubin was chief administrative officer at the Chicago Transit Authority and Chicago Park District while Claypool headed each of those entities. Rubin has been working with Sally Csontos, another former CTA and Parks staffer who’s married to John Filan, once a budget director for former Gov. Rob Blagojevich and another longtime Claypool associate.
Claypool hired Rubin as a consultant last fall to “reduce organizational overlap of job responsibilities and increase departmental accountability,” according to her contract with the district. Her one-year contract was for $65,000 and was awarded in a deal that did not require Claypool to choose the lowest bidder.
Working under top Claypool advisers also hired from the CTA, Rubin also was tasked with figuring out “opportunities [to] restructure and streamline non-core education departments,” and providing “recommendations to restructure to both increase accountability, better manager risk, and drive cost efficiency.”
In November, after being paid $36,000 of her contract, Rubin was hired as a full-time employee earning $170,000 plus benefits annually as a newly created “Director of CPS’ Project Management Office,” according to CPS.
“When it became clear that Rubin was going to work more and become a central part of the leadership team, it was more cost effective for CPS for her to be an employee,” district spokeswoman Emily Bittner said.
Csontos was hired in September to work in the human resources department. She is paid $160,000 a year for a newly created job CPS calls “Executive Director of Change Management” overseeing “major initiatives on professional and organizational effectiveness.”
As CPS geared up to lay off hundreds of administrators Friday, Rubin notified department leaders how many staffers they had to let go, and even in some cases, who, sources told the Sun-Times.
Two hundred and twenty-seven people lost their jobs Friday, and another 180 vacant positions were eliminated.
The Chicago Teachers Union is bracing for layoffs, too, but continues to negotiate a new contract that Claypool said would negate the need for those cuts to help plug a $480 million budget shortfall.
Claypool, who took over the cash-strapped district in the wake of former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s contracting scandal, wasted no time surrounding himself with former CTA and Park District workers.
In a prepared statement, he defended these two hires, saying he needed “the strongest team assembled” to turn around the financially beleaguered district.
“I believe we have that team in place right now at CPS,” he said. “Throughout my career, I’ve relied on talented professionals with proven track records. No agency faces greater challenges than CPS. That’s why I’ve hired managers instrumental in two other complex government turnarounds, the Chicago Park District and CTA.
“These veterans are part of a large, diverse team of managers with strong backgrounds. Our success in overcoming an unprecedented financial crisis depends on the depth, experience and proven talent of this team,” Claypool said.
Reached by telephone, Rubin declined to comment. “I want to have communications handle this. Thank you,” she said before hanging up.
Csontos did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Rubin submitted one of six bids to CPS, hers for $65,000, Bittner said. Two others came in at $44,400 and $21,408 but CPS chose to hire the services using a procurement process that does not require the district to select the lowest price. Bittner would not say who specifically opted for that process.
CPS cited the women’s stints at the CTA and Park District as a plus, saying that Rubin has advised public and private sector clients about reorganizations.
And Csontos has “years of experience in organizational and professional development, particularly in organizational human capital and youth-based initiatives,” according to the district.
Her husband also does consulting work for CPS in auditing and accounting, but Bittner said it has nothing to do with the layoffs. She said the firm employing him, Crowe Horwath, worked with the district for many years. She cited his “decades of experience” working with government agencies, including as a CPS board member.
But the parent group Raise Your Hand questioned the relationships.
“That doesn’t sit well,” the group’s Jennie Biggs said. “That’s probably two people’s jobs that got laid off, to lay off more people. It just doesn’t seem like a good use of your resources. You would think you have those people already in place.”
She also raised concerns about newcomers being involved in the decisions.
“These are people who are just walking in. I’m not sure they would have a really good picture to look at what all those people in Central Office do, and how that might trickle down to the schools and also look at it the opposite way, looking at the schools and what they might need and how that would trickle up to the network.”