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CPS reminds employees of restrictions on political activity

As petitions began circulating to add the president of the Chicago Teachers Union to the mayoral ballot, the head of Chicago Public Schools reminded employees that engaging in improper political activity on the job could cost them their jobs.

Among the activities on paid Board of Education time banned by the board’s ethics guidelines are using school copiers or phones for political activity; soliciting contributions or votes for a particular candidate; an wearing any political T-shirts or buttons or displaying posters in board work space.

That’s according to a letter, obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday, from Barbara Byrd-Bennett to officials and employees of the Board of Education.

Exceptions are made for vacation and personal days, according to the letter, which also includes a phone number and email to report ethical violations.

CPS spokesman Joel Hood confirmed the authenticity of the letter.

“It’s important to clarify our ethics guidelines for our employees anytime an election is coming up,” such as November’s gubernatorial race with an unusually strong education focus.

Incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn and Paul Vallas, a former CPS CEO, face Republican challenger and charter school champion Bruce Rauner and adjunct law school professor Evelyn Sanguinetti.

The district sent out a nearly identical copy of the letter in February 2012, before the presidential primary, as it has in previous years.

Supporters of CTU President Karen Lewis began circulating petitions a few weeks ago to get her on the ballot against Mayor Rahm Emanuel in February, said Emma Tai, a spokeswoman for Lewis’ exploratory committee. Tai said she found the timing “suspicious.” Lewis has not declared her candidacy but she set up the committee, loaning it $40,000 of her own money to set up an office should she ultimately enter the race.

But the CTU’s legislative director, Stacy Davis Gates, said the Quinn-Rauner race immediately came to her mind.

“I kind of laughed at it. What, they don’t want Pat Quinn to be re-elected?” said Davis Gates, whose union recently endorsed the incumbent governor.

“We’re clear about the board policy and we have obviously alerted our organizational staff who interact with members on a daily basis . . . to make sure everyone is acting within the scope of the policy,” she said. “But we still are encouraging our members to remain politically active. They have free time. They have time when they volunteer on weekends. They have time when they can volunteer before and after work.”

Progressive Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), a loud critic of the 2012-13 school closings that shuttered a record number of buildings, has recently declared his intent to run. Meanwhile, Emanuel has raised more than $8.3 million for his re-election.

CPS Political Activity Letter