‘We needed different leadership,’ Lightfoot says after school watchdog resigns amid workplace complaints

Chicago Public Schools Inspector General Nicholas Schuler announced he was quitting his post Monday with more than two years left in his term.

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Chicago Public Schools Inspector General Nicholas Schuler

James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday that she accepted the abrupt resignation of the inspector general of the Chicago Public Schools because “we needed to go in a different direction.”

Inspector General Nicholas Schuler has not publicly said why he stepped down as the schools watchdog with two years left in his term. But his resignation Monday came amid an investigation by an outside law firm the previous Board of Education president hired to look into anonymous complaints of a “toxic workplace” under Schuler’s command.

Lightfoot said she spoke directly with Schuler but would not say whether he had done anything wrong, nor would she say what’s in the report the law firm presented to the board in December. CPS spokesman Michael Passman has also declined to release those findings.

“It’s not a question of wrongdoing,” the mayor said in Washington D.C., where she was slated to be the guest of an Illinois legislator at President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address. “But it became clear that there was an environment there both in terms of personnel issues but also just in terms of the basic infrastructure of running an office that size that we needed different leadership.

“I mean, he’s worked tirelessly there. His heart and soul was clearly into the work and the mission but it was time to move in a different direction,” Lightfoot continued.

In a resignation letter to the mayor dated Jan. 16, Schuler wrote that “I have decided to move on.”

”It has been an honor to serve the people of Chicago and their schools, and I am proud of the accomplishments of the office and its dedicated employees,” Schuler wrote in the letter obtained Tuesday by the Sun-Times.

Schuler, 52, did not respond to a request for comment.

A former Chicago Police sergeant, Schuler raised the profile of the office he was appointed to in 2014 by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel, adding a new data analysis unit to hunt for troubling patterns within CPS, and releasing his findings more frequently than the annual report required by state law.

His investigations led to the ouster of two of Emanuel’s handpicked CPS CEOs — Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who steered millions in no-bid contracts for promised kickbacks and remains in federal prison, and Forrest Claypool, who was caught lying to Schuler during a probe into ethical lapses of Claypool’s chosen general counsel at CPS. And his office more than doubled in 2018 from 19 to 49 after he was tasked with taking over all investigations of sexual abuse or misconduct accusations lodged against adults within CPS — a job previously done by CPS’ internal lawyers, who also defended the schools system against lawsuits by victims.

But at least one undated complaint, obtained by the Sun-Times, alleged of Schuler: “He is verbally abusive to employees and yells at people so loud that the entire office can hear him. He made people cry when yelling at them. He also throws ‘temper tantrums’ and becomes physically threatening by slamming doors and other things.”

It still isn’t clear who’s tasked with policing the schools watchdog. State law governing the CPS IG doesn’t address who would handle complaints about anyone in the IG’s office. Nor does CPS have any protocol — as the City of Chicago’s inspector general’s office has had since 2009 — spelling out how to how to handle grievances.

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