Challenge to Jones principal’s Chicago residency bolstered by public records tying him to Missouri
The Local School Council has accused principal Paul Joseph Powers of breaking CPS residency rules. Records show he votes, owns property and cars in St. Louis, not in Chicago.
Within weeks of Paul Joseph Powers taking over Jones College Prep High School as principal, he swore to Chicago’s Board of Education that he had moved from Missouri where he’d spent decades of his career as an educator.
“I am an actual resident of the City of Chicago,” Powers wrote in September 2008, updating his address to one in Illinois, presumably within city limits as the school board has required for decades.
Now over a decade later, Jones’ Local School Council has accused Powers of breaking those rules, one of the committee’s many complaints that have prompted it to request that Chicago Public Schools officials fire the principal of the highly rated selective enrollment Loop high school.
A Sun-Times review of public records has found the only property and cars Powers owns, along with his wife, are registered in St. Louis, Missouri. The address of their 2,400-square-foot home matches Powers’ voter registration in St. Louis County where records show he’s been a regular voter since 1987. It’s also where his wife apparently has stayed as her husband works in Chicago, a kind of second career for the 73-year-old who had worked in St. Louis public schools for 30 years.
Public records show neither one of them owns a car or property in Illinois. The Chicago Board of Elections couldn’t locate any voter registration for Powers or his wife, according to a spokesman.
Sarah Ma, one of three parent representatives on the LSC who have pushed hardest for Powers to be fired, said the residency dispute “doesn’t sound like it could be a big deal but it definitely affects his ability to be here and do his job.” She claimed Powers missed nine of 11 Fridays in the fall as he traveled to St. Louis to visit his family.
“In the beginning it was like he was doing the school a favor by commuting and it was amazing, but I think it’s impacted his ability to be present,” Ma said at a news conference outside the school Thursday. “And at a school this size, it needs oversight.”
Powers hasn’t tried to hide his St. Louis roots. In a letter to Jones families and staff earlier this month revealing the bitter dispute with the LSC, Powers accused the group of levying personal and unfounded attacks on him. And he added: “They are now even attacking me for visiting my wife on weekends at our home in St. Louis and attempting to spend some time with my children.”
CPS’ residency policy doesn’t prevent employees from maintaining secondary homes outside the city. But it requires their “one true, permanent home” to be in Chicago.
In the case of a disputed residency, the inspector general’s office will consider voter registration, place of filing tax returns, property ownership, driver’s license and car registration. In Powers’ case, while his tax returns aren’t public, the rest of those are all registered in Missouri.
In limited circumstances, such as positions with high vacancy rates where incentives are needed, the district may offer a residency exemption. That wouldn’t likely be the case for one of CPS’ top high schools and its coveted principal job. Powers earns $175,000 a year, the same as five others who are CPS’ highest-paid principals.
Reached by telephone Thursday, Powers declined to comment.
Powers’ personnel record doesn’t contain an agreement allowing for a residency exemption. And CPS spokeswoman Mary Fergus said the district has never given him permission to live outside the city.
“CPS Principal Paul Powers is not grandfathered in for a residency exemption nor is there a waiver allowing for this principal to live outside district boundaries. Our HR system of record reflects a Chicago address for Principal Powers,” Fergus said.
Though an investigation would examine all those items such as voter registration and vehicle and property ownership, new hires are only required to provide a current license or a bill in their name with their current Chicago address to establish residency. Public records indicate Powers rents a home on the city’s Northwest Side.
Despite the concerns about his residency expressed by LSC members, Sarah Kaiser, whose daughter is a senior at Jones, said Powers has been available at the school when her family has needed him.
“Every time I’ve ever reached out to him or needed to get a hold of him, I’ve been able to do so,” she said. “He has devoted so much of his time and energy to that school and making it what it is.”
Contributing: Mitch Dudek