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Chicago school board approves $900K for top Claypool staffers

Forrest Claypool, the newly installed CEO of Chicago Public Schools, cut his executive budget earlier this month by 20 percent and laid off nine senior aides saving $1 million a year as an example of shared sacrifice for the broke district.

Then on Wednesday, he submitted recommendations to hire five men, many of whom he’s worked with before, to the tune of more than $900,000 a year.

Their hirings were unanimously approved by the Board of Education, except for the special residency waiver granted to Ronald DeNard, Claypool’s chosen $225,000-a-year senior vice president of operations who was chief financial officer with Claypool at the Chicago Transit Authority. In a rare dissent, Jesse Ruiz voted against it.

Property and other public records show DeNard owns a home in south suburban Flossmoor.

District spokesman Bill McCaffrey defended DeNard’s hiring. “He has a unique set of skills honed at financially troubled organizations — skills needed at this time of fiscal crisis at Chicago Public Schools,” McCaffrey said. “As it has done in the past, the Board of Education can grant a waiver for a limited period of time to allow a candidate from outside Chicago to begin working for the district.”

Doug Kucia, who was Claypool’s chief of staff at the CTA, takes on the same role at CPS for $175,000 a year. Andrell Holloway, a CTA auditor, was made chief internal auditor for $191,000.

Arnaldo Rivera, formerly deputy chief of education for the mayor, was installed in a new job called “chief policy officer” at $170,000 a year. So was Pedro Soto, now chief of school operations for $150,000.

None of the names or salaries was on the board’s public agenda. McCaffrey chalked that up to personnel issues, which are presented in executive session then voted on in public.

Claypool had already hired three other senior level staffers for an additional $360,000, totaling more than $1.2 million in top Claypool hires.

McCaffrey tallied up the list of staff cuts Claypool had made, adding former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s $100,000-a-year chief speechwriter and director of internal communications, Joel Hood, on Friday. That list, he said, totaled more than $1.8 million for 18 people.

CPS is awaiting $480 million in pension help from Springfield that may never come to balance its budget. Without it, officials have said that more cuts and layoffs will be necessary.

In 2011, another CPS finance chief was granted a residency waiver, sparking controversy. Chief administrative officer Tim Cawley, who also oversees CPS finances and was the architect of the questionable $280 million Aramark deal that privatized janitorial management in schools, asked to live in Winnetka with a recently adopted child. His waiver was questioned by the Inspector General at that time but it remained in place.

The district punishes teachers and families found to have purposely misstated their residency.

Departing CPS next month are James Bebley, the district’s general counsel since 2012 but a CPS attorney since 2002, and Aaarti Dhupelia, the district’s chief of college and career success.

Bebley, who earned $175,000 a year, announced his plans to retire from CPS. A native of Englewood who grew up in the Harold Ickes homes, Bebley attended Daniel Hale Williams Elementary School and Robert Lindblom Technical High School.

Dhupelia, who also made $175,000 a year, is moving to National Louis University at the end of September to become a vice president of strategic initiatives. According to the university, she will lead its Harrison Professional Pathways Program which aims to make college affordable. She joined CPS in 2007 and served as a deputy chief of staff in 2012-13 to Byrd-Bennett.