Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday accepted Gov. Bruce Rauner’s apology for branding half of all Chicago Public Schools principals “managerially incompetent” and half its teachers “virtually illiterate,” but questioned whether teachers will forgive the insult.
“I’m gonna accept him at his word. More important is, will the teachers?” the mayor said.
Although the stunning insult came five years ago — while Rauner, then just a billionaire businessman, was a mega-donor to the Chicago Public Education Fund — Emanuel noted that it’s consistent with the equally insulting remark Rauner made as governor.
While campaigning for bankruptcy and against a financial bail-out, Rauner said some CPS schools are “crumbling prisons.”
The governor ultimately agreed to a state compromise that will give CPS roughly $600 million toward the system’s $1.1 billion deficit, but only after Emanuel agreed to raise property taxes by another $250 million for teacher pensions. And $205 million of that state money is contingent on a state pension deal by Jan. 1.
“Well, let me tell you what the crumbling prisons with wardens as principals and guards as teachers have done. They lead the country in high school graduation of an urban school system…They now match the United States of America in kids graduating high school going on to a four-year college…That same prison with that same warden and that same security guard is also producing 8th-grade leaders in the country in math gains, 4th-grade leaders in reading gains,” the mayor said.
“So I would hope that the governor would now turn the page, both on calling our schools prisons and calling teachers illiterate and principals incompetent. … Turn the page and be the governor [who] champions kids against great economic, cultural and social odds, beating ’em and leading the country. A real governor would see the children of Chicago — not as the stepchildren of the state but as people who are leading and something he should be proud of.”
After months of stonewalling, the Emanuel administration last week complied with a court order by releasing emails from the account of Beth Swanson, the mayor’s former chief deputy for education.
At the time, Swanson sat on the board of the powerful education non-profit with Rauner. She was discussing future investments by the Fund with other billionaire board members pushing for structural change within the district.
“teacher evaluation is critically important, but in a massive bureaucracy with a hostile union, where 50% of principals are managerially incompetent and half of teachers are virtually illiterate, a complex multi-dimensional evaluation system with huge subjectivity in it will be attacked, manipulated and marginalized – the status quo will prevail,” he wrote in all lowercase letters to other members of the board of directors of the Fund in an email on December 11, 2011. Rauner also advocated for “system structure, competition and incentives” as “key” to making sure that only “superstars” took jobs as network chiefs supervising the principals.
The governor’s spokesman promptly apologized for an email “sent out of frustration at the pace of change” at CPS.
“The governor regrets writing it and apologizes to CPS educators for making an unfair, untrue comment,” spokesman Lance Trover said, noting that the insult came five years before Rauner took office.
The following day, teachers, crashed a news conference to challenge Rauner to a “read-off.”
CTU staff coordinator Jackson Potter called the governor’s statements “inflammatory” and “Trump-like.”
“Governor Rauner, we are teachers and we are not illiterate,” Potter said during the confrontation.
After the handful of teachers were escorted out, Rauner delivered a personal apology.
“The remark I made in that email five years ago was both inaccurate and intemperate, and I apologize,” Rauner said.
As White House chief-of-staff under President Barack Obama, Emanuel famously vowed to never let a “good crisis to go to waste.”
On Tuesday, he seized on the crisis of confidence his old friend Rauner had created to renew the pitch for a change in the school funding formula to benefit Chicago and other school districts with a majority of students living in poverty.
If the governor is truly sorry for what he said, the mayor wants Rauner to prove it by putting the state’s money where his mouth is.
“The state finally leveled the pension inequity that existed where our taxpayers were taxed twice for pensions for teachers that don’t teach our children. I want to see that not only this year. I want to see it continue,” Emanuel.
“I accept that, sincerely, the governor apologizes. … I accept it because I want to move on and turn the page. [But] I want him to be a champion of the academic gains that the children of Chicago are making — not just against themselves, but against their national peers. … He should hold ’em up as an example of what you can do if you pull together principals, parents and teachers. … The governor of the state of Illinois should embrace the children of Chicago.”
Emanuel is still trying to negotiate a contract with the Chicago Teachers Union that includes the equivalent of a seven percent pay cut.
At a time when teachers have threatened to strike over the so-called “pension pick-up” granted to teachers years ago in lieu of a pay raise, Rauner’s insults have managed to push the mayor and the union closer together against a common enemy.