Michael Milkie, founder of Chicago’s Noble Network of Charter Schools, is out because of “a pattern of inappropriate behavior” that’s now the subject of two investigations — one by a law firm hired by the publicly funded, privately run chain and the other by the Chicago Public Schools’ inspector general.
“We think this needs independent review,” Nicholas Schuler, whose office recently took over investigations of reports of sexual abuse at CPS schools, said Wednesday.
Schuler’s action came after Noble, the largest charter high school operator in Chicago, said Milkie’s sudden retirement announcement last week came because he was found to have “acted inappropriately toward adult women affiliated with Noble.”
In a written statement, a Noble spokesman said: “In October of this year, it became clear to Michael Milkie’s direct reports, then-President Constance Jones and Head of Schools Ellen Metz, that he had a pattern of inappropriate behavior across several incidents, including hand-holding and an instance of slow-dancing with an alumna. Based upon this pattern, Ms. Jones and Ms. Metz voiced a lack of confidence in Mr. Milkie’s leadership. When confronted with this information, Mr. Milkie chose to retire. At no point did Noble leadership have knowledge of allegations that required mandated reporting, nor that were criminal in nature.”
The spokesman said Noble has hired the law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP to conduct “a full investigation of the scope of Mr. Milkie’s conduct.”
On Nov. 6, Allan Muchin, Noble’s board president, said in an email to the charter network’s staff that Milkie would step down at the end of December after 20 years heading Noble, which currently has about 12,000 students.
“Given the circumstances involved in his decision, we think this is best for Noble as well,” wrote Muchin, who along with several other board members have Noble schools named for them. “The board intends to further review this situation.”
In a written statement issued through his spokesman, Milkie wrote: “It is true that I have acted inappropriately toward adult women affiliated with Noble. This is why I am rightly no longer CEO. I am very sorry and apologize first to those impacted by my inappropriate interactions.
“I also apologize to my family and to my friends, I let you down. Finally, I apologize to the students, alumni, families and supporters of Noble. I let you down, too.”
Noble’s president, Constance Jones, will take over as chief executive officer, Muchin wrote.
Milkie was paid $262,138 in salary and benefits, including a $20,000 bonus for the school year ending June 30, 2017, tax filings show. The same year, Noble reported $165 million in revenue.
The bombshell news regarding Milkie comes as Noble’s current five-year contract with CPS, set to expire in June, is up for renewal.
CPS held a hearing Wednesday evening at its headquarters, 42 W. Madison St., on Noble and other CPS charters that are seeking renewal.
CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton wouldn’t say what effect the scandal could have on Noble’s chances to have its contract extended, which is subject to a vote by the Chicago Board of Education in December. She said the inspector general’s investigation “will provide us with a clearer understanding of the allegations and actions that were taken to protect students. Nothing is more important than the safety of students, whether they are in a district-run school or a charter school.”
Noble board member Miquel Lewis didn’t mention the sudden leadership change in his testimony in support of renewing Noble’s contract to operate schools. Nor would he answer questions afterward. At least a dozen parents joined him in praising the school’s academic record.
Milkie and his wife, Tonya, were CPS teachers when they started the first of what’s now 18 charter high schools, Noble Street College Prep, in West Town in 1999. Presented as an alternative to traditional public schools, they said their aim was to use innovative techniques and cut through CPS’ bureaucracy to provide a better education.
The rapidly growing chain built a reputation for strict discipline and for helping students from low-income families get into college, especially undocumented students.
Contributing: Nader Issa