“Quit, Quazzo, quit,” about 30 protesters chanted outside the office building of Chicago Board of Education member Deborah Quazzo Tuesday morning, denouncing the mayor’s handpicked choice as a choice example of why they say Chicago needs an elected school board.
In the wake of Chicago Sun-Times stories that showed Chicago Public Schools spending on companies in which Quazzo has invested tripling since her appointment, groups like Action Now, More Than A Score and the Chicago Teachers Union demanded that the venture capitalist step down from the board overseeing the city’s public schools.
Action Now’s Anthony Edwards said CPS’ financial ethics rules are stricter for Local School Council members than for board members like Quazzo, and that’s not fair.
Edwards, a parent representative at O’Keeffe School of Excellence in South Shore, cited CPS ethics rules that prohibit LSC members from having any economic interest in a contract or business of the school or in the “buying, selling or leasing of an item for which their LSC or school paid.”
“The first thing they do is make me fill out an application to let you know that I do not have any interests, any money-making schemes that I could steer business to,” Edwards said. “This should be held at the top instead of the bottom.
“We want an elected school board,” he continued. “This is a perfect example why.”
Quazzo, who runs a venture capital firm called GSV Advisors on the 35th floor of the John Hancock building, has recused herself from votes on CPS contracts with companies in which she has a financial interest.
“It’s my belief I need to invest in companies and philanthropic organizations who improve outcomes for children,” Quazzo has said.
Citing that the CPS’ inspector general has opened an investigation into her companies’ relationships with CPS, Quazzo has declined to answer many recent Sun-Times questions.
She did repeat Tuesday that she will donate profits from the companies or their sale while she remains on the board or within a year of leaving it, saying she has already given about $2,500 to Manierre Elementary School.
“As stated in my letter to Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel and Board President [David] Vitale dated January 5, I have complied with every rule and disclosure requirement that I am aware of,” Quazzo said in an email.
A large amount of the $3.8 million CPS has paid to the online math, reading or ACT prep companies, however, has been through deals with individual schools, not contracts through the board, the Sun-Times found.
CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey called Quazzo “a walking, talking conflict of interest. She is a person who has personally profited from the institution that she is supposed to exert direct oversight of.
“That is not who we need in the school board representing our interests,” he continued. “She is not accountable to the public.”
CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said the differing ethical guidelines were tailored to “their roles and responsibilities.”
“Members of Local Schools Councils have direct authority on approving school budgets and therefore are prohibited from contracting only with the schools for which they serve,” McCaffrey continued. “They can contract with other schools in the district.”
Emanuel has stood by Quazzo, whom he put on the school board when Penny Pritzker left to become U.S. commerce secretary, saying CPS is “lucky to have her.” His office, however, will not say when the mayor learned of her interests in the companies and did not return a message Tuesday seeking comment.
All four mayoral challengers said at a Chicago Tribune editorial board meeting Tuesday that they support an elected school board. Two of them — Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia — have joined in calls for her resignation.
A symbolic referendum to replace the mayor’s appointed board with an elected one will appear on ballots in 37 out of 50 wards on February 24.
On Saturday at a voters forum hosted by the Chicago Women Take Action Alliance, Emanuel called that referendum an attempt to “trick” voters because the change lacks legislative support it needs in Springfield.