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Rauner blasts CPS as layered in ‘bureaucracy’ once run as ‘political patronage operation’

Gov. Bruce Rauner laid into Chicago Public Schools on Monday, accusing the third largest school district in the nation of spending state money on “layers of bureaucracy” and charging that CPS has operated as a “political patronage operation.”

“The simple fact is, Chicago spends way more than the average school district spends in the state of Illinois. Chicago gets and spends a lot of money on education. It doesn’t get spent the right way. It doesn’t get put in the classroom with teachers. It gets spent on bureaucracy,” Rauner charged while speaking before the Education Writers Association in Chicago. “A lot of CPS for years was run as a patronage operation. It wasn’t run as an education system. It was run as a political patronage operation. We in Illinois blend our politics and our governments in a way that most states don’t. That’s where we get our corruption from and our conflicts of interest from.”

The comments did not seem to bode well for Chicago Public Schools, which will need state help in filling a gaping budget hole. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS have complained of what they call double taxation on city residents.

“It is no secret that Chicago Public Schools has long faced serious fiscal challenges that are primarily driven by a broken pension system that forces Chicago taxpayers to pay twice — for both downstate and Chicago teacher pensions,” CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said. “CPS has worked to keep cuts away from the classroom, including making more than $740 million in cuts from central office in the last four years. We will continue to advocate for meaningful pension reform in Springfield to protect the important educational gains our students are making such as record graduation rates, attendance and ACT scores.”

Rauner’s remarks included what is becoming a customary theme of criticizing teachers’ unions and their role in education.

“I love teachers. Teachers union — you know what? The schools don’t belong to the teachers union. They have a voice. They should have a voice,” he said. “The schools don’t belong to the teachers union. They belong to the parents and the taxpayers of the system. That’s where the power should be. That’s where the decisions should be made. We gotta change that whole conversation in Illinois. The power should be with the people.”

However, Rauner does not support an elected school board in Chicago, according to a spokesman for the governor. That issue served as one of the major themes in this spring’s mayoral race and aldermanic campaigns with teachers unions and progressives pushing to change mayor’s power to appoint.

State teachers’ groups have in turn blasted Rauner’s budget decisions, saying he hid his “radical” agenda during a contentious campaign for state office. The union hammered Rauner for authorizing $100 million in corporate tax credits days after what has been dubbed the “Good Friday Massacre,” when Rauner sliced $26 million in aid to the indigent and developmentally disabled. 

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey called Rauner’s criticism of teachers “rich” considering his history as a proponent for corporate involvement in education.

“The reason there isn’t more of a parent voice in the schools is there’s too much corporate voice in the schools. There’s a whole culture of privatization,” Sharkey told the Sun-Times. “For the hundreds of turnarounds, charters and probation schools, it’s literally taken the voice away from the local school councils . . . It’s handing over school finance and decision-making power to people who don’t come out of an education world.”

Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery criticized Rauner for recommending across-the-board cuts at state universities as well as other education initiatives.

“Governor Rauner ought to take notes, not give a lecture on the right way to fund education,” Montgomery said in a statement. “You can’t invest in the future of Illinois by cutting successful programs that allow our young people to excel and gutting resources for higher education. The Governor didn’t mention these radical changes as a candidate, and many predicted that it would be impossible for him to keep his promise of increasing education funding while shrinking the revenue stream.”

On state testing, Rauner complained about the ISAT test, saying “it’s good that it’s gone.”

“Now we have the new PARCC system put in. I don’t know how I feel about it. I certainly don’t want the federal government controlling our curriculum in our classrooms, that’s locally controlled. But we do
need a consistent, rigorous, objective way to measure student growth,” Rauner said.

Rauner gave the remarks even as he sought to sell part of his “Turnaround Agenda” bringing to the stage his new $250,000-a-year secretary of Education, Beth Purvis, who complained that Illinois has too many units of school government.

Purvis noted that the state has 850 school districts, saying “in a state of this size, makes no sense.” She said one school district was made up of just 250 students.

“When you look at those levels of government and the money that is taking away from the classroom . . . the idea of if we can get that money into the hands of principals and into the hands of teachers, that is a much more effective,” she said.