Rauner downplays ties of group he once ran to firm involved in federal probe of CPS
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Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday tried to distance a private education group he once ran from the federal investigation that has ensnared Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.
First, Rauner mistakenly argued that the Chicago Public Education Fund had no connection to the firm at the center of the scandal. Then he characterized himself as occasionally “frustrated” by the organization’s lack of independence from City Hall.
Rauner, speaking before a national education writers group at the Intercontinental Hotel, was asked what role private foundations should have in state education policy in light of the federal probe focusing on SUPES Academy, which received a $20 million no-bid contract to train Chicago Public Schools principals. The firm once employed Byrd-Bennett, who has temporarily stepped down from her CPS post.
Documents released last week show federal authorities are seeking documents tied to the Chicago Public Education Fund, the private education group Rauner once chaired and still serves as a director emeritus. The nonprofit fund, bankrolled by some of the wealthiest people in Chicago and Illinois, provided the seed money to launch SUPES. On Monday, that group described itself as a witness in the ongoing probe and said it was cooperating.
“Let’s back up. Illinois and Chicago have a long, long sordid history of insider dealing and corruption and conflict of interest. . . . That particular group, I don’t know anything about, was brought in by I believe by this CEO of schools,” Rauner said. “It wasn’t brought in by the fund, by the foundation.”
Rauner was corrected by a reporter who asked the question from the audience, saying it was the Fund that Rauner was once part of that in fact brought in SUPES.
Rauner replied: “I believe that Barbara had worked there before? Had worked for that group? Anyway, but let me finish the point. I believe in public-private partnerships. I believe that there can be private capital brought to assist government in turning itself around, think that’s a good thing.
“My experience with the education fund has been mostly good although I will say this: The fund didn’t make many of its own decisions as much as it was a facilitator for the mayor or the schools leaders. It was really more of a support group rather than a truly independent group. That was a source of frustration to me at the time. The investigation, I hope the potential wrongdoing that I read about didn’t occur, I don’t know.”
The Chicago Public Education Fund was listed in one of the subpoenas. Federal investigators sought records from CPS pertaining to the politically powerful philanthropy group.
On Monday, the group characterized their involvement in the investigation as that of witnesses and said they’re cooperating.
Heather Y. Anichini, CEO of the Chicago Public Education Fund, said the group made a $380,000 grant to SUPES Academy for a one-year pilot program to train CPS network chiefs and their deputies — the district’s bureaucrats who directly supervise principals. She said the Fund had been approached by someone from the office of Byrd-Bennett’s predecessor, Jean-Claude Brizard — and that predated her employment.
Anichini told reporters at the same education conference that the Fund has proved its independence, caling Rauner “wrong.”
“I think the strongest example I can give is that in 2012, we decided not to grant additional funding to SUPES,” when asked by CPS to continue it, she said. Since that time, she said, no one at the Fund has had any contact with SUPES.
However, she would not say why specifically funding was halted, citing the pending investigation.
In general though, she explained, “We set very clear expectations for what we want those programs to provide for principals. In cases where those expectations are being met, we continue to work with those organizations.”