When government big shots spin contacts into gold
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Few things should trouble a citizen more than a big shot government official who quits his job, sets up a private business and spins his old contacts into gold.
That it happens every day — the revolving door can leave you dizzy — makes it no less objectionable.
It is fair to wonder, every time, whether the big shot government official cut sweet deals with contractors, laying the groundwork to join them one day. It is equally fair to wonder whether the big shot, once he has jumped to the private sector, enjoys an insider’s advantage with his old colleagues in getting government business.
It is all too cozy.
Forgive us, then, if we take a dim view of the way former Chicago Public Schools chief Ron Huberman has jumped to the private sector and, almost immediately, begun making money off the same charter school operations he once vigorously championed. At minimum, we have to question whether it is appropriate for Huberman to serve on Gov. Bruce Rauner’s transition team, given the state’s oversight of charter schools.
In 2011, Huberman stepped down as CEO of the public schools and founded TeacherMatch LLC, which provides software to help schools screen job applicants. Just two years later, in 2013, TeacherMatch reported $286,000 in total revenues and $1.9 million from investors — clearly a company on the move.
But as Dan Mihalopoulos of the Sun-Times reported Monday, of the nearly 500 current job openings listed on TeacherMatch’s website, more than half are for jobs at charter schools in Chicago.
As schools chief under Mayor Richard M. Daley for two years, Huberman was a strong advocate of charter schools. He granted permission for the Noble Network of Charter Schools to enroll more students at three campuses and approved a new Noble School on the South Side. He signed an agreement allowing the United Neighborhood Organization charter network to open a new 600-student elementary school, and he allowed the network to lease a CPS building for a year for $1.
Now Huberman, as a private entrepreneur, is doing business with those two charter groups and others. In late 2013, Noble signed a four-year, no-bid deal with TeacherMatch worth at least $107,000. And UNO’s charter network has chosen TeacherMatch over one other bidder, a St. Louis company, to provide “instructional staff-applicant screening” services.
CPS’ ethic code does not clearly prohibit any of this, but it should. Former CPS officials are not barred from doing business with charter operators, even charter operators they were very nice to. Charters, which rely heavily on government funds, should have to abide by the same ethics rules as all city public schools.
The appearance of impropriety is blatant.