FIGHT BETWEEN CPS AND INSPECTOR GENERAL BENEFITS NO ONE
The job of the Chicago Board of Education inspector general is to investigate allegations of fraud and financial mismanagement in city schools.
It’s not surprising then that the boss of Chicago Public Schools, CEO Forrest Claypool, usually doesn’t like what he hears from the inspector general. It’s inherent to the process. Reports from the inspector should make a boss unhappy but, better yet, eager to right wrongs.
Claypool, unfortunately, is fighting back against Inspector General Nicholas Schuler instead of seeking a collaborative relationship to figure out how to improve the alternative high school at Cook County Jail. Chicago can’t have a war between its CEO of schools and inspector general when they share a common goal: to make sure Chicago’s young people get an education.
In September, the inspector went public with a report that was critical of Principal Sharnette Sims of York High School, the alternative school at Cook County Jail. He recommended she be fired for reasons of falsified attendance records and class credits. One of the more disturbing revelations was that a student was recorded as being in classes even after he had been released from jail and had died. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart barred the principal from the school a day after the inspector released the report.
CPS launched its own investigation and, in reporting its findings Thursday, cleared the principal of wrongdoing and gave her the OK to go back to work. The school district said the inspector’s findings were “unsubstantiated and unfounded.”
Without a doubt, the report by CPS shows the difficulty of teaching teenagers and young adults at the jail. The population there is transient and inmates are troubled. But we’re not convinced the inspector general’s report should be dismissed. It raised valid points, even if its ultimate conclusion — that the principal should be fired — was not a finding shared by CPS.
For instance, Schuler’s investigation found, and CPS does not dispute, that disturbing incidents that could put teachers in danger were not being reported often enough to CPS. That included assaults, students masturbating in class and students being drunk after making their own booze.
In its investigation, the school district found problems with taking attendance that need to be remedied, though it didn’t fault the principal.
CPS accused the inspector general of a last- minute data dump regarding student attendance, enrollment and credit information that led to errors. The district al- leges that more than 60 percent of “falsified” data found by the inspector general was not falsified.
There was also a “racial element” to the inspector general’s investigation, CPS alleges. The district’s report says the inspector general’s staff interviewed mostly white teachers even though the staff is mostly African- American. Schuler says race played no part in his work.
Investigators for the school district paint a picture that suggests the inspector general exaggerated the “pressure” felt by teachers to issue credits to students.
We can’t be sure who’s in the right. But we wouldn’t be stuck with such a fuzzy picture if Claypool’s staff had collaborated better with Schuler’s staff to iron out differences in methodology. Further investigation could have been requested to address contradictory testimony.
It’s clear to us, too, that a second and separate investigation by Schuler is not sitting well with Claypool and his team. Schuler found that the district violated ethics rules by allowing general counsel Ronald Marmer to supervise work being done by his former law firm, which was paying him a seven- figure severance package. Schuler accused Claypool of being involved in an “apparent whitewash attempt” of the violation.
We can only wonder whether CPS ripped the inspector general’s study of the jail school to diminish the IG’s credibility, or simply as payback.
We see a troubling pattern with the school district under Claypool. Officials work hard to discredit charges of impropriety — whether they involve special education curriculum or ethics violations — when the greater focus should be on fixing things.
In the public schools, there is plenty to fix.
Nicholas Schuler Forrest Claypool
A student prepares materials in the art classroom at Consuella B. York Alternative High School within the Cook County Jail in January 2016. ASHLEE REZIN/ SUN- TIMES