IG Recommends Firing Embattled CPS CEO Forrest Claypool
Updated at 8:10 pm
The Chicago Public Schools inspector general is recommending the firing of school system CEO Forrest Claypool, according to a knowledgeable source.
CPS Inspector General Nicholas Schuler on Tuesday delivered to the board a report on his investigation into a potential ethics violation involving CPS’ general counsel and alleged attempts by Claypool to block it. A source tells WBEZ the inspector general wants CEO Forrest Claypool fired for lying during the investigation. In response, the mayor praised Claypool and said in a statement that the public should avoid making "snap judgments."
CPS Board President Frank Clark on Wednesday evening confirmed he had received Schuler’s report. In a statement, Clark said the board would review the IG’s report and “we take seriously our responsibility to thoughtfully and thoroughly evaluate this report, and we will do so.”
He also made a point of praising Claypool’s “exemplary leadership." Clark said Claypool has done “excellent work fighting for the equal funding for Chicago's students.”
The mayor, who appointed Claypool, also released a statement Wednesday.
“Forrest made a mistake. There’s no question about that, and I take that very seriously. But he was also big enough to stand up, admit his mistake, and publicly apologize for it. That says a lot about who Forrest is, and that’s the Forrest I know,” Emanuel said.
“Forrest deserves a lot of credit for his role in our schools. That’s his record and that is his passion. These are serious allegations, and I know the Board is reviewing them with the scrutiny they merit – but Forrest himself has already acknowledged the lapse in judgment, and apologized for it. And I think we should all take a deep breath before making snap judgments about a man with a sterling reputation and a sterling record of public service."
The mayor also said last month that he had full confidence in Claypool. That came after Claypool released a letter addressed to the IG in which he apologized for a “misstatement” he made to Schuler during the ethics investigation.
Claypool admitted in a letter that he wrongly recalled an incident during an interview with the IG regarding the possible ethics violation by CPS’ chief lawyer, Ronald Marmer.
The inspector general was investigating whether Marmer improperly supervised the work of his former law firm for the school system — while still getting severance pay from it.
Claypool strongly defends the hiring of the law firm and has said he does not believe there’s an ethics violation.
Schuler told WBEZ he had no comment on his report.
Other Chicago Board of Education news
Also Wednesday, board of education members got their first taste of opposition to the school district’s proposal to close four under-enrolled Englewood high schools.
The father of Chance the Rapper was one of the strongest voices — and he aimed his fire at Claypool.
Ken Bennett, an ally of Emanuel and a longtime top city official, called on the board to exercise greater oversight over CEO Claypool.
At the board meeting Wednesday, Bennett noted his friendship with Claypool and then accused the CEO of changing since he took the job.
“The Forrest Claypool that I see who is running CPS right now is not the Forrest Claypool I have known over the years and I am deeply disturbed,” Bennett, a senior advisor with Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism bureau, said before he started talking about the proposed closings. His son, whose given name is Chancelor Bennett, is a strong supporter of the city schools.
In response, Claypool said he was not behind the plan to close the four South Side schools and consolidate them into one new building.
Claypool said it was driven by the community. Some members of the Englewood Community Action Council, a group formed by CPS, came to the board meeting to support the plan.
President Clark complimented Claypool during the meeting but neither he nor any other board member responded to Bennett’s call for greater oversight of the CEO.
With a five-year moratorium on school closings lifting next year, CPS last week formally proposed closing the four Englewood high schools — Harper, Team Englewood, Robeson, and Hope — in June.
CPS plans to replace them with one new $85 million school in Englewood, but it won't be open until 2019 and will only accept freshmen. CPS says it has budgeted $8.3 million to help students at the closed schools transition to new schools next year.
So far, Harper High School in West Englewood has waged the biggest battle against the plan. Ald. Ray Lopez (15th ward) said he has suggested many ways to improve Harper.
The school district will hold community meetings and hearings in January on the Englewood plan and proposed changes for other schools. The board could vote on these proposals as early as February.
Trying to win community buy-in appears central to the board’s latest approach for dealing with under-enrolled schools. Nearly five years after closing a record 50 schools, CPS is once again confronting the realities of declining enrollment and excess capacity.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the board also approved a controversial charter school that wants to share a building with Hirsch High School, an under-enrolled school in the South Side Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood. Art in Motion Charter School will focus on the performing arts.
Chicago Teachers Union Recording Secretary Michael Brunson warned that the organization in line to manage the school is tied to a company that’s connected to the scandal that brought down former CPS CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett.
The charter school is also backed by the New Life Covenant Church, whose pastor is John Hannah. Hannah told the board he was opening the new charter to help Hirsch.
But many Hirsch students and parents oppose the co-location. They believe it will result in the eventual closing of Hirsch.
Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. You can follow her @WBEZeducation.