At the last Chicago Board of Education meeting under the control of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, board members on Wednesday are set to approve an extra boost of cash for a politically connected organization that was once a darling of this mayor and the previous one.
In an unusual move, they are being asked to nearly double the contract amount for the Academy for Urban School Leadership to pay for work already done this fiscal year. If approved, AUSL would get nearly $3.8 million, up from the $2 million laid out in the original contract.
AUSL officials confirmed the additional amount would pay for work going on now, but would not elaborate. Chicago Public Schools also did not respond to questions about why AUSL is getting extra money.
AUSL is an alternative teacher education program that became well-known for orchestrating school turnarounds — a process in which they would take over a school, fire the staff and implement their own education model.
According to the amended contract, the $3.8 million is to pay for 90 teachers in training, four training academies and four training sites. It is unclear whether this is more than what was planned under the original contract.
AUSL got its start in 2001 under Mayor Richard M. Daley and his longtime CEO Arne Duncan. Duncan announced he was tapped to become U.S. education secretary at an AUSL school, bringing a national spotlight to the organization.
Emanuel has also been a fan. In his first three years in office, the school district handed over the management of 14 schools, about as many as in the previous decade. In 2012, CPS paid AUSL more than $10 million. He also brought two AUSL leaders to CPS, including David Vitale, who served as president of the board of education, and Tim Cawley, who served as CPS’ chief administrative officer.
But as Emanuel faced increasing pressure to curtail or end the practice of privatizing schools, the appetite for turnarounds began to wane. The last time CPS handed control of a school to AUSL was in 2014.
Still, the organization continues to run about 30 schools, using some of them as training grounds for cohorts of aspiring teachers.