Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has appointed a one-time political rival to serve on the board of trustees at the cash-strapped Chicago State University.
Paul Vallas campaigned against Rauner two years ago when he was the lieutenant governor candidate on the ticket with then-Gov. Pat Quinn.
But Vallas had a very different tone Tuesday.
“The day after the campaign, I called the governor that morning and congratulated him, and wished him well and told him that if he ever needed any help not to hesitate to call me,” Vallas said. “And of course he’s called, and I’m really excited about the opportunity he’s presented to me.”
Vallas has led several school districts throughout his career, including Chicago Public Schools in 1995.
Vallas has been something of a lightning rod in his career. When he was selected to be Quinn’s running mate in 2013, the Chicago Teachers Union expressed concerns over what Vallas had done to other school districts, despite the union’s support of Quinn.
“Vallas ushered in an era of massive expansion of standardized testing; the privatization of public schools through outsourcing and charter school expansion; and the devastating policy of school turnarounds, which resulted in the firing of scores of black and veteran teachers,” CTU President Karen Lewis said in a statement at the time.
Now Vallas will be part of the team tasked with turning around Chicago State, which said it was in a financial emergency. Its previous president, Thomas Calhoun, was only on the job for nine months before trustees approved a $600,000 separation agreement with him. School officials also canceled spring break in 2016 to make sure it could afford to stay open for graduation.
Rauner wouldn’t discuss specifics about how Chicago State’s new leaders could make any long-term financial plans without state money because of the budget impasse. Instead, Rauner spoke broadly about issues that he sees facing all Illinois universities, including “bureaucratic bloat” and a “tremendous amount of overhead.”
“The pensions are broken. The work rules, the structure, the bureaucratic inertia: unaffordable and unsustainable,” Rauner said. “We’ve gotta change that while bringing more resources to the university system.”
In addition to Vallas’ appointment, Rauner is also creating a committee to advise the new leadership of the university that will be comprised of business and education policy leaders around Chicago, including Jim Reynolds, Tony Anderson and University of Illinois-Chicago Chancellor Michael Amiridis.
Chicago State has a student population that’s mostly African-American. Many of the students are returning to school, and their average age is 30 years old.