Letters to parents about school financial problems are nothing unusual, but one from the head of Chicago Public Schools has created a firestorm of criticism.
CPS CEO Forrest Claypool announced a $46 million spending freeze as well as other possible cuts, including one for $18 million for independently run schools. The letter was filled with pointed attacks on Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, whom Claypool lambasted for not doing more to give the district enough funding.
And in a move that particularly infuriated parents, and others, Claypool said that in neglecting Chicago schools, Rauner was acting like President Donald Trump.
“Just like Trump, he’s attacking children of immigrants, he’s attacking racial minorities, attacking the poor here in Chicago,” Claypool said in the letter, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “In this case it’s children, which is particularly shameful.”
That was one of several references he made to Trump in his comparisons of the governor and the president. Claypool urged parents to reach out to Rauner’s office and tell the governor to “stop acting like President Trump” and to be fair to their children.
The criticism over the letter has been steadily pouring in, with parents, taxpayer groups and some educators calling the partisan political tone inappropriate.
Many also take Claypool to task for what they say is his move to punt to the state the problems that the school district itself – as well as city officials, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel -- helped create.
“Using partisan politics is not an effective way to build trust with Chicago public school parents and students,” said Sarah Brune, spokesperson for Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a non-partisan organization that advocates for transparency and accountability in government. “Voters expect both public officials and employees to take a neutral stance on politics, particularly when it’s about a local issue.”
“There’s no reason to get national politics involved,” Brune told Fox News. “And the mixing of political opinions and work during city time makes people uncomfortable.”
Efforts to get a comment from CPS were unsuccessful.
The Sun-Times noted that Claypool and Emanuel have been taking shots at Rauner because of the governor’s veto of a bill that called for giving CPS $215 million for teacher pensions.
Troy LaRaviere, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, wrote a letter that appeared in the Chicago Tribune in which he challenged Claypool to take responsibility for CPS’s own role in creating a financial mess.
“While Rauner deserves his share of the blame for the state's failure to rescue our students from this perilous circumstance,” LaRaviere wrote, “it is not Rauner's mismanagement that brought us to this crisis. That responsibility lies with Claypool, his recent predecessors, the Chicago Board of Education — and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who appointed them all.”
“They've had six years to get CPS out of this situation,” LaRaviere continued, “yet they continue to create financial chaos year after year and point the finger at Springfield for failing to rescue Chicago's children from the chaos they've created.”
Illinois Secretary of Education Beth Purvis was not pleased with Claypool’s letter, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“Why would CPS arbitrarily create a crisis and hurt its students and teachers rather than work to pass the Senate’s balanced budget reform package?” Purvis wrote to parents.