Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s track record for picking leaders of his city’s school system, the nation’s third largest, just took a new hit.
In 2015, the woman whom he selected, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, resigned amid a major bribery scandal that sent her to prison. Emanuel replaced her with his longtime friend, Forrest Claypool, who just became the second consecutive Chicago schools chief to announce he is leaving — and he’s doing it in the middle of scandal.
Claypool said he will vacate the position as chief executive officer of the school district, which he has held for 2 1/2 years, on Dec. 31. That announcement was made after the Board of Education’s inspector general, Nicholas Schuler, in a report released last week accused Claypool of “repeatedly” lying in a “full-blown cover-up” during an ethics investigation involving the school district’s general counsel, Ronald Marmer.
Emanuel tapped an acting successor, Janice Jackson, who has extensive experience in schools, unlike Claypool, who had none.
Claypool was the third chief of Chicago schools appointed by Emanuel since he first won office in 2011. The first was Jean-Claude Brizard, former leader of the Rochester, N.Y., school district, who lasted in Chicago only 17 months, resigning after the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike. Then, Emanuel picked Byrd-Bennett in 2012, Claypool in 2016 and now, Jackson. She is the seventh chief of Chicago schools going back to 2009, when Arne Duncan left the job to become education secretary under then President Barack Obama.
The investigation into Marmer was started by the inspector general after the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the general counsel was receiving $200,000 yearly severance payments from his old law firm even as it was hired by the Chicago Board of Education. Marmer supervised the firm’s work, violating ethics rules. Schuler said Claypool lied about whether he had sought changes to a bill that was part of evidence collected in the investigation into Marmer. Claypool recently released a letter admitting to an error in judgment and acknowledging he had asked for the changes to the bill.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times:
“Claypool greatly compounded the severity of his misconduct when he repeatedly lied to the [inspector general’s office] through two separate interviews,” Schuler wrote.
Schuler called Claypool’s departure “a step toward restoring institutional credibility.”
Emanuel did not accept the inspector general’s characterization, appearing with Claypool on Friday. Emanuel called his friend and former chief of staff “selfless” and “courageous,” and praised him for restoring faith in the school district after the Byrd-Bennett debacle. Emanuel had earlier sought to downplay the accusations that Claypool had lied, saying he had exercised a mistake in judgment.
It is, incidentally, the fourth time in the last few years that the head of a Chicago government agency had to leave the Emanuel administration because of scandal.
Some people in Chicago are now asking why the mayor should keep getting to select the schools chief and urging a return to an elected school board. One of those people is Chance the Rapper, who was born and raised in Chicago and who this year promised to donate up to $1 million to help the school district with its funding crisis. His father, Ken Williams-Bennett, is a former deputy chief to Emanuel.
(Clarifying: Schuler is the Board of Education’s inspector general)