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Do as We Say, Not as We Do

The Chicago Public Schools are broke. Teachers have been asked to share the pain. Coaches have been asked to work for free. Bigger class sizes have been threatened. So why are CEO Ron Huberman and other top bureaucrats taking raises?

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In the past few weeks, Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman has called on parents, teachers, students, central office bureaucrats, and ordinary taxpayers to do their part to help the district erase a $900 million budget deficit: Teachers should forgo promised pay hikes. Students must do without sophomore sports. Coaches should be willing to coach for free. Class sizes are likely to swell. Taxpayers should expect higher bills.

And what about the CPS administration? They've already done their bit, according to Huberman. "Over the past year, we have worked to close the budget deficit by focusing on Central Office and Citywide departments," he recently wrote in a memo to schools employees. "These cuts were very difficult, but our primary goal was to minimize direct impact on schools."

Last week Mayor Daley weighed in, admonishing teachers to enter the "real world" and forgo their 4 percent raises. "Government has to diet," Daley told reporters on March 22. "You have to be able to cut back and start sharing the loss that people have."

Wow—that sounds like decisive leadership. But having spent the better part of the last week poring over the 350-page Chicago Public Schools budget, I can tell you there's little evidence that the central office has gone on a diet. In fact, top schools brass are enjoying something like a carbo-loading feast. The district's highest-ranking officials got healthy raises this year— and one of the biggest went to Huberman.

How can CPS dole out raises while claiming to be cutting back? Let this be a lesson about the difference between a press release, disseminated far and wide for mass consumption, and a governing budget, buried on a Web site and read only by insiders and a few really motivated geeks.

The 2009-2010 fiscal year budget was crafted by aides to Huberman and passed in August 2009 by the Board of Education, the seven-member body of mayoral appointees that oversees the school system. Like any government budget, it's basically a list of projections and priorities for the coming year, as the board calculates how much money it expects to collect in taxes and state and federal aid and how it plans to spend it.

Given his stated wish to "minimize direct impact on schools," you might think Huberman would dedicate as much of the available money as possible to people who actually work with students—teachers, teaching aides, coaches, etc. But instead it seems the further you get away from the classroom, the better your chances of being rewarded.

There are 53 departments, bureaus, or offices in the central schools bureaucracy, and the top remaining officials in every one—as well as many of their assistants—received raises, according to the budget.

For example, Calvin Davis, the director of sports, was making $122,000 last year but now makes $128,000. He's the one tasked with e-mailing assistant high school coaches telling them they'll have to work for free—rather than the paltry $1,000 to $2,500 a season they were making.

Communications director Monique Bond is budgeted to make $130,000, up from $111,000 a year ago—that's a 17 percent raise. Prior to following Huberman to CPS a little over a year ago, she was the spokeswoman for the city's police department and before that the aviation department. Last December Reader media columnist Michael Miner reported on her reputation among journalists for making it hard to get information about the schools and wondered whether that's what she'd been hired to do. I for one can attest that she does a pretty good job of blowing off my calls and e-mails.

The director of intergovernmental affairs, Eduardo Garza, got his pay boosted from $109,000 to $113,000. Garza was once a southwest-side independent and in 2006 ran a strong race against state senator Martin Sandoval, an ally of powerful 14th Ward alderman Ed Burke. Burke was so impressed that he found a place for Garza on his City Hall staff. Garza moved over to CPS in 2008 and has been working his way up the food chain ever since.

The Board of Ed also took care of its own. Last year it had 20 employees; this year it has one more, an "acting director" of the board who makes $146,000. Other high-paying board jobs include deputy chief of staff ($155,000) and secretary to the board ($111,000), both making more this year than last. The salary for the chief of staff to the board—a position held by David Pickens until March 26, when he resigned—was bumped to $163,000 from $155,000. That's the same David Pickens who recently said that when he was an aide to Huberman's predecessor, Arne Duncan, he kept a so-called clout list of supplicants who'd begged administrators to get their kids into one of the high-performing schools. The admissions policies at these schools are now the subject of a federal investigation.

Employees in Huberman's office were also rewarded. Besides Huberman himself, the office has two other employees making more than $100,000 a year: a "manager" whose salary went from $98,500 to $103,400 and a "senior professional" whose pay was trimmed a few hundred bucks and now stands at about $102,000.

And Huberman himself? His budgeted salary jumped from about $204,000 to $230,000—a hike of $26,000, or 12.7 percent. Not bad in a recession.

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