The Chicago Public Schools is a system so broke it can't afford sophomore sports, wants assistant coaches to work for free, and has summoned hundreds of teachers to the principal's office to let them know they'll be laid off over the summer. But it can still afford to pay 133 central office officials more than $100,000 a year.
That's what budget reform looks like to schools CEO Ron Huberman.
About two months ago, when Huberman and the Board of Education cut sophomore sports, they said the district, roughly $900 million in the red, could only afford to let freshmen, juniors, and seniors play after-school sports—even after laying off dozens of well paid administrators.
It irked me that a city so rich it could afford to shower subsidies on profitable corporations such as United Airlines and MillerCoors to the tune of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars couldn't afford to let sophomores play.
So I decided to do a little digging. After spending hours plowing through the 350-page 2009-2010 CPS budget, I discovered that contrary to cutting wages at the central office, Huberman and the board had given raises to scores of top bureaucrats.
The story I wrote about it April 1 was widely circulated among angry teachers and students. The central office responded by calling me downtown for my own special budget briefing, where four officials—operations manager Jerome Goudelock, chief human capital officer Alicia Winckler, CFO Diana Ferguson, and district spokeswoman Monique Bond—sat me in a room and assured me that what I'd discovered in the budget weren't "raises" even though salaries had increased—a distinction I still don't quite understand.
- AP PHOTO/CHARLES REX ARBOGAST
- Ron Huberman
More important, they said, I shouldn't look for that kind of information in the budget—even though it's supposed to govern the district's spending. Instead, I should look at their payroll database to see exactly how much employees get paid.
Fine, I said, and asked for a copy of the database.
Oh, no, Bond replied—to get that I'd have to file a request under the state's Freedom of Information Act.
In other words, the budget, which is publicly available, is inaccurate, but the payroll, which is accurate, isn't available for public consumption unless we jump through some hoops to get it.
I was promised that they were all working to improve transparency—as if it wasn't in their power to supply me with what I needed in the first place.
On April 8 my colleague Mick Dumke filed a FOIA request for the payroll, and the district's FOIA officer, Cassandra Daniels, said she'd get right on it.
Sounds good, right? Well let me tell you, nothing comes easy with the CPS brass.
By law CPS was supposed to reply within five working days. Sure enough, on April 15 Daniels got in touch. She said the district needed a little more time.
On April 21, she wrote again to ask for more. Mick asked what the delay was, reminding her that Bond had suggested the database was something they probably have on hand—since, you know, the district knows who it's paying.
"We did have it handy," Daniels said. "But that information was pre-layoff. So it had to be re-created." I don't mean to shoot the messenger here, especially since Daniels was nothing if not polite and straightforward. But "re-created"? Say what?
On April 28 Daniels got back in touch to report that the district's human resources department was "wrapping up" our request. It finally arrived on May 10. I've been obsessively studying it ever since.
What I've found has made me a tad depressed. Guess my mother was right—I should have gone to law school. The district has at least 19 attorneys on the payroll making more than $100,000.
As for the rest of it—well, it's even worse than I expected.
At a May 11 press conference with the mayor, Huberman insisted that he's pretty much cut the central office payroll to the bone. "Throughout this year, the mayor has challenged us to tighten our belt in many ways," Huberman said. "And in the administrative ranks we've reduced or eliminated over 50 positions that make over $100,000, all to tighten our belts internally."
He may have cut 50 positions—for now we'll have to take his word for it as he hasn't released any supporting documentation.
But the database we do have shows that since he took over for Arne Duncan in January 2009 he's hired 45 new administrators who make more than $100,000. So that's pretty much a wash: Duncan's guys out, Huberman's guys in.
And according to the budget, Huberman's guys are making more money than Duncan's did. Bond and the other officials I met with confirmed that at least this part of the budget is accurate.. Huberman's now spending more on his central office big shots than Duncan was on his. I never, ever thought I'd long for the days of Arne Duncan.
Among the people Huberman's hired is Monique Bond, who was the press flack under him at the Chicago Police Department. She's making $130,380. Michael Shields, who used to work with Bond at the police department, now makes $150,000 at CPS as director of security.