A Raise by Any Other Name | Politics | Chicago Reader

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A Raise by Any Other Name

Schools officials say that while top brass are getting paid more than they used to, that doesn't mean they've gotten raises.

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OK, let me try a different track: The school board raised the amount of money allocated for the CEO from $204,000 to $230,000—correct?

Correct.

So when the board hired Huberman, he was paid a higher salary than his predecessor had been making?

Yes.

So why would the board give Huberman $230,000 at the height of a budget crisis if his predecessor, Arne Duncan, was making $204,000?

First of all, Bond said, Huberman won't make the full $230,000 because he's taking voluntary furlough days. Second, Duncan wasn't making $204,000 when he left.

But the budget says that's what the CEO was allocated for 2008-2009.

Yes, she said, but between August 2008, when the board passed that budget, and January 2009, when Duncan left to become President Obama's secretary of education, the board gave him a raise.

And when exactly was that?

Goudelock looked it up on his laptop and wrote the answer on a piece of paper: on September 1, 2008, the board raised Duncan's salary from $202,475 to $212,502. Incidentally, that was less than a week after the school board passed the 2008-2009 budget that listed Duncan's salary at $204,000.

So in the midst of the greatest economic meltdown since the Great Depression—when it was clear they would have to cope with declining property tax revenues—the board gave Arne Duncan a raise? Why?

"We weren't here," Bond said. "We can't comment."

We sat in silence, Goudelock, Winckler, and Ferguson looking at me, me looking at them. Bond responded to a text message on her cell phone.

To be honest, I almost felt sorry for them. They seemed like intelligent, well-intentioned people who probably wouldn't want to be caught uttering total nonsense. But they were also obviously team players and not about to deviate from the company line, especially with Bond in the room.

Tell me the truth, I pleaded, knowing full well that they wouldn't or couldn't. If we were having a cup of coffee at Starbucks, wouldn't you agree with everything I wrote?

They smiled—sort of.

My story had also pointed out that this year's budget increased the amount of money dozens of central office departments got to spend on things like magazine subscriptions, seminars, and travel expenses. So I asked them about that as well.

"That was under a previous board president," said Bond, referring to Michael Scott, who committed suicide last November. "The new board president, Mary Richardson-Lowry, is making extensive cuts."

So I can expect to see cuts in subscriptions and memberships reflected in the budget you pass in August? Along with the other millions of dollars in central office job cuts you claim to have made?

Absolutely, I was told.

By then we'd been talking for an hour. This is what I'd learned: Salaries had gone up, but they weren't really raises. And office allowances had gone up, but the guy responsible for that was no longer around. Arne Duncan had made more than any budget said he'd made, and in fact no budget can ever be counted on to provide an accurate representation of what anyone makes. And if some pain-in-the-neck reporter really wants to know what's going on, he should file a FOIA request.

Well, it's good to know where you stand.

I needed only one last thing: confirmation of everybody's full names and titles.

Ferguson gave me her business card, which included a work number and e-mail address—but then worried aloud that I might try to e-mail her. She reiterated that if I wanted any further information I would need to request it through Bond.

The other two didn't offer cards, instead writing their names, titles, and e-mail addresses on a sheet of paper.

I told Ferguson not to worry. I copied her name and title down on another piece of paper and handed her card back to her.

We exchanged friendly smiles but she made no move to give me the card again. And with that my personal budget briefing was over.

In case you're wondering, I didn't drink any coffee. Of course, they didn't actually offer me any. For all I know, coffee for visiting reporters was one of the first cuts made by Mary Richardson-Lowry. I'll be looking for it in next year's budget.   

Ben Joravsky discusses his reporting weekly with journalist Dave Glowacz at mrradio.org/theworks.

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