CPS CEO accused of lying in ethics investigation

CHICAGO -- Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool is accused of engaging in a “cover up” to thwart an ethics investigation.

The district’s inspector general is recommending that he should be fired. But for now Claypool has the support of the mayor.

Mayor Emanuel says there’s two sides to every story and that Claypool should have a chance to tell his. But the embattled CPS CEO cancelled his public schedule today, and – at least so far -- isn’t talking about the report calling for his firing.

The damning 13-page report from Inspector General Nicholas Schuler was given to the Chicago Board of Education behind closed doors last night. It details how Claypool engaged in a “full-blown cover-up” trying to hide an ethics violation by changing district financial records. The report goes on to say Claypool “repeatedly lied” when asked about it.

Claypool told an investigator that as the top man at CPS “I’m not looking at freaking bills.” But he did in fact pay close attention and directed an attorney to change an invoice for legal advice that Claypool was getting to try to stop an ethics investigation.

The report says Claypool attempted to keep harmful and embarrassing information from the public. The report states, “At every turn in this matter, Claypool kept making matters worse.”

The inspector general recommends Claypool’s firing and asked the board, “What kind of signal would it send to CPS employees, parents and children if the CEO was allowed to change records as part of a cover-up and keep his job?

Officials at the Chicago Teachers Union agree.

“This is just more evidence to show he’s corrupt,” says Jackson Potter. “He thinks if he doesn’t do so immediately, that both of them are under a cloud of suspicion. This guy has falsified documents, he had lied about falsifying documents, he’s gone lawyer shopping, he’s given consultant fees and taken resources out of special education classrooms most vulnerable students are suffering.”

Claypool was appointed by his long-time friend and political ally Emanuel.

“There’s always two sides and Forrest deserves the right to be heard, and he’s preparing to have that heard,” Emanuel said. “Forrest acknowledged he made a mistake – that’s a sign of character. To publicly acknowledge where you’re wrong and take responsibility for it.”

Claypool was brought in as a squeaky-clean leader in the wake of the criminal corruption scheme of the last CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett.

The inspector general will forward a formal recommendation for Claypool’s firing to the school board. The board will ultimately decide his fate.

Claypool’s entire statement is as follows:

I made a mistake. I can't put my mind back in that high pressure place--when we were negotiating with the CTU and fighting to keep schools funded and open in the final days of the legislative session. But I look at the facts today and see that I misread the situation, and made mistakes in judgment, and I apologize for this.
I pursued the goal of keeping schools open with the same single-mindedness with which I pursued every public position I’ve held over nearly 30 years. Like anyone else, I’m embarrassed by my mistakes, but remain proud of how we’ve moved this system forward despite seemingly insurmountable financial hurdles.
However, let’s be clear about what this situation is and what it isn’t.
This is not a case of anyone profiting off of CPS; no one in this story gained a dollar. This is not a case of anyone taking anything from children; this is a case of fighting to get more resources for children. In fact, the only ones who profited from this pursuit of justice were our students, who have another $450 million of funding from the state due to the efforts our team.
To put this in perspective: This situation is about how I zealously tried to get Chicago students their fair share of state education dollars, after years and years racial discrimination, and getting those kids the best possible legal representation.
While I continue to have a strong disagreement with Mr. Schuler’s interpretation of the Board policy – which I believe was written to prevent profiteering off the schools – I have already acknowledged that in my desire to ensure the best possible legal representation, and keep public attention focused squarely and solely on the civil rights injustice against CPS kids, that I mishandled some matters.
I have fully acknowledged my mistakes in judgment and apologized. I apologize again today. But I do not regret the passion for justice that led to that mistake. I will always fight hard to ensure that CPS children, regardless of race or income, receive the educations they deserve.
With apologies for errors I made along the way, I stand proud of the work I’ve done at CPS and throughout my career in service to the City of Chicago, to give its residents better parks, better trains and buses, and, most importantly, the best schools.