Chicago Public Schools (CPS) principal Troy LaRaviere faced the media Thursday morning to speak out against the "politically motivated charges" leveled against him by the district.
Last month, CPS removed LaRaviere -- an outspoken critic of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS -- from Blaine Elementary School in Lakeview and reassigned him to his home with pay until the disciplinary process is complete.
CPS has 12 total dismissal charges pending against LaRaviere involving insubordination, dereliction of duty and ethics violations.
LaRaviere's removal comes as he runs for president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, the election for which is currently underway and ballots will be counted next week.
"When I was a lone voice, the administration tolerated me," LaRaviere said this morning at the Wishbone Restaurant on Lincoln Avenue. "But when faced with the prospect of an organized group of education leaders speaking as one on behalf of students, they've moved with haste and reckless abandon to prevent that from happening."
CPS officials say LaRaviere was removed from Blaine "because of alleged acts of misconduct, including violations of a previous Warning Resolution passed by the Board of Education."
LaRaviere is facing charges that include engaging in political activity during "Board compensated time," publicly opposing PARCC standardized testing of students "in direct defiance of the CEO's directives and ISBE mandates," and using CPS computer equipment "excessively and inappropriately for personal use during work time." CPS also maintains that LaRaviere failed to respond to an audit that found "serious financial issues at Blaine" and has completed only 17 percent of required teacher evaluations for the current academic year.
"Mr. LaRaviere has made public the charges that CPS provided to him on April 25, 2016," CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement Thursday. "Those charges set forth the basis for CPS' decision to remove him as a principal. An independent arbitrator will hear evidence concerning those charges and make a recommendation concerning Mr. LaRaviere's employment."
LaRaviere addressed some of the charges against him during today's press conference. He has also explained his take on the allegations on his personal blog. According to LaRaviere, the ethics charges he faces "are all about supporting Chuy Garcia and Bernie Sanders." Garcia, a Cook County commissioner, ran against Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in last year's mayoral election. Garcia was in the audience at today's press conference. He left without taking questions from reporters.
During the Illinois March primary season, LaRaviere was featured in a Sanders presidential campaign ad. LaRaviere ripped Emanuel in the spot, saying, "the chief politician standing in the way of us getting good schools is our mayor."
Emanuel has denied having any involvement in LaRaviere's reassignment.
Regarding insubordination charges, LaRaviere said they "have to do with supporting my teachers, my opposition to PARCC testing and speaking out against corruption."
Back in May 2014, LaRaviere publicly questioned the no-bid, $20 million contract with the principal training company SUPES Academy. It was later learned that the contract had been at the center of a kickback scheme, which eventually resulted in the indictments of ex-CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and SUPES' co-owners. Byrd-Bennett and one SUPES co-owner have since pleaded guilty to their respective roles in the scandal.
"Last July," LaRaviere added, "I questioned this administration's own corrupt and reckless fiscal management. Once again I cited the SUPES contract. In response, the mayor's handpicked board of education issued me a warning resolution that served as a prelude for their current attempt to fire me. Right after I received that warning resolution, Barbara Byrd-Bennett was indicted and later convicted for her role in the SUPES contract scandal -- the very contract that they punished me for criticizing."
LaRaviere spoke about why his "REACH teacher evaluation ratings" are not completed. For the past three years, LaRaviere said he's been allowed to take a lower score on his personal evaluation rather than complete REACH.
"I was fine getting a decrease in the evaluation of my performance if it meant we could have time to do the things that increase my students' performance," he said.
Now, LaRaviere said, the "penalty has somehow jumped from a lower evaluation to termination, without any warning or notice."
LaRaviere went on to criticize the district over how he was removed. He said CPS changed the locks at Blaine Elementary after his reassignment.
"You remove me from my school and then you go around and change all the locks and give different keys to people to give the sense that this is someone who's unsafe, that he must have done something," LaRaviere said. "They wasted money for that political, sort of, PR tool to prejudice my own staff against me."
LaRaviere also suspects that CPS had been monitoring his emails. The day he was reassigned, LaRaviere was set to have a meeting at Stevenson Elementary School with principals about the CPAA election. CPS security and a network chief allegedly prevented the group from meeting there, saying it "was an 'illegal' principals meeting about Aramark and Sodexo" janitorial contracts.
LaRaviere said he had been communicating via email about the Sodexo contract with an "insider," with whom he had arranged a meeting the same day as the principals meeting.
"Somehow CPS thought that (the Stevenson) meeting was for the purpose of connecting those principals with that insider, which it wasn't," LaRaviere said. "And the reason I know that is because the person who was in charge of blocking access to our meeting let it slip. She said, 'This is an illegal Aramark/Sodexo meeting,' and I thought, where did she get that from? And I can't think of any other place. I didn't tell anyone about that meeting. No one. Not a soul ... My guess is that the district was monitoring my email communications and assumed that my principals meeting was a meeting with that insider."
LaRaviere also used his press conference to blast the administration's policies and actions. He accused the Emanuel administration of being "inherently corrupt."
"Under this administration, teaching, learning and leading are far more difficult than they have to be. This is a direct result of the fact that this administration has focused on creating financial relationships that ensure their rich donors profit from our children's losses," he said. "It is inherently corrupt, and corruption breeds incompetence."
Reporters pressed LaRaviere on whether he's planning a mayoral run, a question the principal said he's gotten a lot over the past few years. LaRaviere said he is "running for president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, and that's the only office I'm concerned with right now."
Also on Thursday, LaRaviere is scheduled to speak at a citywide rally in celebration of newly elected Local School Councils. The 5 p.m. event, being held at Schurz High School in the Irving Park community, will also focus on the challenges facing Chicago's public schools. In addition to LSC representatives, Ald. John Arena (45th), state Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) and Chicago Teachers Union members are expected to attend the rally.
UPDATE (5/13/16): Troy LaRaviere should be suspended without pay, according to a CPS hearing officer's recommendation Friday.
The hearing officer's decision now goes to the Illinois State Board of Education, which will hold a separate hearing on whether the former Blaine Elementary principal should be terminated. ISBE's recommendation would need to be approved by the Chicago Board of Education.