The Illinois State Board of Education is investigating the Chicago Public Schools’ finances.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported Thursday that ISBE officials, including the agency’s chairman James Meeks, have directed CPS to provide information on bonds, cash flow, contracts and payroll by March 4. Because the school district is on ISBE’s financial watch list, the agency can rightfully probe into CPS’ finances.
The financial investigation of CPS comes just weeks after Gov. Bruce Rauner and Republican legislative leaders called for a potential state takeover of the nation’s third largest school district, which is facing severe fiscal issues, including a $480 million budget gap this year.
“The last time Governor Rauner offered his financial advice for Chicago Public Schools, Chicago taxpayers were forced to pay even more for our bonds, and we cringe at what his latest venture could cost our children,” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement Thursday responding to ISBE’s probe.
Rauner expects the ISBE investigation to show “financial mismanagement, patronage, too much bureaucracy, misappropriation of funds, not paying into the pensions; just mismanagement, and we’ve got to fix that,” he told reporters Friday.
The governor went on to say that he believes a state takeover of CPS is “very likely.”
“I personally believe once the legislature really understands what’s going on, they will give us that authority. I believe that that is coming and that will happen. Once the facts are known, I believe that they’ll give us that authority. There are some lawyers who believe that the state board does have the authority themselves unilaterally to take over. I’m not sure I agree with them. There may be a legal fight about that. I don’t know, I’m not an attorney,” Rauner said, according to CBS Chicago.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel responded to news of the investigation Friday.
“You can look at the finances. You’re going to find out … Chicago teachers are actually not supported with their pensions the same way teachers in the rest of the state are. And our students also are held at a disadvantage financially,” Emanuel said. “Chicago students, 90 percent of ’em are poor, received $45 million less in state support.”
Emanuel questioned Meeks’ support of the financial probe, noting that the former state senator and Chicago mayoral candidate has been an advocate for equitable school funding.
“One of the greatest eloquent voices in making sure there was equal funding for education because Chicago students were being held back was Senator Meeks,” the mayor said.
“Senator Meeks understands the system is rigged against poor kids, and the system is rigged against Chicago teachers and taxpayers because we are subsidizing all the other teachers and all the other school districts and all the other taxpayers who are quite well off around the rest of the state,” he added. “It predates all of us. But, that’s how you fix the system. Not just asking for paper.”