Chicago Mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia has accused Mayor Rahm Emanuel of impropriety for not firing a school board member. Deborah Quazzo, named to the board in June 2013, invested in technology companies who sell millions of dollars worth of education software to Chicago Public Schools.
Earlier this week, Emanuel announced that Quazzo has his “full support,” and that CPS is “lucky to have her,” despite the fact that business between the school system and companies that Quazzo invests in has tripled since she her appointment.
Garcia accused the mayor for standing by her, calling the situation a conflict of interest, and that it was “outrageous and unethical” to keep her on the board, reported by Fran Spielman and Lauren FitzPatrick of The Chicago Sun Times.
“Mayor Emanuel sees education as a profit center for people with powerful connections,” Garcia said in a statement. “The ‘business’ of education is providing high-quality learning for our children — not opening the door for a corporate raid. I know we need a strong business sector for our city to thrive. I also know that education is about students, teachers and their families. It is about building a better future.”
Garcia continued to say that the citizens have the “constitutional right” to elect board members, and promised to find a way to make that happen, even if it means involving the federal court.
“This is a moment of truth for Chicago voters to see what really matters to Mayor Emanuel,” Garcia said. “Mayor Emanuel has promised to roll out his education policy during the course of the campaign. If this is a preview, every parent and child in the city should be deeply worried.”
The mayor has not answered questions pertaining to the timeline of events, particularly when he first learned that Quazzo held business interests in the companies doing business with CPS.
Quazzo has investments in five educational technology companies, who have been paid a total of $3.8 million by CPS since 2010. The majority of that money, about $2.9 million, was paid after Quazzo replaced Penny Pritzker (appointed US Commerce Secretary) on the board.
According to Quazzo, she has never tried to hide her investments and is adamant in her belief that there is no conflict of interest, because she does not participate in board votes pertaining to the companies. She continues to invest, saying, “It’s my belief I need to invest in companies and philanthropic organizations who improve outcomes for children.”
The potential for financial abuses in the school system has not been far from the fore. CPS was recently in the news for a criminal investigation of a former employee who was found to have stolen over $870,000. The employee, whose name has not been released, fraudulently billed the district for goods and services with the help of several other CPS employees, who have all since been fired or quit.