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Emanuel losing top education adviser

Chicago's After School Matters program marks its 20th anniversary with celebratifor nocrowd Daley PlazWednesday June 29 2011. Mayoral Deputy Chief

Chicago's After School Matters program marks its 20th anniversary with a celebration for a noon crowd at Daley Plaza Wednesday, June 29, 2011. Mayoral Deputy Chief of Staff Beth Swanson, actress Joan Cusack and Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard talked with Ramon Retana,15, a Phoenix Military Academy student who was poart of a team that built a robot. | Rich Hein~Sun

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Updated: September 2, 2014 6:24AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is losing his point-person to the Chicago Public Schools — the woman who played a pivotal role in negotiating an end to the 2012 teachers strike.

Beth Swanson, the mayor’s deputy chief-of-staff for education, has resigned her $154,992-a-year city job to become vice-president of strategy and programs for the non-profit Joyce Foundation.

She is the latest in a string of high-level staff departures as Emanuel gears up for a potentially difficult re-election bid that could focus heavily on school issues, particularly if Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis jumps into the mayor’s race.

Communications director Sarah Hamilton, intergovernmental affairs chief Matt Hynes and Hynes’ top deputy all have left City Hall in recent months.

“It’s a high-stress place to work, given what we’re dealing with and, after three years, a lot of people want to move on,” said a top mayoral aide, who asked to remain anonymous.

Swanson could not be reached for comment on her resignation.

On Sept. 10, 2012, Chicago teachers went on strike for the first time in 25 years, fueled by their anger against a mayor who convinced the Illinois General Assembly to raise the strike threshold, stripped them of a previously negotiated 4-percent pay raise and offered schools and teachers extra money to waive the teachers contract and immediately implement his longer school day.

The strike damaged Chicago’s reputation and turned Lewis into a folk hero with the guts to fight City Hall.

Swanson was a pivotal figure in the tense and difficult negotiations that ended the seven-day walk-out. In fact, she replaced Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard at the bargaining table in a move that signaled Emanuel’s subsequent decision to dump Brizard.

Her decision to resign with the teachers contract and pension crisis still in limbo comes just one week after Emanuel signed off on a $6.8 billion school budget with an accounting gimmick right out of his predecessor’s playbook.

It not only raises property taxes by $33.5 million — the maximum allowed by law for the 16th time in 21 years — but also uses 14 months of property tax revenue to pay for 12 months of spending. It also banks hard on elusive pension reform from Springfield.

The Chicago Teachers Union has accused the mayor of playing politics with the school budget to get past a mayoral election.

“By using 14 months’ worth of revenue in this fiscal year, it pushes the problems of funding into next year — until after the election — and into a contract year,” CTU Vice-President Jesse Sharkey has said.

Emanuel has spent the last four years condemning former Mayor Richard M. Daley — without ever mentioning his name — for using one-time revenues, including asset sales, to put off Chicago’s financial day of reckoning.

Asked last week how he justifies doing that and more in the school budget, the mayor said he was determined to keep “cuts away from the classroom.”

Emanuel has alienated African-American voters who helped put him in office by instigating Chicago’s first teachers strike in 25 years, closing 50 public schools, opening new charter schools and unveiling plans to build new schools and school additions, with the educational largesse heavily concentrated on the North Side.

That includes a $14 million addition to Walter Payton College Prep and a new, $60 million selective enrollment high school nearby named after President Barack Obama, whose 2011 endorsement of his former White House chief-of-staff sealed the deal with black voters.

It was not known what, if any, role Swanson played in formulating those education decisions or whether her role was simply to execute them.

Joyce Foundation President Ellen Alberding announced Swanson’s appointment in a “Dear Colleague” e-mail Thursday, citing the “deep understanding and deft management of complex policy issues” that Swanson demonstrated at Emanuel’s City Hall.

“As deputy chief-of-staff for education, Beth worked closely with the mayor and other leaders to define the city’s education agenda from birth through college. She has served as point-person in expanding early learning opportunities, achieving a full school day, bringing quality school options to families and launching the city’s Summer of Learning,” Alberding, wife of former Daley Corporation Counsel Kelly Welsh, wrote.

Swanson’s “experience at the intersection of policy and practice” will help “guide the development of strategic approaches” in the Joyce Foundation’s six areas of interest: education, employment, democracy, gun violence prevention and culture, the e-mail states.


Twitter: @fspielman

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