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New CPS chief owes us $100K for quitting, Rochester schools say

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Chicago’s next Schools CEO, Jean-Claude Brizard, should pay the cash-strapped Rochester, N.Y., school district to cover the cost of searching for a new superintendent — an estimated $100,000 — now that he’s walking away from a three-year contract that began Jan. 2.

That was the view Wednesday of a two-term Rochester School Board member who calls himself a “fan’’ of Brizard’s.

“You don’t have to be F. Lee Bailey or Johnny Cochran to figure this out,’’ Rochester School Board member Van White, a civil rights lawyer, told the Chicago Sun-Times. “To make the taxpayers pay for this wouldn’t be right. It wouldn’t be fair.’’

Controversy kicked into high gear Wednesday over Brizard’s decision to leave his three-year deal, starting at an annual salary of $235,000, as superintendent of Rochester’s 32,000 public school children for the top spot in the nation’s third-largest school system, with 410,000 students. Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel announced Monday that Brizard, 47, was his choice for Chicago Schools CEO.

Wednesday, in Chicago, Emanuel leapt to Brizard’s defense, saying “A lot of people are trying to figure out how to keep J.C. in Rochester, which speaks to his success. A lot of people don’t [want to keep him] because he brought change to the status quo.”

White said he is among those who would like to keep Brizard. He said he considers him a “visionary’’ who closed failing schools, found a way to identify high school students who have fallen off track to graduate, and gave principals more control over their budgets.

“He was an exceptional superintendent, but he fell way short in terms of how he treated this board, of his exit strategy,’’ White said. “The way he left was definitely wrong.’’

He pointed to a contract clause that specifically says “the board and superintendent may agree to terminate this agreement based on mutually agreeable terms and conditions.’’

Brizard’s decision to inform board members in a letter that he was resigning does not amount to a “mutual agreement,’’ White said. “That’s not what the contract calls for.’’

As a result, White said, the Rochester school board has hired an attorney to “see if the breach [of contract] is compensatable.’’

A fair compensation would be to pay the Rochester district to cover the cost of a new superintendent search, White said. The last search, which resulted in Brizard’s selection, cost $100,000, he said.

White said he expects other board members to agree with him. He quickly had a public ally in Rochester School Board member Cynthia Elliott, who told WHAM-TV in Rochester Wednesday that “I think we should sue his ass.”

Patrick Rocks, who has been asked to continue in his role as Chicago Public School general counsel under Emanuel’s new school team, said Wednesday he was not familiar with Brizard’s Rochester contract, but he argued that the Chicago School Board could not get stuck with any bail-out penalty.

“It can’t” be forced to pick up such a tab, Rocks said. “It’s Rochester’s contract.’’

For his part, Brizard held a morning news conference in Rochester on Wednesday flanked by 13 members of his cabinet, who gave him a standing ovation. Brizard insisted he was not bailing out on Rochester and dismissed accusations that his departure was prompted by worsening tensions with the Rochester Teachers Association, which issued an overwhelming no-confidence vote against him in February.

“It’s not about bailing whatsoever,” Brizard said. “If it was, I wouldn’t be looking for a more difficult assignment.”

In Chicago, Emanuel offered his own take on the developments in Rochester and his rendition of the sorry state of Chicago Public Schools: A $720 million deficit. A graduation rate “stuck” at 53 percent. Reading scores that “have not improved in years.” More than 100 schools out of 600-plus, he claimed, now operating at “40 percent or less” of capacity.

“I chose somebody to shake up the status quo because, if you look at those results, the status quo is not working for our kids,” said Emanuel, who on Monday named a 16-member education team topped by Brizard.

“I not only chose an individual. I chose an entire team whose attitude is you cannot be content with a school system whose finances [are] out of whack, whose educational instructional time hasn’t moved one minute, whose graduation rates are stuck and its reading and math scores are stuck.”

Emanuel branded his new schools CEO a “collaborator and a cooperator” who did meet with teachers, principals and parents before making key decisions.

“Oh give me a break,’’ said Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association. “He received a resolution of no-confidence from the Community Education Task Force and a 94.6 percent vote of no confidence from Rochester Teachers. That speaks for itself.’’

Brizard’s three-year tenure has been difficult, Urbanski has said, because “Brizard’s definition of shared decision-making was to make a decision and then share it with others.’’

Even Brizard “fan” White conceded that during his tenure, Brizard “didn’t listen first, before he led.’’

“When he left, it was almost the same thing,’’ White said. “He made a decision, and then he listened afterwards. That’s not the way to lead.’’

During a news conference to announce his financial team, Emanuel flatly denied that his vetting process was flawed and that he was misled on Rochester graduation rates before choosing Brizard. Data provided by the New York State Department of Education and the Rochester School District Wednesday indicate that some discrepancies critics have pounced on were due to one agency reporting a four-year graduation rate as of June and the other reporting it as of August, as well as an increase in the passing bar for state tests.

“Look folks, I understand politics. I understand some people who he was tough on and changed have a political opportunity to finally settle the score. But, what I will not settle for is what we have in Chicago,” Emanuel said.

“I wanted an entire new board, an entire new corporate suite because what’s happening today both on the finances and the educational scores — needs to be shaken up. And what I know in my heart [is that] the people of the city do not think we’re doing what we need to do for our children.”

Contributing: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, WHAM-TV

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