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Rahm Emanuel defends his schools chief on federal discrimination lawsuits

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel said Monday he’s not troubled by a federal discrimination lawsuit filed against his new schools CEO because similar charges were made against U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan when he ran Chicago schools.

“The Secretary of Education Arne Duncan — similar lawsuit in his background. That comes with the territory of trying to make change when stakeholders realize that, you know what, they may not be the beneficiary anymore,” Emanuel said.

“There’s only one beneficiary when it comes to the Chicago Public School system: the kids.”

Emanuel also sloughed off questions raised by the graduation rates in Rochester, N.Y. that Jean-Claude Brizard claimed on his resume.

“Any way you slice or dice it, graduation rates are up. Any way you slice or dice it, the actual diplomas that kids are earning are higher. Any way you slice or dice it, he’s kept kids — rather than in truancy programs — in the school system. ... His elementary reading and math scores are up,” Emanuel said.

“Did he ruffle feathers? Well, when you have a 39 percent drop-out rate, I sure hope he did.”

Brizard was named in two federal lawsuits during his three-year stint as Rochester schools superintendent.

One accused him of firing a deputy “without cause” after making disparaging remarks about her age and about tensions caused by “strong black women.” The other accused Brizard of instituting a policy of sending teachers under investigation to a do-nothing alternative work location branded the “rubber room.”

Last summer, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found probable cause that the 58-year-old deputy had been fired because of her sex, age and race.

An outside investigation commissioned by the Rochester Board of Education found no evidence of bias.

Pressed to describe the similar allegations against Duncan, Emanuel aides pointed to a 2004 lawsuit that accused Duncan of firing an employee he had accused of being “dishonest” and mismanaging money.

The lawsuit did not accuse Duncan of being insensitive to age, race or sex.

Also on Monday, Emanuel hinted strongly that he has decided to retain Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) as chairman of the City Council’s powerful Finance Committee, but shrink the roster and spending of City Council committees, as reported last week by the Chicago Sun-Times.

Emanuel described the ice-breaking session he had with Burke at the home of Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th) as a “good meeting” that reaffirmed his view that the City Council is ready for reform.

“All the members want to see change — even the [Finance] chairman. They all know this was an election about reform,” Emanuel said.

“City Hall cannot be in a change-free zone. We’re gonna be part of the change. That’s gonna be true in the mayor’s office. That’s gonna be true in City Council. And that’s gonna be true about how we work together and how we reflect the interests, the expectations of the voters and taxpayers.”

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