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Ald. Burke wants Gov. Quinn to restart UNO charter-school funding

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Updated: June 10, 2013 2:08PM

Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) went to bat Wednesday for the embattled United Neighborhood Organization, urging his ally Gov. Pat Quinn to resume funding for an UNO charter school being built in his Southwest Side ward.

Last month, Quinn suspended the remaining payments from a $98 million state school construction grant to UNO after the Chicago Sun-Times reported that $8.5 million of the state money went to companies owned by two brothers of Miguel d’Escoto, a top UNO executive who resigned following the reports. Quinn, who has been a supporter of UNO, demanded an audit be done before the state funding can resume.

On Wednesday, Burke, who is a major Quinn campaign contributor, said the governor needs to consider the needs of the families awaiting the opening of the half-completed UNO Soccer Academy High School at 51st and St. Louis, which was scheduled to open in August before the funding shutdown led contractors to walk off the job last week.

“I was at a meeting out at the site just about two weeks ago when there were 400 families there — moms and dads and kids clamoring to sign up for the beginning of school,” Burke said. “I do not want to see those folks disappointed.”

Burke said he has lobbied aides to the governor to find a way to get construction going again.

“I don’t want to see a half-completed building out there,” Burke said. “There ought to be a way to keep those funds flowing.”

Burke — who attended the school’s groundbreaking last July, along with Quinn and House Speaker Michael Madigan — called himself a “big fan” of Juan Rangel, UNO’s chief executive officer, who also co-chaired Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s mayoral campaign. Burke called Rangel a “man of honesty, integrity and good purpose.”

Regarding the insider deals the Sun-Times uncovered, Burke said: “If he made a mistake in any of these matters, I’m convinced it was not a deliberate mistake. . . . If one of Juan Rangel’s assistants did something improper, then so be it. He has to answer to that. But it seems to me they are addressing the issue, and I don’t want to see . . . the good he . . . and UNO accomplished overshadowed by this controversy that now has the potential to interfere with the completion of a wonderful school in our neighborhood.”

UNO already operates five publicly funded charter schools in Burke’s ward. But his ties to the group go beyond that. Burke’s daughter-in-law, Jacqueline Burke, has worked for UNO since 2009, according to UNO payroll records. And Rangel’s backing helped the powerful alderman’s brother, state Rep. Daniel Burke (D-Chicago), fight off a tough challenge in the 2010 primary from a Hispanic candidate, Rudy Lozano Jr.

Also, about $1.67 million from the state grant to UNO went to Windy City Electric, which was operated by top Burke precinct captain Anthony Burke, to help build the charter elementary school that UNO operates next to the future Soccer Academy High School.

A Quinn spokeswoman said the state won’t “resume funding until UNO resolves its ethics issues.”

“They need to make things right as soon as possible so the school can be completed promptly,” Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson wrote in an email. “This is entirely on the organization. It is their responsibility to clean this up so the kids can get to school in the fall.”

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