UNO Charter School CEO Should Step Down from the Public Building Commission

On May 1st, 2013 - May Day, UNO charter school workers turned in union cards showing 87% of them wanted to be unionized.

This is huge news considering the anti-Union record of the charter network’s CEO Juan Rangel.  Last September, Rangel took aim at Chicago Teachers Union for going out on strike after negotiations with the Chicago Board of Education hit impasse. The move by Chicago’s educators dealt a huge blow to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s approval rating.

Juan Rangel has a lot to lose if Mayor Rahm Emanuel is not re-elected in 2015. Rangel paid it forward in 2011 when he co-chaired Emanuel’s election campaign. This partnership brought Emanuel’s name into communities with a strong presence of Rangel’s organization. Almost immediately after being sworn in as Mayor, Emanuel appointed Rangel to the Public Building Commission, an agency that Emanuel chairs which oversees construction of public schools and other government buildings. This news barely registered on anyone’s radar until Emanuel stated that he wanted that agency and not the Chicago Public Schools to handle construction projects related to closing schools. CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett recommended the largest number of school closings since Hurricane Katrina. The Chicago Board of Education, which is a body appointed by Emanuel, will vote on these closings on May 22nd.

Juan Rangel called on Chicago's wealthy elite to help bust unions. 

It’s been well documented recently that UNO Charter Schools operated largely as a patronage trough for the connected. This news prompted Illinois Governor Pat Quinn to suspend state funding to the UNO charter network coming out of a $98 million state grant.

If UNO stops developing, it will lose its ability to dole out contracting jobs to politically connected UNO allies. I wrote about this last February for Jacobin Magazine:

UNO operates under $67,800,000 in outstanding debt. The $98 million state gift cannot be used to pay back this debt because it has been earmarked for capital projects, namely building or improving schools.  The only way to keep the UNO patronage train rolling is by continuously expanding and opening schools, with construction contractors serving as potential allies come election time.

Without funding for construction jobs to give to connected contractors, UNO as a political entity loses its clout. When UNO workers negotiate their first contract, they can force UNO’s hand to show the real financials, which are mostly opaque under current charter law.

UNO schools will then serve one purpose and one purpose only –educating kids.

However, Rangel is hardly screaming “My Empire is crumbling!” to the sky since he still sits on the board of the Public Building Commission, a group that will oversee spending on closing schools.

As CEO of UNO, Rangel’s patronage empire spanned over construction projects for 13 schools. Sitting on the Public Building Commission, Rangel will oversee construction projects associated with the closing of 61 schools.

Although Rangel no longer gets “all of the marbles,” he still has a sizeable amount of clout on the Commission. This is clearly a conflict-of-interest and Rangel should do the right thing and step down.

In the neoliberal world, a few union busting scandals and patronage hiring are not enough to set someone back politically. On May 2nd, President Barack Obama nominated Hyatt heiress and Emanuel appointee to the Chicago Board of Education Penny Pritzker as U.S. Commerce Secretary.

Hyatt hotels infamously turned heat lamps on striking workers during one of the hottest weeks of 2011. How could someone with baggage like that be trusted to a cabinet-level White House appointment?

Pritzker was national finance chairwoman of Obama’s 2008 campaign and co-chair of his 2012 reelection campaign.






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