- Associated Press - Thursday, July 16, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) - Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday selected his chief of staff to lead the city’s struggling public schools as the district deals with budget cuts and a multibillion-dollar pension crisis.

Forrest Claypool, who has no experience as an educator, is a longtime friend of Emanuel. He headed the city’s transit agency before he was named Emanuel’s chief of staff earlier this year. He will now lead the nation’s third-largest school district.

Claypool is “exactly the right person at the right time” to lead Chicago Public Schools, Emanuel said at a news conference, telling reporters that his experience as a manager and a leader make him qualified to “make sure the financial challenges” do not undermine the strides the district has taken in such things as test scores and graduation rates.

“My main challenge is to manage the system and to make it as efficient as it can possibly be and to bring in the very best talent in Chicago, Illinois and throughout the country,” Claypool said.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said she believes a CEO with no education background is a bad idea.

“It’s been tried before and didn’t work,” she said, adding union officials look upon Claypool as a political fixer. She added that the union can work with anybody.

Claypool succeeds Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who resigned last month amid a federal probe of a $20 million no-bid contract between CPS and an education company where Byrd-Bennett once worked. She has not been charged with any crime.

Earlier this week CPS officials said dozens of schools would have to cut about $200,000 from each of their budgets without pension help from state lawmakers. The district has already made budget cuts in the wake of ballooning pension payments.

CPS has been a source of continual frustration for Emanuel, who has seen each of the two CEOs he has picked leave.

CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, who came to Chicago from Rochester, New York, where he was school superintendent, presided over the district during one of the most tumultuous times in its history - including a teachers’ strike that kept the city’s 400,000 public school students out of class for more than a week.

Emanuel then turned to Byrd-Bennett, who had served as interim CEO and played a key role in the teacher contract negotiations that ended the strike. She was an outsider whose career had been spent in New York, Cleveland and Detroit. Byrd-Bennett’s tenure was an equally tumultuous time, presiding over the district when it closed some 50 schools.

Then earlier this year came reports that federal investigators had sought records related to the district’s contract with an education company where Byrd-Bennett once worked as a consultant. No one has been charged, but Byrd-Bennett took a paid leave of absence before she resigned in June.

Claypool is, though, the ultimate insider. A former Cook County commissioner, Claypool’s career included two stints as former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s chief of staff. After Emanuel was elected in 2011, it was Claypool, a longtime friend, whom the mayor appointed as CEO of the CTA before Emanuel brought him into his office to be chief of staff.

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