Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Won't Get Fooled Again!

By Jim Vail

The Sun Times reported yesterday that embattled UNO Charter School CEO Juan Rangel would step down as chairman of the board, and relinquish his position as head of the city's public building commission.

With probably his head hung low for good measure, Rangel announced, "I am here today to apologize.  I have failed."

Are we all laughing now?

He hasn't failed to relinquish his $250,000 CEO gig, though.

I first started reporting on the Aspira Charter scam when they moved into a newly built public school that the neighborhood wanted to keep as part of the Haugan School that was overcrowded.

But suddenly politicians, including the Albany Park Neighborhood Council, decided to override the wishes of the community and support this charter school operator who came from nowhere.

Even the Sun Times wrote an editorial against handing over any charter schools to Aspira's director Jose Rodriguez, known affectionately in the inner circles of city hall as the 'godfather.'  

Rodriguez was called out years ago for voting on awarding work to his Aspira organization, while serving on Roberto Clemente's local school council.  

The Sun-Times charged him with a conflict of interest.

Sound familiar?  

In the UNO case, Gov. Pat Quinn suspended the $98 million school construction grant in April after the Sun Times reported $8.5 million of the state grant went to companies owned by two brothers of Miguel d'Escoto, a top UNO executive who recently quit his $200,000 post.

In Aspira's case, despite being hit by an embarrassing federal strip search law suit that hit the network news, followed by other scandals brought about by whistle blowers, the city refused to pull the plug on Aspira.  

In fact, they just announced opening another charter high school, (cough, cough), against the wishes of the community.

But the tables have turned.

A former judge in the UNO case recently recommended that the charter operator ban nepotism in hiring.  In March the Sun-Times reported that UNO has three Rangel relatives on the payroll.

Awarding contracts to family members is apparently the charter school way.  The Aspira payroll was packed with director Rodriguez's family members.  There is even another charter school called Latino Youth High School run by the Pilsen Wellness Center allegedly filled with the director's relatives.

(Charters are allowed to hire family members because they are not properly regulated like the public schools.  So recommending that UNO stop, hardly stops the problem.)

In addition to Rangel's supposed demise and public humiliation announcement, Aspira's Rodriguez was also fired as head of Aspira by his board of directors.
But if there's one thing I've noticed in my years of reporting on charter schools at Substancenews, I don't trust the so-called overseers.

What government officials state in public is usually quite different from what went on behind closed doors.  

So what's the real story on why the city has suddenly pulled the plug on two of these powerful hispanic political operations.

Well, let's begin with asking who gets to control the purse strings now to finish building the UNO soccer academy charter high school?

Enter Martin Cabrera, founder and chief executive officer of Cabrera Capital Markets, a Chicago financial services firm that was one of the two underwriters for a $37.5 million UNO bond issue in 2011, to head the new UNO board of directors,  the Sun-Times reported.

Weren't these guys questioning how will a new unionized teaching force cut into their proceeds?

Well, here we go again.  The old guys and their old ways are out, make room for the new bond holders who will continue to fleece the public, but in new and exciting ways.

Perhaps The Who sang it best in Won't Get Fooled Again - "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

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