Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle pulled no punches during a Thursday interview, slamming Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s education agenda and saying the Chicago Public School closure plan would "weaken" the entire system.
With the Chicago Board of Education scheduled to vote on the district's 54 proposed school closings May 22 — the largest closure push by any public school system in U.S. history — Preckwinkle told the Sun-Times in an exclusive interview Emanuel and his hand-picked school board should heed the advice of independent hearing officers and slow their roll when it comes to the sweeping closures.
“What was the point of having public hearings?” Preckwinkle said during the interview. “Was it all a charade? If you weren’t going to pay any attention to the outcome of the public hearings or the recommendations of the public hearing officers, why would you bother to waste everyone’s time?”
A response to Preckwinkle's scathing criticism came from CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett rather than Emanuel, effectively re-hashing the well-worn CPS line about the district moving ahead with its plans in an effort to give students a "quality 21st century education."
Despite the district's insistence, a Tribune review of closure-related documents released Friday "raised questions about how CPS used information to promote and defend its plan." According to the Tribune, the district often appears to have been selectively highlighting data to stress shortcomings at schools to be closed, while not pointing out shortcomings at the receiving schools.
Preckwinkle, herself a former educator, bemoaned to the Sun-Times “the way in which the teachers were demonized” during the 2012 teacher strike.
Preckwinkle's Thursday sentiments echo earlier statements where the board president ripped the plan. In an interview with the Reader, Preckwinkle asked why schools were shutting down and prisons were filling up.
Preckwinkle previously called the closure plan "very disturbing," telling CBS Chicago at the time:
“I don’t know the finances of the Board of Education, but I think it’s very tough to argue that kids will be better educated outside their community; especially since – for some of them – they’ve had a succession of closings.”
Preckwinkle's criticism of the mayor was more fierce Thursday than it has been in the past, fueling speculation the first term board president could challenge Rahm in 2015.
With her term in office ending this year, Preckwinkle said she has no plans to run for mayor and is solely interested in seeking reelection for her current role.