Investigative reporters for the Chicago Sun-Times revealed yesterday that a woman appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to the Chicago Public Schools board has invested in numerous businesses that are vendors with the system's schools. The business that those vendors got from the school district since Deborah Quazzo was appointed to the board has tripled since her appointment in June 2013 according to the Sun-Times analysis. The five companies in which Quazzo had invested earned $930,000 in district contracts between 2010 and 2013, but they earned an additional $2.9 million from school district contracts following her appointment.
The businesses in which Quazzo invested were not widely-traded companies; rather, they were five specialty software companies, including Academic Approach, Dreambox Learning, MasteryConnect, Think Through Math and ThinkCERCA. Quazzo earns a living as a venture capitalist. The Chicago Teachers Union and at least one of Mayor Emanuel's opponents want Quazzo to resign from the board. Mayor Emanuel was out-of-town on vacation and did not respond to questions about Quazzo. The board's president defended her, insisting she had not personally taken part in matters that benefited any of the companies and had always recused herself from votes in which she has a personal conflict of interest. A loophole in the district's ethics rules meant that she really only had to disclose her financial interest with two of the companies since the other three had contracts with individual schools within the district, not through the district office.
The CTU has called for the election of school board members rather than their appointment by the mayor. In Indianapolis, that has been no impediment to outside education profiteers funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into the school board elections to buy board members of their choosing. The editorial board of the Indianapolis Star has actually supported the purchase of these board seats by outside interests because it believes the so-called education reforms they advocate for the benefit of these board members' employers will improve the quality of the schools, the conflicts of interest be damned. It's remarkable how differently the media in Chicago views these same matters. It's just more evidence we've lost any objective news media in Indianapolis willing to look out for the public's interest.