A Love Letter To Forrest Claypool from A Would Be CPS Parent

Dear Forrest,

I hope I can call you that.  We’ve only met a few times, but I find myself looking at your picture every single morning.  I read your letters over and over again.  It’s like I know you.  Anyway…as we head into this Valentine’s Day weekend, I have a question that I really need to ask you.  Do you like me?

I know I don’t go to Chicago Public Schools anymore and my wife and I have chosen to homeschool our children.  But, I promise that is nothing against you personally.  Really, it isn’t anything against you professionally.

You probably don’t hear this often, but I think I kinda like you.  I mean… I saw how you stepped into this job at the school district.  You were handed a system in deep financial trouble; burdened with the weight of a completely intractable pension problem that has been locked into place by rule of law and an inflexible teachers union.  I know people think you took this job because your Rahm’s friend, but accepting this job took guts.  I like that in a guy.

You’ve been fighting in Springfield to try to get more money to fund public schools in Chicago.  You and some of your friends have raised taxes too for that purpose.  You settled a Union contract that was much more costly than you originally thought was reasonable, and even laid off a lot of employees from the central office.  I don’t think any of that was easy.  Makes me feel like you are willing to work hard to take care of your children.  I like that too.

I don’t really know why I keep having these thoughts because honestly, it seems like you never even look my way.  I know at first brush, it doesn’t seem like I’m your type.  I’m a homeschooler; you’re the CEO of the public schools.  I’m a huge school choice guy; you’re “big D” Democrat.  I even heard that you’re a Cubs fan and of course, I’m a Sox guy.  But, I think we have more to talk about than you think.

See other than that out of control pension payment, the biggest stress on the CPS budget is the steep decline in enrollment.  And I know what you’re going to say… that’s because the overall population in Chicago is going down.  And to some extent that is true.  But, think about why people are leaving the city.  I know from experience the same thing that Chicago Tribune figured out last year, that a lot of families from my community are leaving for five big reasons:

  1. The weather here is terrible.
  2. It is impossible to find a job.
  3. The violence seems out of control.
  4. There is less and less cultural connection for Black people
  5. And the schools are…well…not that great.

Now, I don’t know how you fixed the winter this year, but congratulations on that (jk). But, I really think your system could contribute a lot to the solutions for the rest of those problems too.  Imagine if CPS were among the first school districts to really create a “cradle to career pipeline” to replace the “other one”.  What if the public school district were a birthing place for truly revolutionary schooling ideas that created safe, culturally affirming and academically excellent learning environments (like the one I have in my basement)?

That would excite me.  It would excite people like me.

I get it that you are currently in a relationship… a few relationships really.  But, I know they don’t treat you right.  You’re supposed to be partners with the State of Illinois.  But, look at how they’ve responded to reasonable requests for short-term funding help and long-term funding reform.  And now, you guys are even fighting in public…Yikes.  And your other partner, the teachers union…well, they just asked you to leave, right?

Maybe it’s time for a new partner.  Maybe the driving thought shouldn’t be about pleasing the union or winning another fight with the Governor?  Maybe it should be about winning me and thousands of other families that are opting for charters, private schools, homeschooling and even leaving town altogether?

I personally think we could be special.

How about you?  Do you want to talk?

Yes [   ]                No [    ]

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Chris Butler is first a husband and a dad. He has been involved across the spectrum of public engagement activities and has worked with a number of diverse constituencies in urban and suburban communities. He has also been involved in several political campaigns including his service as a youth and young adult coordinator for Barack Obama’s primary bid for U.S. Senate. Chris worked as deputy campaign manager and field director for A+ Illinois where he developed a strong, statewide field operation including over 500 organizations and 50,000 individuals around the state working to bring adequacy and equity to Illinois’ school funding system and as the director of advocacy and outreach at New Schools for Chicago, a leader in school reform in Chicago. Chris is a 2006 graduate of the Ministry Training Institute and holds a degree in civic and political engagement from Northeastern Illinois University.