Chicago Public Schools Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz, who in recent months has become the Board’s most outspoken member, will be leaving that post at the end of the calendar year.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office announced on Friday the appointment of Ruiz to the Board of Commissioners of the Chicago Park District, where the mayor is recommending that he be elected president by the other commissioners.
Ruiz did not respond to messages on Friday afternoon.
While technically a move up, Ruiz’ transfer from the School Board to the Park District is being viewed by close observers as a demotion because of the lesser prominence of the Parks board.
Insiders say CEO Forrest Claypool and City Hall have been increasingly frustrated with some of Ruiz’ lines of public questioning about charter schools and the need for more transparency. In addition, Ruiz temporarily blocked the appointment of the district’s new general counsel during the Board’s September meeting. Ronald Marmer, a friend and political ally of Claypool, was appointed last month.
Advocates for an increased presence of Latinos in policymaking decried the decision to remove Ruiz, a Mexican American, from the School Board, where he is the only Latino among the seven members. Nearly 46 percent of CPS students are Latino.
“This is a major loss for the Latino community,” says Sylvia Puente of the Latino Policy Forum. “We look forward to ensuring that there is continued Latino representation on the Chicago Board of Education at all levels of CPS leadership, so that the leadership reflects the diversity of our city and student population.”
About 39 percent of CPS students are African American, and there are three African Americans on the Board. About 10 percent of CPS students are white, and there are three whites on the Board.
The mayor’s office has not said who will succeed Ruiz on the School Board or whether Emanuel will name another Latino to the Board.
The Board became less Hispanic in June, when Emanuel removed board member Carlos Azcoitia. At the time Azcoitia, a former school principal who was born in Cuba, also spoke out about the need for more Latino representation in leadership positions.
Then in July, Ruiz was passed over for the position of Board president for a new Board member, former Commonwealth Edison CEO Frank Clark, when David Vitale resigned. Clark is black; Vitale is white.
The decision to skip over Ruiz for Vitale’s post was a surprise to some who thought he was a shoo-in for the job. Ruiz had volunteered to serve as interim CPS CEO for three months, giving up his law practice for that period after then-CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett stepped down under the cloud of a federal corruption investigation.
Visibly upset, Ruiz stood off to the side during the July press conference at Westinghouse College Prep, in which Clark and Claypool were named to their new leadership positions. He was the only Latino in the group of city and school officials who stood behind the podium during the press conference.
“I think the slights have been pretty obvious to everyone paying attention,” says Jackson Potter, staff coordinator for the Chicago Teachers Union. “You demote Jesse from being interim CEO. I think there was interest on his part to be Board president, but you put in somebody who’s definitely less qualified and hasn’t been around in the way Jesse has to do that work.”
Ruiz previously chaired the Illinois State Board of Education, and has been on the Chicago School Board since May 2011.
During his brief tenure as interim CPS CEO, Ruiz called for a system-wide audit of services to English language learners. He also asked for an independent third-party review of the district’s single-source procurement process. That review was in response to the massive corruption scandal involving a no-bid $20 million contract to the SUPES Academy. Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty last month to steering the contracts her former employer, SUPES, a professional development firm for principals.
In a press release, Emanuel called Ruiz a committed public servant who has “worked tirelessly to improve Chicago’s schools… Jesse is the perfect choice to lead the Park District Board as it moves forward under the long-term plan for our parks that I will outline later this year.”