Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Former rivals Rauner, Vallas unite for Chicago State overhaul

Chicago 01/17/2017, 11:45am


Paul Vallas, who has been appointed to the Chicago State University Board of Trustees, discusses the overhaul of the university during a press conference Tuesday with Gov. Bruce Rauner, left. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Paul Vallas, who has been appointed to the Chicago State University Board of Trustees, discusses the overhaul of the university during a press conference Tuesday with Gov. Bruce Rauner, left. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Tina Sfondeles


Just a bit over two years ago, they were trading barbs on the campaign trail.

School reformer Paul Vallas, who ran as Gov. Pat Quinn’s running mate in 2014, called Republican Bruce Rauner’s budget plan “fundamentally dishonest.”


Rauner shot back that government was so “inefficient” and “wasteful” under Quinn’s leadership that it must be completely restructured.

Flash forward to 2017 as Gov. Rauner stood alongside Vallas, whom he appointed last week as a Chicago State University Board trustee and characterized as a “longtime friend.”

“Having a seasoned veteran, somebody like Paul Vallas, who I have known for years and I just know, he knows finance. He knows financial issues, structural operating turnarounds and he knows education,” Rauner said. “Not that many people have that combination of talent.”

The one-time rivals and unlikely partners say they’re committed to overhauling the struggling South Side public university.

Rauner last week appointed Vallas, along with Tiffany Harper, Nicholas Gowen, and Kambium Buckner to the board of the embattled public university.

An eight-person advisory council was announced Tuesday to help bring advice, resources and support to board members. The council will be tasked with coming up with a strategic plan — including recruiting and branding — to move forward. It includes Michael Amiridis, University of Illinois at Chicago chancellor; Tony Anderson, board chairman of Perspectives Charter Schools and Walter Massey, chancellor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The governor said he’s recommending that Vallas become the board’s chairman.

“We need this institution to thrive, to be highly successful,” Rauner said at CSU while standing alongside Vallas, board member Rev. Marshall Hatch and others closely involved with the university.

“This isn’t a 10-year turnaround,” Rauner said. “This can be done expeditiously.”

Vallas, known for transforming urban schools districts, called CSU’s financial and structural problems a “microcosm” of what he endured as CEO of Chicago Public Schools from 1995 to 2001. But he said he’s confident the university can endure a turnaround.

“Our objective here is to not only preserve Chicago State but to help transform it into the dynamic university that the community needs,” Vallas said. “Universities are economic development engines, and there’s absolutely no reason why Chicago State cannot be one.”

Vallas said there are no plans for the university to be overtaken by another university. The goal is to preserve and maintain the university as independent.

Hatch defended the struggling school as one that he said has more African-American males graduating with a four-year college degree than any other institution in the state system. He said it provides a “lifeline” to many single parents, and older students, as well.

“The reality is without the resources this university cannot do the job. And so we hope today means that there will be bipartisan support in Springfield for this institution that means so much to so many families who struggle to get their part of the American dream,” Hatch said.

There’s one major thing missing: a financial fix for the cash-strapped university as it struggles during the state’s budget impasse, alongside the state’s other public universities.

“It is essential that we get a balanced budget done. Not a stopgap spending plan. Not an incomplete, short-term unbalanced spending plan. We need balanced budgets in this state,” Rauner said when asked about how to provide long-term funding for the university.

Rauner said CSU has suffered from “bureaucratic bloat.”

“The money needs to be in the classroom with its teachers and its students,” Rauner said.

CSU offers degrees to thousands of poor and disadvantaged young people, especially on the South Side. But the university has low graduation rates, a mass exodus of students going to other schools and years of alleged financial mismanagement. It’s also suffering during the state’s budget impasse — with students unable to pay for tuition without MAP grant funding.

The university was also forced to lay off 300 employees. And last year, the board pushed out CSU President Thomas J. Calhoun Jr. — with no explanation and a hefty severance check.

Rauner and Hatch declined to explain why Calhoun was booted; the pastor pushed that it’s time to move forward.

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