On Wednesday, April 20th I received a letter informing me that I’d been reassigned “to home” and that CPS would seek to suspend me without pay. Several days later, I was given the charges CPS used to justify their actions. I plan on addressing those charges in the very near future. The first step, however, is to understand how CPS attempted to remove me. That requires an understanding of the events in the two months prior to my reassignment.
One of my favorite films is a martial arts epic entitled, Hero. The film stars Jet Li as a nameless warrior who carries out a meticulous plan to rid his kingdom of a ruthless would-be emperor. The film takes place in three acts with each act telling the same story from a different—and better informed—view point; just when you thought you understood what was going on, another small detail changes your entire perspective.
That is how Wednesday April 20th unfolded. It was a strange day, even by Chicago Public Schools (CPS) standards. There are three groups of facts you should know in order to grasp the implications of what CPS did. Some may seem unrelated at first, but by the time you finish reading, you’ll see the connections and—more importantly—you’ll see the corruption.
Fact 1: An Unprecedented Inquiry
In late February, it was announced that I was nominated to run for president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association (CPAA). Within days, the association’s current president, Clarice Berry informed me she had received a call from CPS’s legal department asking for a copy of the CPAA constitution. She told me, “I’ve been in this association for over 27 years and they have never inquired about our constitution or our elections before.”
Fact 2: A Familiar Signature on a Petition
After the CPAA nominating committee selected its slate of candidates, individual principals were free to file petitions to get on the ballot. My opponent submitted his petition. Among the signatures on that petition was none other than that of Janice Jackson–Rahm Emanuel’s hand-picked Chief Education Officer at CPS. If that were not enough, there was a second conspicuous signature on his petition: that of Denise Little, the “special advisor” to Rahm Emanuel’s handpicked CEO, Forrest Claypool.
Fact 3: A Hasty and Shameful Violation of Due Process
On Tuesday April 19, CPS officials sent the following message to my email account:
“We have scheduled an important meeting with you at 2 pm tomorrow regarding ethics and other matters. Please come to the Law Department on the 9th floor at 1 North Dearborn.
CPS later told the Chicago Tribune I missed a disciplinary meeting to discuss my “employment status.” The above message was supposed to be the notice of that meeting. However–as you can plainly see–there is no mention of any possible discipline or misconduct violations. There is no reference to “employment status” or even any direct indication that a policy violation had occurred. Just a vague reference to “ethics.” In addition, the email was sent on short notice the day before the meeting. Finally, it was sent via email. No phone call. No letter. Just a vague email the day before the meeting.
Unfortunately I didn’t receive the email on time because I took a sick day on Tuesday to take care of my son who had a minor surgery scheduled that day. Based on the last minute email-only notification, it appears this was the result CPS officials were hoping for. Why were CPS officials being so clumsy and hasty? What was the internal emergency that made them rush this process? I would soon find out.
Fact 4: The Insider, and Another Corrupt Emanuel Contract
Two years ago CPS entered into a disastrous contract totaling $340 million with the Aramark and Sodexo Corporations to privatize the management of CPS custodians. Schools across Chicago were filthy and today principals continue to do the work these of custodial “managers” who rarely spend more than an hour per week in our schools. Their profit model appears to be to layoff as many custodians as possible in order to decrease labor costs while reaping in the profits from CPS for drastically reducing cleaning services. Two years later CPS officials continue to insult the intelligence of principals by claiming it is going to fix the problem of privatized custodians by spending several hundred million more to privatize our engineers via the Sodexo corporation—a major contributor to Rahm Emanuel’s campaign. Until Sodexo, nearly every CPS school had its own dedicated full-time engineer in the building. Their profit model will be to, once again, increase their profits by reducing the total number of engineers and spreading them thin across multiple schools. This strategy seems particularly reckless and irresponsible given the two incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning in CPS schools this year alone (engineers are responsible for the systems that both produce and detect carbon monoxide).
The Sodexo Contract Meeting
The week before I was removed I received a message on my CPS email account from an insider with detailed knowledge of a CPS contract arrangement. He heard I was running for president of the principals association and he wanted to meet with me to discuss the multimillion-dollar contract CPS was arranging with Sodexo at the same time they’re crying “poverty” to principals and the teachers union. More specifically he wrote: “CPS is about to unnecessarily spend hundreds of millions of dollars.” He told me some important details were hidden from principals when we were informed about the privatization of engineers, and he thought I might be able to help him make principals aware of those details. He also said CPS was in a “rush” to force this contract through.
I proposed we meet the following Wednesday, April 20th in the afternoon: the same afternoon I had scheduled a separate unrelated meeting with principals and other CPS administrators at Stevenson school, regarding the CPAA election. So I’d scheduled a meeting about the Sodexo Contract, and an election meeting with principals on the same afternoon. This was also the afternoon on which CPS officials decided I needed to be removed me from my position. Here’s how that afternoon unfolded.
Fact 5: Attempted Shutdown of an “Illegal Principals Meeting”
As part of my efforts to transform CPAA into a more powerful member-driven organization I set up a series of public information and Q&A sessions and invited principals and other school administrators across Chicago. These meetings were all scheduled to take place in three CPS schools after hours (Stevenson, Alcott, and Whitney Young). The first of these informational sessions was also scheduled to take place on Wednesday afternoon, April 20th. The location was Stevenson school.
However, when the principal who helped me organize the Stevenson meeting arrived at the school, there were two central office security guards and a network chief at the door (A network chief is a CPS official who is in charge of a group of 40 to 50 schools). The chief told her our meeting would not be allowed because it was an “illegal” principals meeting about Aramark and Sodexo.
CPS security guard following orders from City Hall to notify principals their right to assemble was being violated.
CPS Network Chief Megan Hougard standing in the schoolhouse door to prevent CPAA members from entering.
Having done what City Hall sent them to do, Chief Hougard and CPS security exit the building. Afterward, the security guards sat in a car and monitored as principals and assistant principals arrived for a meeting at a locked school.
“Sodexo?” I thought. What is she talking about? Our meeting was about the upcoming CPAA election. I wondered, “How in the world did they come to think this was a meeting about the Sodexo contract?”
The only Aramark/Sodexo related meeting I was having was the one I’d tentatively scheduled with the CPS insider whom had detailed knowledge of the Sodexo privatization deal—the one who emailed me on my CPS account. Then it hit me. About five years ago CPS switched over to using Google email services. The very first time I opened my CPS/Google email account—and only the very first time—I had to click a button to sign off on a statement that informed me that my account is not private and is subject to being accessed by CPS officials. I also thought about a WBEZ story on how the Mayor’s Office uses taxpayer dollars to pay staffers to follow reporters around and eavesdrop on their conversations with members of the City Council. If they were paranoid and unethical enough to do that, then were they above regularly reading the emails of a principal often described as their “biggest critic”?
While my meeting with principals at Stevenson had been publicly advertised, I hadn’t told a soul about my meeting with the Sodexo contract insider. The only way anyone in CPS could have thought I was having an Aramark/Sodexo related meeting is if they had read our email exchange and thought—erroneously—that since the insider said he wanted to “make principals aware of the details of the contract” that the principals meeting at Stevenson was for that purpose. Then CPS moved with reckless haste to shut that meeting down.
Then– with their next move–they acted to shut down any future meetings.
Fact 6: A Conspicuous Delivery
CPS failed to stop the meeting. We simply moved it to a nearby restaurant. We talked about the major obstacles CPS puts in the way of our ability to do the best job we can for our students, and we discussed some concrete strategies for removing those obstacles. Most of them told me that—despite an underlying culture of fear and intimidation in CPS–many of their colleagues were going to attend the meetings at Whitney Young and Alcott.
Although I was encouraged by the turnout and the great planning session, I was disturbed by the reckless and hasty attempt to shut down our meeting. I drove to Beverly to see my son and his mother, Margaret. After getting defeated in several wrestling matches with my son, I went into the living room to talk with Margaret. We’ve known each other since we were children. I met her when I was seven years old. There’s no one I trust more than her. I told her about what had occurred and we both sat silently for a moment. More than ever before we were beginning to see—not only the power I was up against—but the threat I might pose to those powers if I could use the role of CPAA president to call attention to private companies’ plans to divert hundreds of millions of dollars from our schools into their bank accounts. There I was—the kid from a 43rd street slum—standing squarely in their way.
When you’ve known someone for as long as we’ve known one another, sometimes you don’t have to say anything to say everything. We looked at one another. I knew what she was thinking, and she knew I was thinking that same thing. Despite our shared apprehension we both knew I could not stop. As she has always done, Margaret gave me some words of encouragement and I prepared to head home.
She walked out onto the porch with me where we noticed an unfamiliar car parked in the front of the next-door neighbor’s home. A large man emerged from the vehicle and began walking toward us. I motioned for Margaret to step back as I walked down the stairs. The man approach and asked, “Are you Troy LaRaviere?” I responded, “That depends on who you are.” He then pulled the right flap of his partially open jacket away from his chest and reached inside. He pulled out a badge and turned it toward me. Before I could recognize the jurisdiction of the badge, he put it away and handed me a piece of paper.
This letter serves as official notification that effective April 20,2016, you are removed from all duties and responsibilities as the principal of James G. Blaine Elementary School. Your reassignment is based upon acts of misconduct that have occurred after your receipt of a Warning Resolution issued to you by the Board. You will be notified of your due process rights in the near future.
The letter explicitly directed me not to return to “any CPS location for any reason….” I couldn’t have my CPAA campaign meetings at Whitney Young and Alcott. Meanwhile I’d been informed CPS officials were allowing my opponent to travel from school to school during the day, interrupting principals during their workday to campaign against me.
What it all means
CPS officials—for the first time in history—made an official inquiry into a CPAA election after they found out I had been nominated; then the mayor’s appointed Chief Education Officer and the special advisor to CPS CEO Forrest Claypool, signed the petition of my only challenger. Next, they mistakenly assumed I was attempting to hold a meeting to inform principals about dangers posed by the corrupt effort to privatize our engineers. Then—within the span of about 28 hours—CPS did all of the following:
- Sent me a vague last-minute email about a meeting that they later claimed was about my “employment status”
- Attempted to shut down what they described as an “illegal” principals meeting at Stevenson school.
- Within hours of the attempted shutdown they had someone waiting outside the home where my son and his mother live to serve me with a reassignment letter (If they sent someone to my home to deliver the notice you would think they could have at least picked up the phone to notify me of my discipline meeting).
- Banned me from all CPS schools–effectively handicapping my ability to campaign–while they allow my opponent to interrupt principals during the school day to campaign against me.
I normally offer my own commentary when I write, but in this case, the facts are what they are. I have laid them out above with little to no commentary. They speak for themselves.
The lengths this administration has gone to influence the election of a private professional association–and the clumsiness with which they did it–are yet another reminder of how much work we have to do in Chicago.
I remain focused on creating a school system that prioritizes the best interests of students and families above all else. I hope to be the next president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association and serve the children, families, and educators of Chicago in that role.
With this background I will release a statement and/or hold a press conference soon in response to the specific charges CPS has leveled against me.
If you are a CPS principal or assistant principal, click here to join CPAA.
If you are a teacher with a Type 75 or equivalent certificate, click here to join.
If you are a retired CPS administrator, click here to join.
Chooljian, Lauren (November 10,2015). Mayor’s Press Team Defends Eavesdropping on Reporters’ Conversations with Aldermen.