The sister of a key Chicago City Council member has been hired by Chicago Public Schools to help with the controversial closures of dozens of schools, according to a published report.
Catherine Sugrue was named to the newly created position of CPS director of school transition, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. She is the sister of Alderman Pat O'Connor, who serves as Mayor Rahm Emanuel's floor leader.
O'Connor, a former longtime head of the City Council's Education Committee, said his sister is a contract employee without benefits and she is qualified for the job. Sugrue worked at CPS for 17 years before she became an education consultant. She declined an interview request with the newspaper.
"If I had a role in this, she wouldn't be engaged in the work she's engaged in. This is a tough spot. I'm not too thrilled about what's going on," O'Connor said. "I've got a school closing in my ward. If she was there doing my bidding or at my bidding, that wouldn't be going on."
The proposed closures of 54 schools, which will displace some 30,000 students, have been highly charged and Emanuel has been at the center of the criticism. Parents and community groups have said the closures unfairly target minority students and could create safety issues for students who have to cross gang lines to attend different schools.
Emanuel and officials in the nation's third-largest district say the closures are necessary because many buildings are half-empty. The move is expected to help save money for the district, which is facing a $1 billion budget shortfall.
School officials said the family connection had nothing to do with Sugrue's hiring.
Tom Tyrrell, who is heading up the school transitions, said he hired Sugrue because of her experience. She is being paid $55 an hour — $5 more per hour than retired principals working for her — and will work through the end of October, according to the newspaper.
"She's the kind of person that gets things done, and she's very passionate about supporting the students in our schools and that's exactly who I was looking for," he said.