CPS Clout Scandal Threatens to Involve Obama's Buddy

Feds closing in

By Steve Rhodes
|  Tuesday, Aug 11, 2009  |  Updated 5:41 PM CDT
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Arne Duncan may have some answering to do.

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Controversy is brewing at the Chicago Public Schools, and this one could even include the president's basketball buddy, Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Like the University of Illinois, some of Chicago's top magnet schools are being investigated for admissions irregularities -- and people will likely want to know what Duncan knew and when he knew it. 

"My assumption is that Duncan has already been subpoenaed," writes Alexander Russo in Scholastic. "Hell, he might have been back in Chicago last week to testify in front of the grand jury."

A spokesperson from Duncan's office confirmed he has not been subpoenaed.

So barring any serious revelations about his role in the scandal, Russo says Duncan is probably in the clear.

"Unless they slam him for expanding principal discretion in February 2008 or for things that happened that first year," Russo writes. "Everyone else might be in deep doo-doo, however."

Russo surmises that the feds are "looking for bribery, corruption, fraud types of things, not violations of civil rights or disparate impact types of issues."

In other words: criminal violations; the kind that can send folks to the pokey.

School board president and mayoral pal Michael Scott, may not fare so well. He is already being questioned about how some students are chosen for admission to Chicago's elite high schools. Federal subpoenas were issued and Scott has been asked to appear before a grand jury.

"When he appears, he should have handy a list of students principals admitted and rejected to Chicago Public Schools elite selective enrollment schools," WBEZ's City Room blog notes.

Part of the focus is on the so-called "principal picks" that gave discretion to admit students to selective schools who otherwise fell outside the standard criteria for entry.

Sources told the Sun-Times last week "that Scott personally helped put a halt to a questionable principal pick at storied Whitney Young Magnet High after learning it involved the relative of his long-time aide, Greg Minniefield, Scott's $90,000-a-year 'special assistant.'"

That's likely to be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

"It's pretty clear to me that this one has legs," Greg Hinz writes. "It goes way, way up into Chicago's power structure. And it will be stinky, maybe very stinky."

 Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, a Chicago-centric news and culture review. 

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