* As I told you the other day, the heat is really on UNO right now. Their $35 million construction grant was deleted from the mini capital bill approved by the General Assembly this month because of all the bad publicity. After dismissing questions about conflicts of interest as no big deal, the politically connected group is now apparently trying to get this matter behind them so they can eventually get that state cash…
The No. 2 executive of the United Neighborhood Organization quit Tuesday, eight days after the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the politically influential charter school operator paid state grant money to companies owned by two of his brothers.
Miguel d’Escoto, who was UNO’s senior vice president of operations, resigned “by mutual agreement” in a letter submitted Tuesday evening, said the group’s CEO, Juan Rangel. […]
Rangel said UNO’s contracting process “followed the law.”
“However, we want to avoid even the appearance of conflicts of interest,” said Rangel, who was a co-chairman of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2011 campaign.
D’Escoto was paid $200,000 a year by UNO and had worked for it for six years, public records show. He previously was a city transportation commissioner in the administration of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
D’Escoto’s brothers were paid with state funds under a $98 million grant UNO got to build new schools. The Sun-Times reported Feb. 4 that UNO’s contractors under the grant included d’Escoto Inc. — owned by former UNO board member Federico “Fred” d’Escoto — and Reflection Window Co., owned by Rodrigo d’Escoto.
Rangel said Sunday UNO would stop doing business with d’Escoto Inc. until after the organization completes an internal review of its contracting process.
As a side note, a South Side school construction project is not up and running yet because it had to follow the state’s bidding laws. UNO didn’t have to do that, and some African-American legislators aren’t too pleased.
* And speaking of Chicago school-related conflicts of interest…
The day before Chicago Public Schools is set to release the list of schools in danger of closing, a group of parents asked the CPS Inspector General of Chicago Public Schools to investigate the district’s closing process.
Parents 4 Teachers, which has strong ties to the Chicago Teachers Union, filed a complaint alleging conflict of interest, saying the district is motivated to close schools not by a budget deficit but by a desire to expand charter schools.
The letter dated Feb. 12 cited ties between the independent commission appointed by CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett to research school closings, and the Civil Consulting Alliance, which has ties to charter-school boosters. It also pointed to a $478,000 grant to CPS from the charter-supporting Walton Family Foundation to pay for breakout sessions at school closing hearings.
“They share the same offices,” Erica Clark of Parents 4 Teachers said of the commission. “They are advised by organizations that are in business to promote charters.
“These are clear conflicts of interest that have to stop,” she said.
Clark and her group also allege that CPS has misled the public into believing that school closings will help bridge a deep budget gap.