CHICAGO — Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel on Monday tapped the head of the Rochester City School District to lead the Chicago Public Schools and left in place the current chief financial officer, Diana Ferguson.
Jean-Claude Brizard, selected by Emanuel after a national search, has led Rochester schools for three years. He previously worked for more than two decades as a teacher and administrator in the New York City public schools.
"J.C.'s leadership put Rochester schools on a new path," Emanuel said Monday.
Selecting a new schools leader has been a top priority for Emanuel. Others include naming a police superintendent and a finance team. Sources said Emanuel has offered the city's top fiscal post to Lois Scott, a co-founder of the local financial advisory firm Scott Balice Strategies, and an announcement could come as soon as this week.
Scott has not returned calls to comment and Emanuel's spokesman Ben LeBolt denied the offer. The pick for schools chief executive marks a departure from retiring Mayor Richard Daley, who favored management and financial experience over academic experience in most of his choices to lead the system.
Emanuel named a team that also includes new chief operating officer Tim Cawley, who is currently a managing director for finance and administration at the Academy for Urban School Leadership, and chief education officer Noemi Donoso, who is director of Denver Public Schools' Office of School Reform.
Emanuel is also leaving in place general counsel Patrick Rocks.
Emanuel also announced his picks to fill the Board of Education after he takes office on May 16. The board will be led by president David Vitale, who had served without salary as a top adviser to former schools CEO Arne Duncan, now the U.S. education secretary. Vitale had sweeping powers at CPS, including input on district financial decisions. He previously was CEO of the Chicago Board of Trade.
Other appointees include Jesse Ruiz, an attorney; Henry Bienen, a former president of Northwestern University; Mahalia Hines, a former CPS principal; Penny Pritzker, a Chicago businessman; Rod Sierra, chief marketing officer at Johnson Publishing Co.; and Andrea Zopp, president of the Chicago Urban League.
Ferguson took over CPS' finances in early 2010 after working in the private sector, including as chief financial officer for a division of Sara Lee Corp. and for Folgers Coffee Co.
CPS is facing a $720 million deficit in its next budget to cover the growing costs of teacher salaries and debt service amid chronic delays in state aid payments and expiring federal stimulus funds.
Illinois is currently $236 million behind in its school aid payments. CPS also will not know what final funding level to expect from the state until the General Assembly adopts a fiscal 2012 budget.
The district faces contentious negotiations with the teachers' union as concessions will likely be sought to help balance the budget. Current contracts call for pay raises that carry an $80 million price tag next year. After some difficult times that included teachers' strikes, Chicago and its teachers' unions have enjoyed labor peace since Daley was handed back control of the school system by the legislature in 1995. It has been considered a positive credit factor by rating analysts.
The district faced a similar deficit last year in its $6.5 billion budget. It cut spending and staffing levels and restructured $240 million of debt to help close the gap. Fitch Ratings last year downgraded CPS' $5 billion of debt to A-plus due to mounting fiscal challenges and a reliance on one-time revenues.
The district enjoys a healthy unreserved fund balance. Its ratings are backed by Chicago's large economic base, and a stabilized enrollment of more than 400,000 students who attend 675 schools. CPS has ratings of AA-minus from Standard & Poor's and Aa2 from Moody's Investors Service. Both assign negative outlooks.