CHICAGO – Heather Wendell was named to fill the vacant budget director post at Chicago Public Schools.
Wendell has more than 20 years of education-related experience that began as a teacher. After holding multiple administrative positions, she most recently served as executive director of the CPS grants office, where she oversaw and coordinated more than $900 million in federal and state funds. She will continue to manage the grants office.
The fiscal post was among a series of key leadership appointments announced Wednesday by acting chief executive officer Janice Jackson, who was tapped to lead the district after the departure of CEO Forrest Claypool.
Claypool’s resignation late last year came after he was accused by the district’s inspector general of lying and engaging in a cover-up of an ethics probe. The Chicago Board of Education is expected to formally appoint Jackson to the CEO's post at its meeting later this month and it must also sign off on the leadership appointments.
“The team members announced today represent some of the most devoted, thoughtful and creative people I have had the privilege of working with, and their proven record of success in CPS will play a key role in the district’s mission of providing every student in every neighborhood with a high quality education,” Jackson said in a statement.
Arnie Rivera will serve as chief operating officer, LaTanya McDade will serve as chief education officer, and Pedro Soto will be chief of staff.
The district’s other top fiscal posts remain filled by Ronald DeNard, who Claypool brought in to serve as senior vice president of finance, and Jennie Huang Bennett, who started at the district in 2012 as treasurer and was elevated to chief financial officer in 2016. Bennett predated Claypool’s tenure but DeNard was his close ally and is expected to soon rejoin the private sector, according to public finance sources.
Claypool took over in July 2015 as the district was grappling with a more than $1 billion deficit and it struggled with market access. He left with a state funding victory in hand and a series of academic gains.
While far from stable as the district remains deep in junk rating territory and still relies on short term note borrowing to operate, the state approved $300 million more in annual funding in late summer and a tax levy hike of about $130 million. The city is also contributing $80 million to the district this year to cover security costs.
The district was rewarded by investors with narrowing spreads in its general obligation and capital improvement tax-backed issue late last year. GO spreads were trimmed to about 220 to 250 basis points from about 480bp on a July sale.
With the new funding in hand, Fitch Ratings last year raised its rating by one notch to BB-minus and assigned a stable outlook. Kroll Bond Rating Agency revised its outlook to positive on its BBB and BBB-minus ratings of the district. S&P Global Ratings shifted its outlook to stable from negative on its B rating. Moody’s Investors Service rates the district at B3 and revised its outlook to stable from negative.