Four board members will resign from the school board of the beleaguered Chicago public schools when their terms expire this summer, including Deborah H. Quazzo, whose financial holdings with companies doing business with the school system have come under scrutiny.
Quazzo, the founder and managing partner of GSV Advisors, a Chicago-based financial advisory company, was named to the board of the 400,000-student district by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in June of 2013.
Emanuel announced Tuesday that he had picked four new board members to replace Quazzo and three others whose terms are about to end, the Chicago Tribune reported. Quazzo had told the mayor two weeks ago, in a May 14 letter, that she intended to resign at the end of her term this month, she said in an email to Education Week. She declined further comment beyond the letter.
In her private sector role, Quazzo has been a vocal and visible advocate for private investment in ed-tech, in the belief that that support can produce not only financial returns for investors but innovations for teachers and students.
“[It] is time for me to get back to the work I believe deeply in, transforming lives through education and great educators,” Quazzo wrote to the mayor. “I can no longer create financial and personal distractions for the commercial and philanthropic organizations I support.”
Stories in the Chicago Sun-Times have questioned Quazzo’s private holdings and the intersection of those investments with her public duties on the board. The newspaper reported that five companies Quazzo has invested in have seen their business from the district’s schools triple during the period since she joined the board, to $3.8 million.
In another story, the newspaper reported that Quazzo had voted to support charter school networks that have given money to businesses in which the board member has an ownership stake.
Those stories led to demands from critics of the board, and the Chicago Teachers Union, that she step down.
Quazzo, in statements and correspondence with her supporters, has said the allegations directed at her are misleading. She’s argued that she’s been open about her investments in the companies in question; that those investments are small, that reports of how much the companies have profited since she joined the board are off-base; and that she had no control over the procurement process affecting them.
In her letter to Emanuel, Quazzo reiterated those stances, accusing her critics of having “promulgated falsehoods” about her. She said she is “going back to the absolute joy of privately making a difference in individual lives.” She added that any income she derives in the next year from her investments in companies doing business with any U.S. school districts would go back to organizations supporting the Chicago district.
(By way of disclosure, Quazzo serves on an advisory board for an editorial product under development by Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit publisher of Education Week, about the school marketplace.)
The Tribune noted that three of the four board members who will be replaced by Emanuel, including Quazzo, voted in 2013 to support a no-bid $20.5 million contract for the SUPES Academy. The circumstances of that award have fueled a maelstrom in Chicago. Superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennett had recommended to the board that it approve the principal training contract to the academy, which had previously employed her.
Byrd-Bennett resigned this week, and the SUPES deal is now the subject of a federal investigation.