A look back at Paul Vallas’ tenure at CPS

Tomorrow, Chicagoans will go to the polls to select the next Mayor of Chicago: former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas (1995-2001) or Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson.

In this 1998 clip from Chicago Tonight, reporters Rich Samuels and Elizabeth Brackett take a look at Vallas’ controversial and quickly imposed plan to reduce the amount the district pays annually for busing. The city’s selective “magnet schools” would be paired up, offsetting their starting and ending times from each other by 90 minutes. This would allow a single school bus to serve two schools per day instead of one, resulting in a $4 million savings out of the $3.4 billion CPS budget. Children on the first shift would have to get up as early as 5:30am to catch their buses, and then would be released from school at 1:30pm, a change which would have a significant impact on their family’s schedule.

The incident is reflective of Vallas’ unilateral leadership style as well as his numbers-oriented way of thinking about Chicagoans’ lives. It was well-documented by Ben Joravsky in his 6/4/98 Chicago Reader article entitled “Missing the Bus.”

The [mainstream] media pretty much puts out whatever he says. The corporate community loves him. They truly believe that he’s one of them and that they know best so he knows best. People see all this power and they get afraid to challenge him. He has a reputation for punishing people he doesn’t like. He’ll call you out–he’ll name your name. Parents retreat. They say, ‘Maybe if we kiss his ring, he won’t punish our school’–never mind what he does to all the others. It’s not healthy to have so much power vested in one person.

Eric Outten, cofounder of Schools First, from “Missing the Bus”
As always, you can watch the full video at Media Burn.

Additional recommended reading on how Vallas’ tenure at CPS predicts his mayoral style: “Mr. Self Promotion” by Ben Joravsky, Chicago Reader, 3/20/23.



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