Jean-Claude Brizard, Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel's pick to be the next CPS chief, was the subject of two federal lawsuits questioning his practices during his contentious three years as superintendent of the school district in Rochester, N.Y., according to reports.
The lawsuits were filed in New York last July against Brizard, Emanuel's first major personnel appointment as he prepares to take over City Hall from retiring Mayor Richard Daley, according to the Chicago Tribune, WLS-TV and the Chicago Sun-Times.
Emanuel, however, said he's not worried about the lawsuits. He told the Chicago Sun-Times he wasn't troubled because similar charges were filed against Education Secretary Arne Duncan when he ran Chicago schools.
One lawsuit accuses Brizard, 47, of firing Rochester's 58-year-old former deputy superintendent for teaching and learning "without cause" last year after making derogatory comments about her age. Marilynn Patterson Grant had worked for the 34,000-student Rochester City School District for 35 years.
According to the lawsuit, Brizard told Grant and other high-ranking school officials "you all are old," adding that during a citywide principals' meeting he remarked "in teaching, age matters." Brizard also allegedly suggested tension between Grant and two other black women during a meeting was a "case" of "strong black women."
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found probable cause last June that Grant had been fired because of her sex, age and race.
Brizard has an unlisted home telephone number in Rochester and could not be reached for comment Sunday. But he has told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle that Grant's claims were "without basis," that he had had "concerns" about her performance and "would never disparage someone with experience."
"I value people with experience," the newspaper quoted him as saying.
In the other lawsuit, a former coordinator for homeless children and families accused Brizard of routinely sending teachers under investigation to a "rubber room" as punishment for educators the district sought to fire. Roseann Kilduff said she had been assigned for five months to an alternative work site "where she languished doing nothing all day," never told of the allegations against her.
The Rochester Teachers Association filed class-action grievances against the "punitive and insensitive" practice; since then, union president Adam Urbanski said, referrals to the rubber room have declined.
Brizard, a native of Haiti who worked for more than two decades in New York City schools before taking the helm in Rochester in 2008, was introduced April 18 as Emanuel's choice as chief executive of Chicago's public schools, which have more than 400,000 students.
Brizard replaces interim schools chief Terry Mazany, who Daley named to the post in November. Mazany took over because the previous schools chief, Ron Huberman, resigned from the $230,000-a-year job after Daley said he would retire.
Brizard has said he makes no excuses for wanting to overhaul public education and called himself a "completely effective" leader in Rochester, where members of the teachers union recently gave him a resounding no-confidence vote that the Chicago Teachers Union has called concerning.
Urbanski said Brizard promoted policies that teachers found unpalatable, such as promoting charter schools while wanting to close poorly performing public schools.
As a self-professed "reformer," Brizard has said recently he understands large school systems and "how you move a battleship and turn it around quite effectively," adding that "you cannot have progress without things moving and changing."
"I've always been pro-teacher ... but you also have to weigh the work versus the person," Brizard added. "You don't want to be a block or barrier to what needs to be done. We're talking about children and their future. That has to be the focus of everything we do. So you can't have one person or a team of people being in the way."
Emanuel, who takes office May 16, said he chose Brizard because Brizard was unafraid of making tough choices. Emanuel, whose push to remake Chicago's schools includes crusading for reforms to improve student learning and teacher quality, has pressed that improvements are needed in graduation rates, test scores and the district's finances.