Ousted CPS Board Member Calls for Probe of New Near South High School Plan

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

A former member of the Chicago Board of Education — ousted by Mayor Lori Lightfoot — called Wednesday for the school district’s watchdog to probe the plan to build a new $120 million high school on near South Side land owned by the Chicago Housing Authority.

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Appointed by Lightfoot to the board overseeing the Chicago Public Schools in 2019, Dwayne Truss had expected to continue as a member before learning that the mayor planned to replace him with former Ald. Michael Scott (24th Ward), one of her allies.

Truss called for the inspector general of the Chicago Public Schools to probe the deal that would allow the high school to be built at 24th and State streets, once home to the demolished CHA Harold L. Ickes homes. 

“CPS has not given taxpayers and education stakeholders a complete picture of the total cost of the proposal near South (Side) high school,” Truss said, adding that the city could build the new school on donated land as part of the under-construction development known as The 78 between the South Loop and Chinatown along the Chicago River. 

Community members have questioned the need for the new school amid declining enrollment in the city’s public schools, while others have said the proposed school would harm existing schools in the area by pulling more students from those classrooms.

The property CPS officials want to use for the high school had been set to be redeveloped by the CHA as part of the Southbridge housing development. Instead, the school district will give the housing agency two acres of land near 22nd Street and Wabash Avenue to be included in the Southbridge development, according to the plan approved by the CHA board, whose members are also appointed by Lightfoot.

Based on the value of land near the proposed high school, that property could cost taxpayers between $16 million and $20 million, Truss said.

Truss was ousted after he said he did not support the plan to build a new high school. The lack of support for the plan forced CPS CEO Pedro Martinez to postpone a vote scheduled for June 22. A new vote has not yet been scheduled.

Lightfoot’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from WTTW News.

Truss’ ouster was so sudden that he did not receive the lengthy tributes offered to Luisiana Meléndez and Lucino Sotelo, two other departing board members, during the June meeting. Truss participated in briefings offered by the staff to board members in preparation for Wednesday’s board meeting, WBEZ reported.

Truss addressed his former colleagues during the public comment portion of Wednesday’s meeting, with Scott in the chair he occupied last month. Truss had just three minutes to address the board, like all other members of the public, and said it was an “awesome blessing” to have served on the Chicago Board of Education.

Truss said the mayor asked him to stay on the board for an additional two years before he learned he would not be reappointed.

Scott, a close ally of Lightfoot, resigned from the City Council on June 3, telling WTTW News that the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic and the unrelenting violence in his West Side ward had taken too great a toll on himself and his family. Lightfoot appointed Scott’s sister, Monique, to replace him.

Scott, who now works for movie and television studio Cinespace, served as chair of the City Council’s Education Committee that has met just once in 2022, despite having a budget of $181,806.

In his first remarks as a member of the school board, Scott praised Truss and said it was “surreal” and the “greatest honor” of his life to serve on the school board, which his father led during the tenure of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Truss ran unsuccessfully in 2019 against Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th Ward) for the Chicago City Council after working for years as an activist who opposed the opening of charter schools in Chicago and former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to close 54 schools, most on the South or West sides.

Before Truss spoke, Board Member Elizabeth Todd Breland said she was “disappointed” in the way Truss was dismissed and told him he maintained his integrity.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone[email protected] | (773) 569-1863

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