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The clout exercised by Bruce Rauner to help get his daughter into Walter Payton College Preparatory High School was used to funnel money into a non-profit affiliate system with a complicated structure and history of dubious spending.

In the summer of 2008, Bruce Rauner donated $250,000 to the Payton Prep Initiative for Education, a non-profit affiliated with Walter Payton College Preparatory High School and soon after his daughter was enrolled in the school, though the family lived in the suburbs at the time.

The move appears to be part of a Chicago Public Schools Magnet and Selective Enrollment Schools and Programs Admissions Policy: “The Magnet and Selective Enrollment Schools and Programs Admissions Policy allows principals of Selective Enrollment High Schools to exercise a five percent discretion in the selection of incoming freshmen students through a centralized process. Through the Principal Discretion process principals of Selective Enrollment High Schools select students through an application process that takes into consideration such areas as student awards and honors, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement written by the student.”

The current principal of Walter Payton Prep is Timothy Devine did not respond to an email for comment. The principal at the time was Ellen Estrada, who is currently a board member at Good City Chicago and also didn’t respond to an email for comment.

The Magnet Selective Enrollment Schools and Programs Admissions Policy was the subjective of an expose on WBEZ in April 2013 which showed hundreds of well-connected families looking for similar favors. The secret clout list was released along with the article.

The Payton Prep Initiative is one of at least two, along with Friends of Payton Prep, non-profits affiliated with the high school. Most if not all of the magnet schools in Chicago have similar non-profits affiliated with them.

According to the Payton Prep Initiative for Education their role is, “(T)o build the Payton Endowment Fund to sustain the academic vision, mission, and tradition of excellence at Walter Payton College Preparatory High School well into the future. The Payton Endowment Fund will support the school’s transformative education programs that prepare students for leadership in the 21st century.”

While it sounds good, the goals listed are generally supposed to be handled in the school’s normal budget, even though these charities fall outside of Chicago Public School system budget making the lines between the two blurred and difficult to track.

The principal of each school has some if not all input for spending the funds raised by the non-profit.

As non-profits only affiliated with these magnet schools, these non-profits have also faced relatively little scrutiny, however at least one, Friends of Northside College Prep, has made some dubious investments.

It received a grant for $170,127 for Celestial Gardens, a project which took nearly a decade to complete, though it ended with the relatively unambitious result of six park benches and a sixteen foot obelisk.

(See previous Chicago Tribune article which referenced an investigation into the financing for this garden)

Friends of Northside College Prep also approved a community outreach position for the Local School Council (LSC) in 2010, even though all LSC positions are supposed to be unpaid. According to its 2010 tax returns, the charity had a line item for $44,737 for “School Community Representative”.

An email to Friends of Northside College Prep was left unreturned.

Rebel Pundit reached to the Payton Prep Initiative for Education and asked where Rauner’s contribution went but that email was also left unreturned.

The Rauner campaign didn’t respond to an email or phone call for comment.

Rauner’s campaign website contains the following statement:

“Rauner’s daughter was admitted to Walter Payton College Prep through a discretionary process available to all applicants. Their daughter achieved straight A’s and top test scores. However, at the time, attendance was also a factor in the admission process and she missed 12 days of 7th grade with pneumonia, and that’s enough to cancel out great grades and scores unless there is a discretionary process. As for the donation, the Rauners have a long history of supporting Chicago Public Schools and also support all the schools where they or their children attended. They donated to the Payton foundation a year and a half after their daughter was admitted.”


4 Responses

  1. Will

    What’s the news here? You have no evidence of anything being done by anyone? Nobody responds to you emails?

  2. Diane

    So you don’t know if there is anything to report here? No proof of wrong doing, or evidence of suspicious actions. Just suspicion? Please don’t become like other mainstream news outlets. Let’s see some evidence of wrong doing or mischief before we start posting articles.

    • Michael Volpe

      Normally, I don’t comment on my own articles, but I must defend myself. We know that Mr. Rauner’s daughter got into Walter Payton Prep shortly after he gave a generous donation to the Payton Prep Initiative, and we know that Friends of Northside Prep, another non-profit similar to Payton Prep Initiative, approved a paid position for their Local School Council even though LSC’s aren’t supposed to have any paid positions. That is a big deal and done at the discretion of the non-profit, and one they didn’t explain when asked. We also know that all these non-profits do work which is supposed to be done in the Chicago Public Schools budget outside the budget. We know this so claiming there’s no proof of wrongdoing is unfair.


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