ROGERS PARK — Newly released emails from Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office show Ald. Joe Moore (49th) sought the mayor's help in proving "the critics wrong" when Noble Network of Charter Schools was eyeing the Rogers Park neighborhood in Spring of 2015.
Though publicly Moore said he remained neutral, behind-the-scenes he was working to position Noble within the neighborhood either as a new location, or to replace another charter — specifically a "struggling" UNO campus in the ward.
Moore said the idea of taking over UNO's campus had come from Arnie Rivera, Emanuel's deputy chief of staff for education, and was "an idea I've encouraged Noble to explore and they tell me they are more than willing to do so."
In the email, Moore acknowledges he's "caught a huge amount of grief" for even considering the proposal that Noble move the Far North Side.
Part of that plan included working with Sullivan High School's Principal Chad Adams to create a "partial magnet" program geared toward immigrant students whose first language was not English — a move he thought would help defend Noble against arguments that it would siphon students away from Sullivan, a neighborhood school, according to Moore's email.
Moore hoped to announce the magnet program at Sullivan before making an announcement regarding Noble moving into the neighborhood, he said.
In response to questions from DNAinfo about the emails, Moore said on Thursday that he was still working with Adams and Loyola to implement the magnet program.
When 49th Ward residents got word the charter school was considering a new location in the neighborhood, "Say No to Noble" group was formed in opposition, with support from principals and aldermen across the North Side, as well as state Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-9th) and State Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago).
In Moore's email to Emanuel, he said he fired former Chief of Staff Betsy Vandercook because "she went behind my back to organize community opposition to Noble."
Feeling unsupported, including by "my so-called friend Jan Schakowsky," Moore filled the mayor in on "all the facts" and his vision for schools in Rogers Park, adding he "refused to accept that defeatist attitude and turn away Noble" at the outset.
"I firmly believe that Sullivan can continue to grow and thrive even if Noble opened in the ward and I need your help to prove the critics wrong," he wrote to Emanuel in the May 19 email.
The next day, Moore declined to sign a group letter expressing opposition to Noble as part of the "Say No to Noble" movement, telling Schakowsky's Chief-of-Staff Leslie Combs that it was his "longstanding practice to refrain from rendering an opinion on hypothetical proposals."
"I sincerely respect and take to heart the Congresswoman's views and the opinions expressed by my fellow elected officials," he told Combs. "I am not yet ready, however, to render an opinion on something that has not yet been proposed and where I do not yet have all the facts."
If Noble were to make a formal proposal, he said, he would "follow my customary practice of listening to and weighing all perspectives and opinions."
Moore gave Emanuel's office a heads up on the letter by forwarding it, and within minutes the mayor had forwarded it to Rivera.
By June, Noble decided to back off from the Far North Side.
In his comments Thursday, Moore said he "categorically reject[s]" the assertion that he was completely on-board for Noble from the start. He said he had reached out to the mayor not for his support on Noble, but for his support on Sullivan before Emanuel was to meet with some of Loyola's top brass later that day.
"One argument I offered to get the Mayor's support for making Sullivan a magnet school is that it would blunt some of the unsubstantiated assertions that good neighborhood schools and good charter schools are incompatible," Moore told DNAinfo. "This is the sole reason I mentioned the Noble's possible move to Rogers Park."
When it came to Noble, Moore said he was "a simple matter of social justice" for kids in the neighborhood and he didn't want to reject a school with an "excellent academic reputation" just because there were some vocal opponents, he said.
"I simply could not in good conscience give in to the loud voices and simply reject out of hand a school with an excellent academic reputation," Moore said. "I felt I owed it especially to the low income families in my neighborhood, who because of their economic circumstances, do not enjoy the range of educational choices that I and other middle and upper income families enjoy. To me it was a matter of simple justice."
This fall, over 62 percent of 49th Ward voters said they would support a freeze on any "expanding charter schools in the 49th Ward ... through new, larger, or relocated schools."
The question, "Should there be a freeze on expanding charter schools in the 49th Ward of the City of Chicago through new, larger, or relocated schools?" appeared as a non-binding referendum on November ballots for Rogers Parkers.
Of the 17,086 Rogers Park residents who responded, 62.45 percent (or 10,670 people) voted, "Yes."
Moore told DNAinfo that by this time, more than a year after the "Say No to Noble" efforts, the issue of charters in the neighborhood was relatively "dead" and a formal freeze on them would be "moot," but saw no harm in posing the question to voters.
Read the emails below.
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