CITY HALL — As city officials struggle to find a way to end the financial crisis engulfing the Chicago Public Schools, one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's top financial advisors announced Friday she was stepping down.
Alexandra Holt, who served as Emanuel's budget director for six years, said she would stay until late June or early July before leaving "to pursue other professional endeavors."
In a statement, Emanuel lauded Holt for helping craft six budgets approved by the City Council that he contends have put the city on track to eliminate its structural deficit and place its employee pension funds on firmer ground.
"Alex has been an invaluable and thoughtful partner in reducing the City's budget deficit, eliminating the bad financial practices of the past, putting our pension funds on the path to solvency and creating a strong, sustainable future for the City of Chicago," Emanuel said in a statement.
The announcement of Holt's departure comes after a week when the financial crisis engulfing Chicago schools widened with the revelation that the state of Illinois owes Chicago Public Schools approximately $467 million in grants — on top of the district's budget deficit of $129 million, created after Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a bill in November that would have given Chicago's schools $215 million.
Despite CPS' massive budget shortfall, Emanuel said again that schools will stay open until the end of the regularly scheduled school year. He has yet to detail a plan on how he plans to ensure that the district can keep classroom lights on — and pay its employees' pension fund $721 million by June 30.
City officials — including Holt — are looking at every option to fill the budget gap, Emanuel said.
Holt is a 20-year veteran of City Hall.
"My professional life has been dedicated to serving the residents of the City of Chicago, and I am truly humbled by the opportunity to serve," Holt said in a statement.
Holt's departure will force Emanuel to reshuffle his cabinet.
Holt will be replaced by Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Samantha Fields, who was appointed by Emanuel in December to that post. Both appointments require City Council confirmation.
In turn, Fields will be replaced by Rosa Escareno, an aide to Emanuel, the mayor's office said.
"I know that Samantha Fields will build on Alex's record of results as Chicago continues on the path of fiscal reform," Emanuel said. "Likewise, Rosa Escareno has proven that she will be a strong advocate for Chicago's consumers and small businesses in her new role as BACP Commissioner."