CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner apologized Friday for a 2011 email in which he characterized Chicago public school teachers as "virtually illiterate" and principals as "incompetent," but said he was frustrated by the pace of change in the nation's third-largest school system.
Before the Republican governor could even make the apology, several protesters interrupted his opening remarks at a signing ceremony for two education-related bills. Rauner stood silently behind a podium and tried awkwardly to suppress a smile as protesters stood up one after the other to read statements, including one who called his comments inflammatory and challenged the governor to a reading contest.
"Let me be very clear, I apologize for the statement that I made in that email in 2011," he said in response to questions from reporters moments later. "The remarks there were inaccurate and intemperate and I apologize to the teachers."
Rauner, a longtime advocate of school reform, has been a frequent critic of Chicago Public Schools and the city's teachers union, even likening some schools to "almost crumbling prisons." He called for a state takeover of the financially troubled school district in February.
During a 2012 teachers strike, Rauner wrote an opinion piece for the Chicago Tribune saying the strike "provides us all with a clear opportunity to examine the grossly inadequate performances of many public school teachers."
On Friday, he sought to explain his 2011 comments by saying he was passionate about the issue of education and frustrated at the pace of improvements.
Rauner sent that email before his 2014 election. He was a private equity executive at the time and a large donor to the Chicago Public Education Fund, an education reform group.
The remarks were revealed Thursday after a court ordered Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration to release emails sought by the Tribune in connection with its reporting about a principal training program at the center of a former district superintendent's federal fraud conviction last year.
In the email, Rauner was discussing future investments by the fund with other billionaire board members.
He wrote that teacher evaluation is critically important, "but in a massive bureaucracy with a hostile union, where 50 percent of principals are managerially incompetent and half of teachers are virtually illiterate, a complex multi-dimensional evaluation system with huge subjectivity in it will be attacked, manipulated and marginalized — the status quo will prevail."
Rauner said Friday he was supportive of teachers but that his goal was to see good teachers in every classroom and more school choice for parents so no students are "locked in a failing school."