Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Quick Fixer: my profile of Peter Raskind, interim schools CEO

Peter Raskind will only be CEO of the Cleveland schools until summer, but he wants to solve two years of budget troubles in the next three months.

Last night, Raskind proposed closing seven schools and laying off 650 teachers, part of his plan to manage the shrinking district. Facing a $47 million deficit, he wants to cut $74 million. He knows that a worse deficit is projected for 2012, and he wants to deal with it before he leaves.

Raskind, the last CEO of National City, says he learned lessons during the Cleveland bank’s decline that motivate him to bold action now. “It’s better to get out ahead of issues and confront them than hope they go away,” he told me recently. “Being proactive beats being defensive, even when it's painful.”

My profile of Raskind, “Quick Fixer,” appears in the April issue of Cleveland Magazine and is online now. The April issue is available in bookstores this week and will be on other newsstands by early April.

Most Clevelanders know Raskind as the CEO who took charge of National City just as its aggressive push to grow from hometown commercial bank to a leading national mortgage lender began to bear rotting fruit. Now Raskind has a chance to be known in Cleveland for something other than bank failure. He's taken on an unlikely second career as an interim CEO for troubled government agencies.

Last year, he stabilized the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority and killed its grandiose $600 million relocation plan with a single, swift stroke. Now, after former schools CEO Eugene Sanders’ abrupt departure for Maui, Mayor Frank Jackson has asked Raskind to step in, tackle the deficit and advance the unfinished "transformation plan" to reform the schools.

The peculiar job of an interim CEO gives Raskind unusual freedom to act, without a career-minded leader’s caution. Sanders, faced with a similar deficit last year, closed 13 schools and balanced the budget, but didn’t push hard enough to prevent this year’s sequel.

Still, Raskind’s decisions are sure to provoke controversy. School closings change a neighborhood, and Raskind and the school board will likely hear from upset parents at community forums (pdf) next Tuesday and Wednesday. (Is Raskind “on the right track, or is there another way?” asks Dan Moulthrop on the Civic Commons web site.)

Raskind is also thinking about selling the district’s headquarters, the 1931 board of education building on East Sixth Street. Roldo Bartimole — blogging again after a long break — is upset, pointing out that selling the building would mess with Daniel Burnham’s 1903 Group Plan for the Malls and that public outcry nixed a plan to sell the building in the 1980s. It’s one example of the critical moment the school district faces and Raskind’s brief but key role in its future.

You can read my Raskind profile by clicking here. If you’d like to link to it, you can use this shortcut:

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