One-time Ill. governor hopeful in hurricane mode

NEW ORLEANS Don't call him General Paul Vallas. He's not even the CEO of the public schools as he was in Chicago. Vallas is just the superintendent of what they call The Recovery School District of New Orleans, hired by the state a year ago to oversee the schools' recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

"All the mistakes they made both real and alleged during the Katrina, they did not repeat those mistakes," said Vallas.

Vallas, with a fresh crop of facial hair, hopscotched the Crescent City, inspecting the damage from Monday's Hurricane Gustav.

And finding little more than water-stained ceiling tiles and a few broken windows, in 2005, after Katrina wrecked or flattened almost every school building, Vallas says, he obtained hundreds of modern temporary classrooms through FEMA and almost $700 million in federal funds to build new schools there. Many projects now underway, thankfully were unscathed in Monday's storm.

"We haven't had one report of vandalism. We haven't had one report of a missing computer," said Vallas. "By the time the rebuilding is done, we'll probably have 85 schools."

The former Chicago Public Schools chief and Mayor Richard Daley's one-time revenue director, Vallas ran for Illinois governor in 2002 and barely lost to Rod Blagojevich in the Democratic primary.

Vallas has said he is "open to running again," in 2010 and to "never say never."

The 55-year old Chicago native said that he has one year left on his commitment in New Orleans. He has already tagged his top aide to replace him.

Vallas speaks glowingly of Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican rising star, giving weight to the suspicion that Vallas might run for Illinois governor as a Republican in 2010.

At this point though, Vallas would rather talk about how New Orleans now spends $16,000 per pupil. Far more than Chicago and almost as much as New Trier, the scene of Tuesday's big school protest.

"The city weathering the storm is a boost to the city's confidence," Vallas said.

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