Archives for category: Chicago

The Detroit News reports that investigators are reviewing contracts made during Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s time as chief academic auditor for the Detroit public schools under Robert Bobb.

“Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who was the chief academic and accountability auditor for DPS from 2009-11, was convicted of one count of fraud in federal court. Federal authorities alleged that as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, she steered $23 million in no-bid contracts to two education firms in return for $2.3 million in bribes and kickbacks.

“One of those firms, Synesi Associates LLC, which trains principals and school administrators, was awarded contracts with DPS while Byrd-Bennett was working for the district, according to records posted on the DPS’ website….

“According to six-month expenditure reports from May and November 2011, DPS paid $1,487,654.08 to Synesi for “Consultant Services/Curriculum/Office of Accountability.”

“The report from November 2011 also lists an invoice of $128,698.77 to Synesi as “disapproved.”
In a statement Tuesday, a DPS spokeswoman said the district is cooperating with authorities.”

Yesterday, the ex-CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, pleaded guilty to a kickback scheme involving SUPES Academy. She is facing serious jail time. The owners of SUPES Academy, who made an agreement to pay BBB, have yet to be judged. Mayor Rahm Emanuel would like to pin the guilt squarely on BBB, but the Chicago Tribune revealed yesterday that the owner of SUPES is an ally of Emanuel and recommended first J.C. Blizzard as CEO, then BBB.

Jonathan Pelto, master blogger of Connecticut, sees connections that go beyond what we know so far. He sees Paul Vallas as a player in the Chicago drama. If you like to read truth-is-stranger-than-fiction stories, read his post.

Pelto writes:

Charges were also filed against The SUPES Academy LLC and Synesi Associates LLC, as well as against the owners of those two companies, Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas. According to the indictment, their role in the kick-back scheme includes charges of bribery and conspiracy to defraud the United States.

A third company owned by the two individuals, PROACT Search, a superintendent search firm that provided New Haven with Superintendent Garth Harris and Norwalk with Superintendent Steven Adamowski has also been caught up in the FBI’s investigation into the Chicago scandal….

Prior to being hand-picked by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to run Chicago’s Public Schools, Byrd-Bennett worked as a consultant and lead teacher for The Supes Academy, worked as a consultant for Synesi Associates and was listed as a part of the management team at PROACT Search.

While many key actors in the Corporate Education Reform Industry have been involved with Gary Solomon and his companies, one of the most prominent names on Solomon’s list of close colleagues is the Great Paul Vallas, the Education Reform Guru and former CEO of the Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans public school systems.

More recently, Democratic Governor and education reform disciple Dannel Malloy brought Vallas to Bridgeport, Connecticut and then twisted Connecticut law in knots so that Vallas could stay for two years until local residents had finally had enough and forced Vallas to leave the job and return to Illinois.

As for the situation in Chicago, it could certainly be said that Gary Solomon’s ability to build such a “successful” corporate education reform company is due, in no small part, to his close relationship with Paul Vallas.

Vallas not only hired Solomon and his companies when he worked in Philadelphia, but brought Solomon with him to New Orleans.

And Vallas worked to bring other business to Solomon and his companies as well.

While Vallas has publicly claimed that he has no financial interest in any of Solomon’s consulting activities, in Vallas’ Philadelphia days Solomon’s consulting company advertised that it had “the exclusive rights to Paul Vallas’ model of education reform….”

The story gets weirder and weirder, as Vallas and Solomon play tag team:

When Paul Vallas moved on to New Orleans to head the Louisiana Recovery School District, Solomon picked up even more lucrative contracts.

But it is a story out of Illinois that provides a true snap-shot and insider’s view into how Vallas and the Corporate Education Reform Industry works;

While Gary Solomon and his companies profited greatly via Vallas in Philadelphia and New Orleans, it is the somewhat more hidden story surrounding the Rockford School District (PSD 150) in Illinois the provides telling evidence about how Vallas and the Corporate Education Reform Industry works.

More consulting contracts. Follow the story. Pelto is an amazing investigative reporter.

The former CEO of Chicago public schools, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, pleaded guilty to charges of participating in a kickback in exchange for a $23 million contract for SUPES Academy, her former employer.

Prosecutors recommended a reduced sentence of 7 1/2 years in prison in return for her cooperation. Her sentencing comes later.

Further down in the story, one reads that Mayor Rahm Emanuel concealed his knowledge of the deal. Even more interesting, Byrd-Bennett’s co-conspirator is a close ally of Rahm Emanuel. He recommended Emanuel’s first CEO, J.C. Brizard, then recommended Byrd-Bennett. Emanuel claimed that his administration asked “hard questions” about the no-bid contract before it was approved.

This story illustrates what is wrong about mayoral control: no checks or balances. A perfect set-up for corruption.

“A federal indictment unsealed Thursday accused Byrd-Bennett in a massive scheme with the co-owners of SUPES Academy, a company she worked for before joining CPS. The federal probe was revealed in April after CPS acknowledged receiving grand jury subpoenas seeking an array of documents on the SUPES contract. Soon after, Byrd-Bennett took a paid leave of absence and then resigned in May.

“SUPES owners Gary Solomon, a consultant with ties to the Emanuel administration, and partner Thomas Vranas also were charged in the 23-count indictment, as was SUPES and another education consulting company the two ran. Solomon and Vranas are scheduled to be arraigned at 2 p.m. Wednesday, records show.

“The heart of the indictment involved more than $23 million in no-bid contracts awarded to SUPES to train CPS principals and other administrators beginning in 2012. A CPS committee set up to evaluate no-bid contracts initially balked at awarding SUPES a noncompetitive deal but less than a month later approved the plan, records show.

“According to the charges, Solomon agreed to kick back 10 percent of the total value of any contracts awarded to SUPES while Byrd-Bennett held the No. 2 post with CPS. She was later elevated by Emanuel to CEO.

“Much of the indictment centers on emails sent between Solomon and Byrd-Bennett that seem to make no effort to conceal the alleged kickback scheme. In one message, Byrd-Bennett even implied she needed cash because she had “tuition to pay and casinos to visit,” according to the charges.

“In a December 2012 message, Solomon assured Byrd-Bennett that trust accounts had been set up in the names of two of her young relatives — identified by sources as twin grandsons — and that they would be funded with a combined $254,000 as a “signing bonus” for her help in obtaining the contracts.

“The cash would be hers once she stepped down from her public post and rejoined his firm, Solomon wrote in the email….

“While Byrd-Bennett became the public face of the scandal, the Tribune has reported previously that Solomon’s ties to the Emanuel administration go back to the beginning of Emanuel’s tenure in office, predating the arrival of Byrd-Bennett. In fact, Solomon helped recruit Emanuel’s first schools CEO, Jean-Claude Brizard, at the request of the mayor-elect’s transition team in February 2011.

“Solomon went on to recommend Byrd-Bennett, who was the lead trainer at SUPES when CPS hired her as chief education officer in April 2012.

“Emanuel and his aides have maintained that the mayor’s office had nothing to do with the SUPES contract. When asked in April if his administration had any role at all in the SUPES contract, Emanuel told reporters, “No, you obviously know that by all the information available. And so the answer to that is no.”

“On Monday, Emanuel acknowledged for the first time that his office had prior knowledge of the deal, saying his staff “asked some very hard questions” about the no-bid contract before the Chicago school board approved it.

“The comments came on the same day the Tribune reported the mayor’s office was more involved in the $20.5 million contract than previously disclosed and was fighting the release of public records that could shed more light on how the deal came to be.

“As part of that fight, the Tribune in June sued the city under the state Freedom of Information Act after the mayor’s office redacted or withheld about two dozen emails emanating from Emanuel’s office.

“While much of the picture remains missing, the email logs and documents the administration did release show frequent communication among key Emanuel aides, Chicago school leaders and the heads of the SUPES Academy consulting firm in the months, weeks and days leading up to Emanuel’s hand-picked school board awarding the contract.”

We are left to wonder: What did Mayor Emanuel know and when did he know it?

An afterthought: I served on two different boards with Barbara BB. I thought she was smart and honorable person. I liked her. I am sad for her. She swam with sharks, and she lost her moral center. Very sad.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, former CEO of the Chicago public schools, is expected to plead guilty to charges of taking a kickback from a $23 million contract to a company she once worked for. Now, other contracts are under scrutiny, including a contract to a company owned by Robert Bobb, former leader of the Educational Achievement Authority in Detroit.

““Chicago Tonight” has learned of a probe into another contract where a firm with ties to Byrd-Bennett received CPS business. This as Byrd-Bennett is expected to plead guilty Tuesday to charges that she steered $23 million in CPS money to SUPES Academy and Synesi Associates in exchange for bribes and kickbacks.

“The arrangement in question: a $31 million contract to help CPS manage the controversial closing and consolidation of 50 schools that took place two years ago. It’s under scrutiny, “Chicago Tonight” has learned, because of ties between former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and one of the companies that received that business.

“A company called Global Workplace Solutions won the $30.9 million bid to help close the schools. The duties involved relocating records, removing contents, furnishings and equipment from the closed schools, and then securing the closed schools. A portion of the business was subcontracted to a company called The Robert Bobb Group, a company run by Robert Bobb, the former Emergency Financial Manager for Detroit Public Schools. Bobb hired Byrd-Bennett in Detroit in 2009 as Chief Academic Auditor and paid her a salary of $18,000 per month.”

Mike Klonsky comments on the latest scandal in Chicago, where ex-CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty in a scheme to take a kickback from a no-bid contract.

Klonsky says Mayor Rahm Emanuel hand-picked Byrd-Bennett. The Mayor hand-picked the school board. No one question the $23 million contract to SUPES, which had a s secret deal with the CEO.

Klonsky writes:

“My take is that the SUPES scandal goes way beyond BBB and her crew. Mayoral control of the schools has created a culture of corruption that goes all the way up to the top of the system. Turning CPS into a wing of City Hall — one of the most disreputable institutions in history — with an autocratic mayor in charge, was a mistake for which we all now will pay a tremendous price.

This is familiar to those of us who live in Néw York City. The board of education approved hundreds of millions on no-bid contracts during the Bloomberg years. The mayor-controlled board supinely approved each one, never challenging them (8 of 13 members were appointed by the mayor). The only dissident voice was Patrick Sullivan, appointed not by the mayor but by the Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer. Other than Sullivan, the board went along to please the mayor, no questions asked.

Democracy implies the need for checks and balances, transparency and accountability.

Barbara Byrd Bennett, who served as CEO of Chicago Public Schools for Rahm Emanuel, pleaded guilty in a scheme to profit from a no-bid contract.

The former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, will plead guilty to charges in an indictment released Thursday that alleges she steered more than $23 million in no-bid contracts from CPS to her former employer, authorities said Thursday.

U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon made the announcement at a news conference Thursday. He declined to discuss the details of any plea agreement, including possible prison time.

Fardon said Byrd-Bennett and others “entered into a scheme to secretly profit from schools.”

Byrd-Bennett — Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s handpicked choice — becomes CPS’ first chief executive officer to face criminal charges in connection with her job. Federal authorities have been investigating the most controversial of those contracts — a $20.5 million no-bid CPS deal for principal training, the largest in recent memory — for more than a year.

Receiving that contract in 2013 to train principals was The SUPES Academy, owned by former Niles West High School dean Gary Solomon and his former student Thomas Vranas. It generated controversy at the time because SUPES was not known for training principals while many other, respected organizations did that very job. The deal continued to draw criticism as some educators questioned the quality of SUPES’ training.

Solomon, 47, of Wilmette, and Vranas, 34, of Glenview, also were charged, as were SUPES and another company they owned that was given CPS contracts, Synesi Associates LLC.

Solomon’s attorney suggested Thursday his client would plead guilty in the case as well.

The feds allege in a 43-page indictment that Byrd-Bennett, 66, and Solomon set up a kickback scheme, detailed in emails, in which Byrd-Bennett would get 10 percent of any CPS contracts she steered to SUPES and Synesi. The feds don’t allege how much money, if any, was paid to Byrd-Bennett.

In one email discussing the alleged scheme, Byrd-Bennett wrote: “I have tuition to pay and casinos to visit (:”

“I think those emails reflect greed,” Fardon said.

The scheme started right around the time Byrd-Bennett started her job as chief education officer at CPS, the post she held before becoming CEO, the feds allege.

Who stands up for the neediest, most vulnerable children in Chicago? Not Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Not the Mayor’s hand picked Board of Education. Not the Superintendent Forrest Claypool, who imposed what he himself calls “unconscionable” cuts to special education.

Who stands up for the children? Educators.

Principal Troy LaRaviere (who was previously warned by CPS about speaking out too much) describes here the principals’ revolt, and the CPS officials’ sneaky effort to announce the cuts in a Friday afternoon (when they would get minimal media attention), with only one day to appeal.

If this what reformers stand for? Hurting defenseless children?

LaRaviere writes:

“Whenever I try to take a break from writing about CPS to focus on other aspects of my professional and personal life, CPS officials do something so profoundly unethical, incompetent and/or corrupt that my conscience calls me to pick up the pen once more. This time, they’ve targeted special education students. Obscured in the latest round of CPS budget cuts is an unprecedented move to cut legally required special education services. Educators are often asked if a school based budget cut will affect students. The answer is always “yes.” Each person in a school provides a service to a group of students. When CPS decides to cut the dollars that fund a school-based position they are, in effect, taking the service away from students.

“One district official was quoted in the Sun-Times stating, “CPS continues to work with our principals to prepare for these adjustments.”

“Adjustments” is CPS’ latest euphemism for cuts to student services. If they keep it up, they’re going to “adjust” students out of their education entirely. CEO Forrest Claypool often repeats a talking point that the cuts CPS will “have to make” are “unconscionable.” If one thinks the cuts are “unconscionable” then one does not give those cuts a false euphamistic name like “right-sizing.” Yes, that’s the actual term they use to describe their efforts to reduce services to special education students. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, CPS took an additional $13.3 million worth of services from CPS students with their latest “adjustments.” The article includes a spreadsheet detailing the cuts to schools across Chicago. For example, Ogden school lost five special education teachers and three special education assistants, while Austin High School lost two teachers and four assistants.

“Chicago’s mayor and CPS officials often cite the need to “sacrifice” in order to “save money” as a justification for such cuts. However, all too often CPS and City Hall pretend not to see opportunities to save money by making those who can most afford it sacrifice. Instead they turn their avaricious eyes toward those who can least afford it: our students. They didn’t make the banks that swindled CPS out of $100 million sacrifice by suing them to recoup their losses; they prefer to make students sacrifice by increasing their class sizes. They didn’t makes SUPES Academy sacrifice by denying the organization a $20 million no-bid contract; they prefer to make students suffer by cutting their sports programs. They didn’t make the scores of basement dwelling for-profit charter school management organizations suffer (88% of charters are in the bottom half of CPS performance in student reading growth); instead they took funds used to provide programming for students in more successful neighborhood schools. They didn’t make Aramark and Sodexo Magic (an Emanuel campaign contributor) suffer by canceling their custodial management contracts when they failed to keep schools clean; CPS and City Hall prefer instead to make special education students sacrifice by cutting their legally required educational services.”

Where are the lawyers?

Mike Klonsky reports that Chicago Public Schools is cutting special education.

“Our autocrat at City Hall appears bent on dismembering special education in Chicago by a thousand cuts. SpEd took its first major deep cut over the summer eliminating 500 positions at CPS. More cuts announced late Friday mean approximately 160 schools would lose special education teachers, while 184 would lose aides.”

Let the lawsuits begin. There is a federal law to protect children with disabilities.

Troy LaRaviere is a prominent elementary school principal in Chicago. He has been outspoken in his opposition to Rahm Emanuel’s budget-cutting and his preference for privately managed charters. He is on the honor roll of this blog for his courage and articulate support of the children and educators of the Windy City.

He recently spoke at the Chicago Club and titled his address, “A Love Letter to Chicago’s Teachers.”

Much to his surprise, he received an anonymous love letter from a teacher. She was deeply inspired by his speech.

Her letter to Troy begins like this:

I’ve been reading and listening to your love letter over and over the last few weeks. Your passion is contagious. Your sweet words, hard and true, light the darkness in my heart; the light I had forgotten. Although, your words I hold dear to my heart…I cannot leave my man (CPS). He provides for me…without him…I don’t know how I would be able to feed my kids. Yes, he is abusive…He constantly threatens to quit me. He reminds me annually that I can be easily replaced by someone younger, cheaper and less experienced. He doesn’t respect me…in fact he constantly belittles me with tests that constantly change and evaluations that are subjective and punitive…as if I haven’t proven that I am worthy or good enough despite the years that I have sacrificed for our relationship. He sends people to check up on me in hopes of catching me doing wrong.

Troy says he is a shy man by nature, but clearly he was moved by this letter. You can bet he will fight even harder now for justice and equity and respect for the city’s teachers, parents, and children.

At 3:30 pm EST–less than one hour—Robin Hiller of the Network for Public Education will interview Jitu Brown, one of the hunger strikers at Dyett High School in Chicago. Jitu is a member of the board of NPE.

Robin has a regular radio show in Tucson.

The hunger strike has ended!

Learn what happened.


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