CTU’s Lewis calls Byrd Bennett scandal, “the tip of the iceberg”

Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, called on the Chicago Board of Education to revisit all decisions that the board made while Barbara Byrd Bennett was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

Byrd Bennett recently pleaded guilty to taking bribes from her former employer that in 2013 won a $20 million no-bid contract to train Chicago Public School principals in executive management techniques.

She was appointed in 2012 by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to lead Chicago’s public school system. She resigned in June 2015 after being indicted in federal court on 20 counts of taking bribes and kickbacks.

“I am calling for the Board of Ed to overturn every decision she made during her unethical tenure, including closing 50 neighborhood schools, the layoffs of thousands of educators, and the awarding of lucrative contracts to politically connected companies and allies tied to both her and City Hall,” said Lewis. “The disgraced CEO is at the tip of the iceberg. The CTU has been calling for an investigation into the Board’s dealings for several years. It is unfortunate that it took someone going to federal prison for them to take our pleas seriously.”

According to Byrd Bennett’s arrest warrant, she conspired with the owners of the SUPES Academy to steer contracts to SUPES in return she was promised a 10 percent cut of the contracts.

SUPES Academy advertises itself as “a dynamic leadership preparation program for emerging K-12 leaders, aspiring principals, sitting principals, and regional, central office, and cabinet level administrators.” It is owned by Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas, both of whom have been indicted for bribing Byrd Bennett. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Before the indictments, SUPES was involved in an intricate web of connections to politicians and corporate executives who championed what they call education reform.

Reform for these reformers means replacing public schools with privately operated charter schools.

One of these groups of so called reformers is the Chicago Public Education Fund (CPEF).

According to the Chicago Tribune  CPEF “is made up of influential politicians and business leaders–all of whom have made restructuring education a top civic priority.”

CPEF gave SUPES $380,000 in seed money get its “dynamic leadership preparation program” off the ground.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner is a director emeritus of CPEF and his family foundation has contributed “many millions of dollars to CPEF over the years.”

Rauner has denied any connection to Solomon, Vranas, or the SUPES Academy.

Solomon also is said to be politically connected to Mayor Emanuel; although, the mayor recently denied knowing Solomon.

The Chicago Sun Times reports that Solomon played a key role in the hiring of Byrd Bennett’s predecessor Jean-Claude Brizard, and that Brizard told the Sun Times that Solomon also was instrumental in Byrd Bennett’s hiring. Emanuel appointed both Brizard and Byrd Bennett.

SUPES and Solomon are also linked to the Broad Foundation, the creation of ardent charter school advocate Eli Broad, who Forbes ranks as the 65th most wealthy person in the US.

When SUPES was in its start-up phase it hired Dr. Timothy Quinn to help develop its curriculum. Dr. Quinn also helped Broad create the Broad Superintendents Academy, which trains school superintendents in Broad’s management philosophy.

Solomon is also the head of a superintendent search company called PROACT Search that helps school districts identify possible candidates for superintendent openings.

PROACT draws draws heavily from graduates of the Broad Superintendents Academy when identifying candidates for open superintendent jobs.

Spokes people for Broad have denied any connection to Solomon. Internet links that showed a connection have been deleted.

One of  Broad’s education management philosophies is that public school closures present an excellent opportunity for superintendents to introduce or expand charter schools.

Broad’s education foundation  has even produced a manual that guides school superintendents through the closure process.

In addition to being a former employee of SUPES, Byrd Bennett is also connected to Broad.  In These Times reports that she worked as an executive coach for the Broad Superintendent Academy in 2006.

During her tenure as CPS CEO, she oversaw the closure of 47 public schools, the largest single public school closure in the US.

Most of the closed schools were in low-income, predominately African-American neighborhoods. Of those students affected by these closures, 88 percent were African American.

The closures were met with heavy resistance by parents, students, and members of the communities affected by the closures.

She justified the closures by saying that they were needed to cope with budgetary constraints.

Coincidentally, the Broad manual for school closures is entitled, “School Closure Guide Closing Schools as a Means for Addressing Budgetary Challenges.”

She also approved opening seven new charter schools.

In her comments on the Byrd Bennett guilty plea, CTU President Lewis said that private agendas of Byrd Bennett, Solomon, and their backers brought into question whether CPS board members and its CEO should continue to be appointed by the mayor.

“The mayor’s handpicked CEO’s admission of guilt is an also admission of bad management and the culture of failed leadership that have plagued our district over the last five years,” said Lewis. “This is why we need an elected representative school board.”

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