Saturday, April 18, 2015

Chicago Schools Chief Steps Aside As Feds Probe $20 Million No-Bid Contract

This potentially big scandal in Chicago was kept under wraps until right after Mayor Rahm Emanuel safely-won re-election to a second term. The woman he appointed to run the Chicago Public Schools, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, has been forced to step down while federal prosecutors determine whether something nefarious occurred in the awarding of a $20.5 million no-bid contract to her former employer, SUPES Academy, to train principals. Federal investigators are seeking information about "financial benefits, gifts, honoraria, meals and reimbursements" received by Byrd-Bennett and her top advisers from the co-founders of SUPES Academy, Gary Solomon and Tom Vranas.

The scandal comes as the state's biggest school district faces a $1.1 billion shortfall and a $9.5 billion unfunded pension crisis. “In a school district that seems to be all about privatization, private entities continue to play a major role in its operations,” Chicago Teachers Union official Jesse Sharkey told the Chicago Sun Times. “[A]nd if Barbara is the first to fall, then perhaps there are many others who should follow.” I believe SUPES Academy has been contracted by schools in Indiana, including IPS. Wouldn't it be nice if we had federal prosecutors here in Indiana who probed all of the corrupt insider deals that are happening in plain sight and that are raping and pillaging our state and local government?

UPDATE: This is even more intriguing when you see who the big wheels behind SUPES Academy have been. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner formerly chaired the nonprofit's board and Mayor Emanuel served on its board of directors according to the Chicago Tribune. Other board members include the most powerful and wealthy of Chicago, including Ken Griffin (Citadel CEO), Helen Zell (wife of real estate magnate Sam Zell and Susan Crown (Crown family heiress), among others. Former Chicago Tribune publisher Scott Smith once ran the organization. Our public school systems have been taken over lock, stock and barrel by the most wealthy people in the country to use as their personal cash cow under the guise of improving the quality of schools.

UPDATE II: The Chicago Sun-Times has another story in the Sunday edition this weekend in which they shed led on SUPES Academy's Gary Solomon and Tom Vranas. He was forced out of his job as dean of students at Niles West High School under the least favorable of circumstances:
It was “Ditch Day” at Niles West High School, and a group of seniors played hooky in classic Chicago style — skipping classes to catch a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. 
You might have expected the school’s dean, Gary R. Solomon, to be angry. But Solomon, then 29, wasn’t at all upset, according to school officials and students who remember that day in May 1997. That’s because he was in the Wrigley stands with the teenagers, according to court records. 
Later, in 2001, Solomon was forced out of Niles Township School District 219 under a cloud after he was accused by his bosses of “immoral and unprofessional” conduct, including allegations he kissed a female student, covered up students’ drug and alcohol use and sent “sexually suggestive, predatory” emails to students, court records show. 
For many teachers, it would have been a career-ending scandal. But Solomon, who has denied any wrongdoing, rebounded to build a highly profitable career in education. He went into business with a former Niles West student and started a trio of education firms that have gotten government contracts worth tens of millions of dollars.
After Solomons was forced out of his job at Niles, he and one of his former students. Tom Vranas, went to work for Princeton Review, the test prep firm for college admissions. In 2008, both left their jobs at Princeton Review to start the first of several education profiteer-related firms, the first of which was PROACT, an executive search firm for school districts. That's the firm Byrd-Bennett was employed as a senior associate before later going on to become CEO of Chicago Public Schools.


Josh said...

All this reminds me of this video;
I bet they do this in every municipality and cry for more money every chance they get. Ffw past the intro song to get to the gist, if you've never heard of cafrs you're in for a treat.

As to corruption in chitcago, well, by now that should be a given.

Anonymous said...

This story reminds me of the long-time school board president in my central Illinois hometown. He and my dad were both mid-level managers at the same factory, same age, wives stayed at home, two kids the same age as my sister and I. No family money, like us. Yet somehow his wife and kids were always wearing the latest designer cloths, fancy jewelry, and once or twice a year they took lavish vacations overseas. My dad busted his ass so we could live a middle class life, but we were broke compared to them. We always wondered how they could afford such things. But given he was school board president for 20+ years, retired young, and experience in public works has shown me the dark side of politics, I know exactly how they were able to afford it. I've tried to explain it to my folks but they just can't comprehend how a couple they have known for so long could possibly take bribes.

Anonymous said...

Well played Josh. A CAFR is a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. It was DC designed as a second set of off balance sheet books to mostly hide offshore adventures of the federal government. Once politicians discovered CAFRs they liked them so much they exported them to every state. An economist charitably remarked that the CAFR was an "unfamiliar" accounting method. Visit a website called Cafrman for more info.

Josh said...

And here we have info on an Indiana cafr;

Thanks for the link. It reminded me of a local polytick who sent out a mailer asking us what we want done with a surplus of cash the state has, with law enforcement or schools being suggested as recipients. I was thinking eliminating some taxes for one. If you have a surplus you've obviously stolen it from some taxpayer.