Friday, November 13, 2015

Free Trips Tie Education Book Publisher To Convicted Chicago School Superintendent

Every school district in the country should be taking notice of the extent of the corruption surrounding the disgraced former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools and the top vendors doing business with school districts. Barbara Byrd-Bennett has already pleaded guilty to agreeing to what amounted to a 10% kickback in exchange for awarding a $23 million, no-bid contract to SUPES Academy. Federal investigators have now been turning their attention to her time in a high-level job at the Detroit school system where documents reveal Byrd-Bennett received free trips from the nation's largest education publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which received a $40 million contract with the school district while Byrd-Bennett was employed there.

According to the Sun-Times, documents obtained by federal investigators showed the book publisher wanted for Byrd-Bennett to take a trip on their dime to Miami, Florida. It wasn't going to happen though unless the company provided first-class seating to the school executive. E-mails between the two quoted Byrd-Bennett as saying she was "trying her "darned best to get there," but "a middle-seat which I have is out of the question." Byrd-Bennett had worked for Houghton Mifflin in between the jobs she held in Cleveland and Detroit at a salary of more than $154,000 a year. When she accepted a job with the Detroit schools paying $18,000 a year, she brought with her two aides who also followed her to her job in Chicago and who were charged in the same corruption case that brought down Byrd-Bennett. Federal officials learned that the two aides, Tracy Martin and Shelly Ulery, jointly leased a luxury home in suburban Detroit with Byrd-Bennett.

As soon as the trio arrived in Detroit, they almost immediately began work trying to steer the $40 million contract to Houghton Mifflin. A Detroit school official told federal investigators that he received a call from Houghton Mifflin executive John Winkler at the time, who screamed at him because the school district was conducting an RFP. Winkler allegedly told the school official, "This is going down." John Costa told federal officials another school official came to him and told him his services with the school district were no longer needed after he insisted on the school conducting an RFP for the book contract Houghton Mifflin wanted. Eventually, Houghton Mifflin was chosen over two other bidders after a three-member panel made up of Byrd-Bennett, Martin and Ulery recommended the company be awarded the $40 million contract.

Federal officials have not yet filed any charges regarding the awarding of the contract to Houghton Mifflin even though that investigation preceded the investigation of her contract kickback scheme in Chicago. Byrd-Bennett went back to work for Houghton Mifflin in a job paying $182,000 a year after the $40 million contract was awarded before landing her new job in Chicago. It's quite interesting that federal officials spend so much time investigating these types of deals in Chicago, but we can't get our federal prosecutors interested in looking at any of the corrupt deals we see happening in Indianapolis, even when officials are caught red-handed breaking multiple state and local laws to enter into one-sided deals with companies that are costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. I don't know why all the corrupt pols in Chicago just don't relocate to Indianapolis. At least you won't have to worry about pesky prosecutors looking over your shoulders.


Anonymous said...

Some Chicago pols have relocated to Indiana and they find the pickings easier here than there.

Anonymous said...

Yes, every steward of the taxpayers' money, every City County Council, every administrator, every politicians, and "every school district in the country should be taking notice of the extent of the corruption" in these deals... but they won't.

Here in Indy, I offer that we'd be far better off improving IPS. Nothing affects and protects neighborhood property values as well as strong, effective, school systems. All the corrupt Republicans AND corrupt Democrats prefer to do is sell out the childrens' souls for personal gain.

You wrote often trying to warn the voters about the corruptive influences of the local school board candidates. The voters did not listen and the City is now saddled with school board members with an allegiance to corporatism instead of to the voters...

Anonymous said...

If you can't privatize IPS from the outside, by the slow process of permitting additional charter schools, you do it from the inside by adding a few school board members who's aim it is to decentralize the system and prime individual schools for takeover. These champions of education have flocked to the pot of gold that is the taxpayers' yearly, dependable flow of cash into the system with the opportunity to explore other means of extracting wealth. Sure, we can blame the R's and the D's for not having regulations or taking actions that prevent corruption in the use of taxpayer funds but it is the corporations themselves that are responsible for what they do. By the way, corporations send jobs overseas the government does not.

Eric Morris said...

"The purpose of government is for those who run it to plunder those who do not." Thomas DiLorenzo. All this is is a battle between the Crips and Bloods or Jets and Sharks. Prosecutors and judges are government as well.

Anon 9:52: Every study I have read say schools reflect community, not vice versa. Good parents make good students and neighborhoods which beget decent schools.

Anon 11:55: There were a lot of government workers and contractors with me overseas in Kuwait and Iraq bringing the freedom. It was a very well-paying job. Some would call it being an overseas mercenary.