BOARDWATCH: Rahm's going to replace Jean-Claude Brizard with Barbara Byrd Bennett... One FNG outsider is as good as another, as long as she's been vetted by the Broad Foundation and checks off that 'diversity' box in the billionaire's check list

LET'S CALL THIS: "WHO WAS ON THAT ELEVATOR?" Yesterday as I covered the quickie exit of the CPS negotiating team from CTU headquarters for Substance, I was struck by the fact that our quarter million dollar "Chief Executive Officer", Jean-Claude Brizard, was again AWOL from the bargaining. That's nothing new. After all, the negotiations have been going on, through more than 55 sessions, since November 2011, and Brizard has managed to get away with that particular truancy the whole time.

Above, the latest "Chief Education Officer" of Chicago Public Schools, Barbara Byrd Bennett, tries to cover her face while reporters ask questions and TV cameras film the quickie exit of the Chicago Public Schools bargaining team from the Chicago Teachers Union's Merchandise Mart headquarters on September 7, 2012. Byrd Bennett six months ago was working in Detroit, where the project of destroying the city's real public schools had advanced much further than Chicago's. Then the abrupt (and still unexplained) departure of "Chief Education Officer" Noemi Donoso (in office for less than one year as part of the Rahm Emanuel education reform team at CPS) required a new Chief Ed Officer. As the Emanuel administration knows there is not one person in Chicago qualified for the top executive posts at CPS, the Board of Education once again turned to the Broad Foundation and located the most talented person out in Detroit. Rumor now is that Byrd-Bennett is being groomed, with almost embarrassing speed, to take over from Jean-Claude Brizard when the mayor decides to blame Brizard for the catastrophe that he has engineered. Behind Byrd-Bettet above is Emanuel's education liaison, Beth Swanson, who less than five years ago was a CPS budget chief and telling the world that CPS finances were so good CPS didn't need a property tax increase. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.But there was a group of six people — the CPS "bargaining team" of September 7, 2012 — desperately waiting for that elevator door to close, and it's worth sharing a "Who's Who" of who was in that groups. This is especially important since most of the current crop of talking heads and pretty faces in the "news" business in Chicago are as clueless as some metaphor that might today escape me (well, I'll let someone with a more politically correct mind come up with the metaphor for that level of journalistic degeneration in the Second City; all the ones that come to my mind this morning fall into traditional Chicago historical figures like Hinky Dink and Bathhouse John and their side businesses...).

No Brizard at the Mart on September 7, 2012. And to most reporters in this town, the six people who were there are unknowns because, like the fifth season of "The Wire", Chicago's news persons are less than informed about the stories they have to cover. ("Beats" are where you learn the ins and outs, but beats are not "cost effective" in a business that provides "content" but no longer context or accuracy).

A major fact of the Board of Education's latest "team" at the CTU is that the FNG from Detroit — ("Chief Education Officer" Barbara Byrd Bennett) — was part of the six people who ducked quickly into the elevator at the Merchandise Mart and did the bugout boogie as reporters tried to get questions answered. If this were New York, where there are still some reporters who know the beats, somebody besides Substance this morning would be asking how an FNG administrator who just arrived from destabilizing and privatizing Detroit could become, overnight, one of the six most important educational executives in the nation's third largest school district on the verge of the first massive teacher strike in a quarter century.

As late as six months ago, no one in the world would have guessed that on day soon "Barbara Byrd-Bennet" would be one of the six most important people in Chicago in deciding whether Chicago's kids (including my two littlest ones) would be in school on Monday or helping Mom and Dad on the picket line.

The whole team is worth a look. So let's put this bunch in the perspective of that nonsense about how CPS is always "broke," how executives always know better than teachers, and how those who rule are by definition more "qualified" to run the schools than the rest of us (or an elected school board). While the teachers, students and parents are being told "Sit down and shut up!" by their officially chosen leaders, CPS is playing a scene out of the waning days of a decrepit aristocracy that was clueless right up to the moment their heads tumbled into those baskets as Madame Defarge knitted away.

Six of them, then the elevator door closed and reporters went back to listen to Karen Lewis and wait for the next spin special out of the ever expanding CPS "Office of Communications" (and the propaganda chieftain, Becky Carroll). CPS is broke, but as the strike nears, the "Office of Communications" has 20 people working in it — triple the number as when Rahm took over — under a chieftain who is being paid 50 percent more than her most famous predecessor.

The leader of the CPS bargaining team, who has been at the table since this bargaining began in November 2011, is an outside lawyer named Jim Franczek. Since June 2011, when the Rahm "team" took over at CPS, the Rahm Board of Education, while "broke", has paid Franczek's firm more than a million dollars.

But let's not stop there. There was another lawyer besides Franczek jumping in that elevator. That was Joe Moriarity, who is one of more than 40 lawyers who works in the Board's "Law Department." That "Law Department" fills up the entire seventh floor of 125 S. Clark St. Chicago parents are about to get an inside view of it, since the Board will be sending lawyers from the seventh floor across Chicago next week to be pretend teachers in the Scab Centers (excuse me, "Children First Centers") that Brizard yesterday asked the CTU not to picket.

As everyone who knows curriculum and budgets knows, lawyers are priceless and are also the best teachers at any price. Just like we need more MBAs to run everything at CPS from "Instruction" and "Administration" to security and safety (true that: the new head of security at CPS is an MBA from my alma mater, the University of Chicago).

But the elevator was filled.

Another person grimly hoping the door would close (don't take my word for it; look at the expression on her face in the photograph) was Beth Swanson. Four years ago, in July 2012, Beth was working at CPS as budget chieftain. Beth stood with Mayor Daley and Arne Duncan at City Hall and declared with a straight face that CPS was doing so well financially that CPS didn't need to raise taxes for the schools.

After Arne left to perform Chicago's version of audacious hope on the rest of the USA (it's called "Race To The Top" this time around; when the Chicago Boys first unveiled this plan — charter schools, union busting, privatization, etc. — 40 years ago in the Southern Hemisphere it was called fascism behind the bayonets of Augusto Pinochet) Beth went to work as chieftain of the "Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation" (that's Penny and her spouse).

When Rahm got himself elected behind that barrage of Hollywood hype, hokum about how much glitz he had, and disinformation, Beth Swanson morphed into Rahm's top education person. She sat in the public section of a few Board meetings (while Penny snarled at Karen Lewis as one of the seven members of the Board appointed by Rahm) until some news people began noticing she was there. After that, Beth had a seat behind the back door so she wouldn't be asked any questions about all those rubber stamps she was making sure were stamped right where Rahm wanted.

And then there is Alicia Winckler, the $200,000-per-year former Sears Holdings person (qualification to lead education, an MBA and corporate experience) whose current job is "Chief Officer, Talent" at CPS. Two years ago, Winckler was "Chief of Human Capital" until the capitalist crazies running CPS realized (after some mockery from Karen Lewis and thousands of teachers) that it might not work to refer to teachers and other humans beings as "capital." So, voila!, in September 2010 or so, "Human Capital" became "Talent."

But the really interesting person in that elevator was Barbara Byrd Bennett. This time a year ago, she was helping destroy the Detroit Public Schools system, dispatched with the blessings of the Broad Foundation to work with the latest corporate chieftain there. Suddenly, after the abrupt (and still unexplained) departure of Noemi Donoso (who served less than a year as the Emanual team's "Chief Education Officer"), Byrd-Bennet arrives in Chicago as "Chief Education Officer" and before she can even find her way from Bogan to Bowen without a GPS she's one of the six experts at the bargaining table for CPS.

What's that signal? Look to who is not at the table. Yesterday (September 7, 2012) Jean-Claude Brizard was busy sending a ridiculous letter to Karen Lewis asking that CTU not picket the 144 Scab Centers (er., excuse me, "Children First Sites"). The night before, Brizard was doing a sparsely attended "Tele Town Hall" (CPS was calling parents, including me, in the middle of the thingy, to up their numbers...).

Clearly Byrd Bennett is not just another Noemi Donoso. The bet of the smart money? Byrd-Bennett takes over from Brizard as soon as the strike is over. Apparently, in Rahm's eyes Brizard's experience in trying to wreck the Rochester Public Schools was not enough for his plans for Chicago. Byrd-Bennett actually helped dismantle the Detroit Public Schools. So, naturally, by September 2012 she's got a "seat at the table" with all the other hacks and mercenaries stalling and repeating mindless talking points as the strike is about to begin.

At least David Vitale has one thing going for him. He's so rich he doesn't need the money, so he was the only person squeezing into that elevator yesterday who wasn't being paid very big bucks to be there.

And what about Brizard? His pride has never been an issue (it rarely is for a mercenary). If the Board dumps him in the next few months after the debacle of the "Children First Centers" breaks loose next week (only the most recent of the fiascos exposing his complete inability to organize anything serious), Brizard will leave town with an additional quarter million dollars (or more) as the buyout he's going to get, the price of failure, so to speak. And since the ruling class makes certain that its minions honor its version of omerta, Brizard is likely to land "on his feet" after his next humiliation (after all, Rochester was nasty stuff if you had any self-respect) somewhere in that plutocratic alternative universe that the Broads, Pritzkers, and the other billionaires have been building for just such times and realities as this. 


September 8, 2012 at 7:27 AM

By: Susan Ohanian

Barbara Byrd-Bennett

The elevator picture is priceless. It makes me think I was psychic last week when I insisted that Chicago teachers, in the midst of strike negotiations, should take a careful look at Ms. Byrd-Bennett.

Don't underestimate this corporate-connected, high-powered, teflon-coated woman. She is very savvy at watching her back.

September 8, 2012 at 10:53 PM

By: Alexander Russo

Journalistic standards

George, shouldn't you have disclosed at some point in this article that the reason you were there at the CTU offices is that you work there at the CTU offices, and aren't really functioning as a journalist here?

People in glass houses, rocks, etc.

September 8, 2012 at 11:03 PM

By: Anthony Smith

Dear Alexander, Seriously, of all the things you could comment on...

Dear Alexander,

Seriously, of all the things you could comment on, considering the seriousness of the situation, this is what you come up with?

I have to say I don't care where a journalist works, just as I don't care where a police officer, firefighter, teacher, etc. lives.

What I DO care about is that they are doing there job, properly, professionally, and reliably.

I have to say that George fits that bill for me. A professional journalist is not going to stop being that professional journalist depending on where they are located for a story. Same for first responders etc.

I could care less where someone works. And if the story walks into your area of work who cares, just as long as you report the story accurately.

So I suggest if you are going to choose a particular reason to attack George with your pebble, pick something that has more validity.

In Solidarity! Standing Strong!


September 8, 2012 at 11:59 PM

By: John Kugler

Alexander Russo — Mr. Brooklyn


What the fuck are you talking about? You do not do any reporting. 'Journalistic ethics?' From you!

You get paid by the Tribune company to run a blog about Chicago schools from Brooklyn New York!

It is clear since SB7 that you promote the ruling class version of events. Remember the nice picture you ran — Vote No! — for strike authorization that you generated? Substance reporters watch all the shit you post. Plus we have notes of all your work since your first contacts in Chicago, back when you arrived, fresh from Harvard, filled with the same self-importance you are still preening.

Instead of pretending to be a journalist covering the public schools, why not get into a public school classroom in Chicago — the inner city — and see how long you last.

September 9, 2012 at 12:22 AM

By: Sara McNally

Thank you John Kugler

Thank you John Kugler. Thank you Substance. It angers me so when I think about all the out-of-towners who purport to know more about our students' needs then we, who work with them day in and out, do. Especially those at 125 who are being paid with my tax dollars and setting our students up for failure, as we strive to set them up for success. I will continue to advocate for my students, hopefully from the classroom, but on the picket line if necessary.

September 9, 2012 at 3:22 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

Russo's silliness? Typical of Tribune's alternative reality

Let's hear it for "journalistic ethics" in Rahm Emanuel's Chicago in 2012! The cool thing about the fierce reality of now is that our enemies in the "journalism" business (and other agents of the plutocracy) are going to try and find even the most trivial distractions from the facts, especially when September 10, 2012 dawns.

Alexander Russo, — who has been blovating through "locally" and at Education Week nationally — seems to believe that the story about those six cowards in that elevator at the Merchandise Mart was all wrong. Instead of reporting who was bargaining on behalf of CPS on September 7, 2012, the story should be about my reporting and other interests (including the fact that I work as a consultant for the Chicago Teachers Union, which I first joined as a member in 1969).

It's not going to happen. Every Substance reporter will be carrying both our press cards and our vast experiences with us everywhere as the biggest education story of the year continues to unfold in Chicago in the next month or three. Were promising accuracy, not the kind of "fair and balanced" version of "journalism" that has undermined reality over the past quarter century or more. And it's the kind of accuracy you can only get by being at the story when and where it happens, not punditing for the plutocracy from 800 miles to the East.

Most readers seem to think that what that particular group was doing at CTU (especially the latest FNG chieftain Barbara Byrd-Bennett and that Pritzker-Emanuel myrmidon Beth Swanson) was "news". The singular fact that the rest of the Chicago press corps couldn't have answered a multiple-choice question about that "Who's Who" doesn't make it in a world where people are supposed to fixate more on Kim Kardashian than on the tragic facts of Chicago's public schools' realities.

Anyone who doesn't know that I cover Chicago schools from Chicago has been living in one of those plutocratic alternative universes that the ruling class has been trying to create for a couple of decades (almost, sadly, successfully). Every reporter reporting for Substance comes from "inside" — as do our growing number of anonymous sources at all levels who have grown disgusted with the attacks on public schools and unions promoted by the likes of Alexander for a generation now. There are more principals today, in 2012, who despise the way Chicago and CPS are being run than ever before, to take just one example, and "Inside Scoop."

I work as a consultant for the CTU, and as a reporter for Substance. I'm also the parent of two CPS students and one CPS graduate. And I cover the news from Chicago where it is happening, just as our other reporters do. Our bylines are reliable because our reporters are there, whether at the AFT convention covering the shenanigans of the Obama-Biden manipulators with the press (and the protest by Chicago against that) or at Teamster City covering the final hours building up the organization for the strike.

Russo's "Inside Scoop" insiders must really be miffed to have called on him to take a childish shot at Substance after we caught them ducking out of the CTU offices on September 7. I don't even care which of them called him on this one, because it doesn't matter.

I used to blog regularly around "District" when Russo was with Catalyst years ago. I stopped when he became a full-time scab writing for Tribune. Others can keep in touch with "" as it unfolds its version of reality on that dwindling number of Chicago readers who can stomach the notion that reporting about Chicago's schools can best be done by a preening minion of the plutocracy out of Brooklyn.

Our slogan at Substance used to be "Where ignorance is the standard, intelligence is subversive. Read Substance every month and join a subversive activity."

That changed with the 21st Century. Now the best version we have is:

"Ruthlessly accurate in reporting what we see and hear from the front lines.

"Shamelessly biased — for the working class, unions, and public schools."

We did break one policy on this precious moment.

Alexander Russo posted his comment to Substance without following our general rules requiring that a commenter use both his first and last name (and that we can verify it if we decide to). The thing above protruded into our House here under the name "Alexander" — as if everyone knows who that is.

We checked, verified that it was the Brooklyn guy who operates that strange blog on behalf of that scab empire at Tribune, and decided to simply let our readers have his remarks. Usually, when we get something from an anonymous, pseudonymous, or first name only coward we simple hit DELETE.

I hope our readers enjoy this exception, but next time he wants to visit our House, Russo has to follow our rules of good manners. As to "Journalistic Standards." Well, anyone who believes it's possible to "cover" Chicago from 800 miles away has a vivid imagination on that score.

And now we all have better things to do. The first picket lines will be up at some of the central and citywide offices of CPS in 22 hours, and the other 600 (or so) will be up at all the schools in 26 hours.

Anyone who spots Alexander Russo covering this bit of education news in Chicago during the next month should let us know. We'll send a reporter to interview him about his magical sources and "Insidey Scoopiness." Meanwhile, I'm going back to some review work in preparation for some of the biggest education stories of the 21st Century, with a nod to "Snoop" and "Chris" (fourth season) before reviewing the recent history of the Tribune Corporation (fifth season). Some people play Chopin or Bach while writing. I prefer "The Wire." Its fictions are more credible that Russo's "scoops" from Brooklyn.

September 9, 2012 at 4:38 AM

By: Sara mcNally

A forgotten acknowledgement

My sincerest apologies for the oversight...

Thank you George Schmidt!

September 9, 2012 at 1:16 PM

By: Bob Busch


Well it's noon and no word yet. The wheels will begin to turn real fast now. At this point I would like to say I feel a little ashamed of myself for doubting the current CTU leaders. After SB7 I thought it was all over. Was I wrong!

No matter what happens now i am proud to be part of the CTU again. If the strike comes tomorrow I will be there just like I was there in every other strike.

It is hard to believe but the last time this happened was 1987. If we go Chicago will be the center of the world for Teachers.

I was just wondering if that reporter from Brooklyn has released his plans for tomorrow? How could he miss out on this story. I will save a sign for him.

September 9, 2012 at 2:00 PM

By: Jay Rehak

Russo must be kidding

I believe Alexander Russo must be kidding. He can't be that small. Mr. Schmidt has written, on many, many occasions, that he works as a consultant to the CTU. The idea that this is news to anyone can only come from someone who doesn't live and work in Chicago. Speaking of which....

I hope those who read the comments sections of any of our local papers or media outlets checks to see WHERE the reader is writing from. It appears, after a quick check, that the biggest supporters of Mayor Emanuel's disrespect for teachers is coming from the suburbs and downstate. In other words, those who are "out of the loop." Admittedly, most of the commenters are closer to Chicago than Mr. Russo.

September 9, 2012 at 5:10 PM

By: Jonathan Cohloer

The wrongness of Russo

I think the rule should be: what ever Russo writes, it's usually the opposite that's true. George can read the CPS tea leaves before anyone else even knows that the tea is even brewing. Russo punts blind from Brooklyn - his "reporting" is usually just a list of links and if there is any journalism involved, he's so off base, it's laughable.

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