The Countdown begins... Once Barbara Byrd Bennett has successfully closed the largest number of real public schools in U.S. History, her Chicago time as Rahm's toady is heading for its ending

With the credibility of the leaders of Chicago's Public Schools at an all-time low (and those who are saying this are aware of the credibilities of the leaders of Chicago's schools during the era of massive segregation, or during the corrupt years of the Great Depression), a growing number of people are beginning to ask when -- not whether -- Rahm Emanuel will dump Barbara Byrd Bennett and inject "CEO 3.0" into the city's public schools system.

Chicago Public Schools 'Chief Executive Officer' Barbara Byrd Bennett (left) during the January 23, 2013 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. In the rear is "Bob Boik," although Boik himself was not present at the meeting and an assistant was holding the place. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The bets are that Byrd Bennett -- who was brought to Chicago from Detroit precisely because she had helped destroy the public schools there following the Broad Foundation's school closing script -- would soon be gone. And of course she will depart with a golden parachute even more gilded than the half million dollars Chicago lavished on her predecessor, Rochester's Jean-Claude Brizard. Brizard devoted a total of 17 months to serving Chicago's children as the school system's "Chief Executive Officer." Byrd Bennett's anniversary as "CEO 2.0" will be in October 2013.

The proof of Byrd Bennett's pending demise is coming from many places, but the ironic proof of proofs came on August 10, 2013, in the pages of the Chicago Sun-Times. The Sun-Times has generally been willing to turn its news columns over to CPS "communications" propaganda, even when the CEO refuses to take the floor and answer questions, but not this time. Based on anonymous sources, Sun-Times reporters told the newspaper's readers that Byrd Bennett had ordered all non-union workers at CPS to join her with the CPS contingent during the annual Bud Billiken parade on Chicago's South Side. The annual parade, which draws around a million people along King Drive, has long featured just about everyone concerned with the schools. Floats from the Chicago Teachers Union, other unions, and bands and groups from various schools have long been a feature of the parade. Usually CPS officials have been there, too, although they have been edgy about their participation because of the tendency of many people to boo the most recent CPS chiefs.

The leaking of the story that Byrd Bennett had ordered those who have to follow her orders without union protection to do Bud Billiken was met with a flurry of damage control by Byrd Bennett's $2 million "communications" (read propaganda) staff. CPS department "chiefs," the official story said, were not really going to take attendance at the Saturday event. There would be no penalty for being absent, and no truant officers (in a system that doesn't have truant officers to go after truant children) would be checking at the homes of non-union people who missed the Saturday stroll down King Drive.

And when the pressure for an explanation continued, Byrd Bennett, as usual, blamed an underling.

In the final report in the Sun-Times, Byrd Bennett threw one of her most devoted assistants under the bus. According to CPS, the memo ordering staff to do Bud Billiken had been issued by a guy named "Bob Boik." Boik is a former Detroit crony of Byrd Bennett who was brought to Chicago at a six-figure salary from Detroit at the same time Rahm Emanuel imported Byrd Bennett herself to be in the wings to become Rahm CEO 2.0.

Byrd Bennett began as Jean-Claude Brizard's "Chief Education Officer" in March 2012. A few months later, she was inserted into the CPS negotiating team ahead of her supposed boss, when the mayor realized his "team" negotiating with the Chicago Teachers Union lacked diversity. Brizard was left out, even though he was supposedly Byrd Bennett's boss from March 2012 through September 2012. Then Brizard was slipped under the bus, and Byrd Bennett was boss.

"Bob" Boik currently hold the title "Chief of Staff to the CEO." He was hired from out of town in March 2012 at an annual salary of $165,000 per year (although the salary may have gone up since the seven members of the Board voted unanimously and without debate to hire him at their March 2012 meeting).

If CPS is ending its time with Byrd Bennett as "Rahm CEO 2.0," a few context clues are worth while.

Three years ago, Brizard was on the ropes as superintendent of the Rochester schools, having just received a massive "no confidence" vote from the city's teachers and facing increasing criticism from just about everyone in town except the mayor. In May 2011, Brizard was brought to Chicago with the promise of a quarter million dollar annual salary, various "performance" perks that could be reached by any human being with a pulse, and a five figure "relocation allowance." For several months, Brizard's main job was to be part of "Rahm's Rainbow" -- the group of adults and children, carefully selected for their "diversity" and their willingness to smile on command. Over and over, he repeated the mantras about the "Longer School Day" and a growing number of spoon-fed talking points.

At the same time, a new era in "communications" began in Chicago's schools: Government by email and press release, rather than press conferences. Brizard was almost never available to answer direct questions from reporters. As the questions became more and more pointed -- despite the repetition ad nausium of the "Longer School Day" propaganda, which was more and more debunked by fact checkers -- Brizard was basically told to sit down, shut up, and smile a lot for his quarter million dollars in annual pay (and undisclosed other perks).

By the time the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012 hit, Brizard had even been removed from the bargaining table and was being sidelined for most decisions. The "Chief Executive Officer" of the nation's third largest school system was told to stay away from the most explosive reality facing the city, the union negotiations. But it would have really looked bad if Rahm's "team" had been all white, which it almost was without Brizard. So the Emanuel administration went back to the Broad Foundation and brought in one of its stars, Barbara Byrd Bennett. She had just finished stints helping destroy the public schools of Detroit and Cleveland, and was given permission by Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale when she was hired by Chicago to continue working for the Broad Foundation as well.

There was no public discussion by the Board about the new hire. Byrd Bennett's qualifications were that she was picked by Rahm and rubber stamped by his hand-picked seven-member Board of Education. She was soon put at the bargaining table against the Chicago Teachers Union, while Brizard became the subject of games much like "Where's Waldo?"

A month after the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012 ended, Brizard was paid off, told to keep his mouth shut, and Byrd Bennett was made CEO.

Now the talk is that each iteration of Rahm's schools CEO has one specific task and then is done.

Brizard's main job had been the "Longer School Day" propaganda and the mess that came with it, beginning with the "pioneer schools" in early September 2011 and continuing to the present.

Byrd Bennett, as Rahm's CEO 2.0, has been tasked to proclaim a phony "billion dollar deficit" and use that claim as the basis for the largest school closing blitzkrieg in the history of American public education. Virtually as soon as she became chief, Byrd Bennett immediately launched the school closing campaign, aided and abetted by the lliinois General Assembly. Relentlessly the propaganda continued, and generally the uncritical corporate media repeated, without any questions, the "billion dollar deficit" claim.

The state legislature allowed Byrd Bennett to break a state law that said any school closings had to be preceded by hearings and announced before December 1, and that Chicago was to have a ten-year "facilities" plan public by January 1. The legislation was shredded (democratically) and the long slog to the school closings vote of May 22 was on, with hundreds of hearings and thousands of people protesting.

But when, on July 24, the Board of Education had to admit there had never been a "billion dollar deficit" (and that the school system had the largest cash surplus in history, more than $600 million), Byrd Bennett's days were as numbered as Brizard's had been.

And the new agenda for Rahm Emanuel and those who back him was the "pension crisis," which Rahm has even succeeded in getting reported in a massively inaccurate "news" story on the front page of The New York Times (August 5, 2013).

But by the time she began talking about the "pension crisis" following all her talk about the "billion dollar deficit" and the need to do the most massive school closings in U.S. history, Byrd Bennett had destroyed her Chicago credibility.

As a result, the score card says that Byrd Bennett will be gone from Chicago (with a lucrative buyout) before 2014 begins. The Board hired her through 2014 (at a quarter million a year; a "relocation fee"; and "performance bonus..."). So, as the opening of the school year approached, Byrd Bennet continued to repeat her rehearsed lines -- "as a teacher and mother and grandmother and principal etc., etc., etc..." -- her credibility is being strained daily. She avoided the two federal court lawsuits (reported elsewhere at that are demonstrating that her planning for the closings ignored and violated the rights of disabled children under federal law. And it's also becoming clear that the cover up of her corruptions -- most recently, the hiring of the "SUPES Academy" to a $20 million no bid contract -- will no longer be tolerated by the corporate media, even in Chicago.

The question isn't whether Barbara Byrd Bennett is on her way out, but what the excuses will be, when she'll be gone, how much her golden parachute will cost the school system she claims is broke. Then there will be two other questions:

First, who will be the next hand-picked corporate puppet to be placed in charge of the third largest public schools system in the USA. Who is in line to become Rahm's CEO 3.0?

Second, what will happen to all the out-of-town cronies that Byrd Bennet brought in during the past 18 months? Bob Boik is only one of more than a dozen six-figure executives who are now occupying the the "cabinet" seats at each Board of Education meeting, and even though none of them can find their way around Chicago without a GPS (paid for by the taxpayers) and many of them are laughed at based on their lack of knowledge of Chicago, its traditions and our school and communities, they are still drawing salaries (and in line for "performance bonuses") that bring the cost to the taxpayers of the denizens of the Byrd Bennet "cabinet" to more than $2 million per year.


August 15, 2013 at 11:15 AM

By: Myra Goodman

Race to the Top

Where there's a will, there's a way! Who's mainly responsible for these school closing? Well, it's certainly not R. Emanuel. He's just following orders.

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