CORRUPTION CPS: Barbara Byrd Bennett gathered buddies from other states, many (but not all) vetted by the Broad Foundation, for executive jobs at CPS, with the approval of the 'Chicago' Board of Education... Most had no Illinois credentials, but the Board members did not care or bother to check...

This part of Substance's current series of stories on CORRUPTION CPS will feature the cronyism that brought dozens of "educators" to Chicago from out of state during the years since Rahm Emanuel appointed his Board of Education (May- June 2011) and his first "Chief Executive Officer" for CPS (Rochester New York's Jean-Claude Brizard). But his is just part of the story, one we will begin telling in detail this week..

Above, Sherry Ulery, Tom Tyrell, and Tim Cawley at the October 23, 2013 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. Ulery was given a "Chief of Staff" job at CPS after she was brought to Chicgo from Ohio by Barbara Byrd Bennett. Tyrell was brought in from the United States Marine Corps, given the title "Chief Operations Officer," and was going to use his military skills to dispose of the properties CPS was left with after it closed 50 schools. Most of those are still on the books, but Tyrell by March 2015 had left CPS. Tim Cawley came to his career in "education" from Motorola, then the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), supposedly the model for "turnarounds" in Chicago and the country. He is currently the "Chief Administrative Officer" of CPS. Like most of their counterparts in the executive ranks of the nation's third largest school system by the end of 2013, none of them had ever taught in a Chicago public school, nor did they possess Illinois credentials. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Beginning in June 2011, and continuing through today (April 2015), the actions of the Chicago Board of Education appointed originally in May 2011 by Mayor Rahm Emanuel have been characterized by two unprecedented features: First, the "Chicago" Board of Education stopped hiring and promoting teachers and principals from Chicago for top executive jobs. Second, Chicago's Board of Education, supposedly a public school board, devoted almost all its resources to the massive disinvestment in the city's actual public schools, while spending hundreds of millions of dollars on various types of privatization schemes, most notably a dramatic expansion of "consultants" with no educational credentials and the contracting with groups like "SUPES" for work that should be done by those who know something about Chicago.

A careful re-examination of the records of the Chicago Board of Education's meetings since June 2011 shows that the Board put into power by Rahm Emanuel has acted as if its job was to act as the "Chicago Board of School Privatization and Cronyism" and not like any public school board in the rest of Illinois, or anywhere else in the United States of America, has ever acted.

Furthermore, the Board never discussed these decisions in public during its meetings, and then the Board members have voted, every month, to clap a lock of secrecy on the discussions they may or may not have had during their "executive sessions," despite the provisions of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and the Open Meetings Act. While previous school boards in Chicago have acted in a high handed manner, the Substance review of the "Rahm Emanuel" Board and its members shows that this Board's actions were unprecedented in their cynical movement to undermine every possible feature of the public schools of America's third largest city, while approving hundreds of millions of dollars in spending that was against the best interests of the public schools.

When the Board of Education voted unanimously and without debate to hire Sherry Ulery as "Chief of Staff to the Chief Education Officer" at an annual salary of $155,000, none of the Board members bothered to ask whether Ulery had any Illinois educational credentials. Nor did the Board members note that they no longer had a "Chief Education Officer." That Board had hired a woman from Colorado, Noemi Donoso, to be Brizard's first "Chief Education Officer," but Donoso didn't have a long career in CPS, and the Board didn't bother to get a new "Chief Education Officer" once she had departed. So Ulery remained for more than two additional years as the "Chief of Staff" to nobody.And while Barbara Byrd Bennett is just currently an exemplar -- almost the poster person -- for the massive levels of corruption in Chicago's schools since the beginning of the Rahm Emanuel years in May and June 2011, the corruption that she now exemplifies was encouraged, enabled, and in ways not yet public enforced by the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education.

Should Byrd Bennett ultimately face criminal charges for her crimes, there would be some injustice were the members of the Board of Education not designated to share her fate. Given that the Chicago scandals in April 2015 are at least as odious as those recently exposed in Atlanta, it would also be worthwhile if those brought to justice showed more of the full demographic of the criminals and their enablers.

At no time did Byrd Bennett act alone, and none of the more obviously corrupt features of her administration could have taken place without the full support of the Board members, from President David Vitale and Vice President Jesse Ruiz to the prattling hypocrites who added their words to the monthly actions that have resulted in the current scandals. Jean-Claude Brizard had imported a few out-of-town executives by the time he was facing the end of his Chicago career because of the Chicago Teachers Strike of September 2012.

One of those was Sherry Ulery, who was appointed as "Chief of Staff to the Chief Education Officer" by Brizard, and voted in by the members of the Board, at the Board's September 2012 meeting.

One of the things that the Board members missed when they voted to hire Ulery at an annual salary of $155,000 was that by that time CPS did not have a "Chief Eduction Officer." The one who was put into that job by Rahm Emanuel's Board of Education in June 2011, Noemi Donoso, from Colorado, was already on her way out the door, and the Board never even bothered to replace her with a new "Chief Education Officer." Nevertheless, until her recent departure, Ulery drew a six-figure salary as "Chief of Staff" to an "office" who didn't exist.

Ulery was the last out-of-town executive hired while Brizard was still in power.

Looking back over the dozens hired from out of town since Rahm Eamnuel appointed his first Board of Education in May and June 2011, it becomes clear that a priority for the Emanual administration was that the top dogs in CPS have no knowledge or ties to Chicago. They were well paid out-of-town mercenaries whose job, in retrospect, clearly was to privatize as much of the city's public school system as possible, and maximize the money being poured from the public purse into those private entities that were selling things and services to CPS. From Aramark (which began selling food and now sells both food and custodial services) to SUPES, the corporations had a couple of features: they were from out of town and they had no organic connection to the people of Chicago.

To do that project, a large number of executives had to be assembled, praised as a "team" in the most mindless and fatuous ways, and regularly featured by the Board members at monthly meetings during which the Board members were openly hostile to the real people who were trying to work in, learn in, or support the city's real public schools. Almost every Board meeting since 2011 has featured a Power Point presentation from one of the out-of-towners, usually followed by some hyperventilating about how wonderful the thing was from the members of the Board. By the past year, it was almost possible to predict the scripts that each featured Board member or speaker would read from. Mahalia Hines would remind everyone that she had once been a principal, and usually huff if people whose outrage was understandable had lost their tempers. Henry Bienen would patronize everyone, usually proclaiming that he understood the facts and that those who were criticizing the Board members just didn't get it (as in too stupid to understand the kinds of high level thought that surrounds a guy who served as President of Northwestern and shared punditry with international imperialists).

And the Brizard record showed that the policy of avoiding people with Chicago and Illinois experience came from the "top" -- meaning Mayor Rahm Emanuel. When Brizard came into power in June and July 2011, his first "cabinet" consisted mainly of people who had either come from outside Chicago (like "Chief Education Officer" Noemi Donoso, from Colorado) or who had no teaching or administrative experience in CPS (like the "Chief Officer for Family and Community Engagement" Jamiko Rose). One of the more controversial hire by Brizard was his choice to head "early childhood education," a women from Rochester named Beth Mascatti Miller. Mascatti Miller remained in her position until recently, as Ulery did.

Within a few years, CPS was no longer bragging about those it had hired from outside, but earlier, the CPS Office of Communications had actually issued a press release outlining the supposed qualifications of some of Brizard's cabinet. About Mascatti-Miller, CPS wrote:

"A lifelong educator, Beth joined CPS in 2012 after serving as Deputy Superintendent for Teaching and Learning in Rochester, New York. Prior to that role, she worked as a special education teacher, director of a preschool program for children with special needs, a building administrator, and principal of World of Inquiry Elementary, a National Blue Ribbon School that received both a National Change Award and the Excellence in Urban Education Award during her nine years of leadership. Beth graduated from Syracuse University and received her doctorate from St. John Fisher College.

"As Chief Officer for Early Childhood Education, Beth strives to ensure that Chicagos youngest learners have access to high-quality programs, and that those programs meet the diverse needs of all students and their families. She is committed to fully supporting the teachers and administrators who work closest with these children, providing them with the resources they need to help their students succeed."

At its first regular meeting after being appointed by Rahm Emanuel, the Board of Education voted, without discussion or debate, to hire Becky Carroll as "Chief Communications Officer" at an annual salary of $165,000 per year. Becky's highest paid predecessor, Peter Cunningham, had never been paid more than $120,000 per year. Although the Board Report recommending Becky Carroll for the job was signed by Jean-Claude Brizard, it was obviously dictated by Rahm Emanuel, since Brizard had no way of knowing who Becky Carrool was, and the job was never advertised for resumes.By the time of the release, the CPS Office of Communications had stopped holding press conferences, so reporters were never able to ask why Chicago had to go to Colorado (for its "Chief Education Officer") and Rochester (for someone to head "Early Childhood Education"). The transition to absolute secrecy in CPS affairs was overseen by the first "Chief Communications Officer" hired after Emanuel appointed his school board.

Becky Carroll, a long time political functionary in Democratic Party circles, had been out of work after her previous boss, Rod Blagojevich, went to prison. Carroll was appointed to head CPS communications (at an annual salary $45,000 higher than that of her predecessor) in June 2011 in one of the first official acts of the new school board.

By the summer of 2011 (above) Becky Carroll was "Chief Communications Officer" of Chicago Public Schools at the unprecedented annual salary of $165,000 per year. Her most talented predecessor, Peter Cunnigham, had been paid $120,000 per year during the administration of Arne Duncan. Carroll was hand-picked on orders of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. After leaving CPS, she went on to head Emanuel's "Chicago Forward" PAC during the 2015 election campaign. Carroll stayed on the job until 2014. After leaving CPS, Carroll went on to work directly for Emanuel. During the recent election campaign, she was head of "Chicago Forward," the pro-Emanuel PAC which sent out the negative ads against Jesus Chuy Garcia and aldermen targeted by Emanuel for defeat.

As soon as she was in her office, Barbara Byrd Bennett began assembling her own "team" on top of the team that she had inherited from Jean-Claude Brizard. No one on the Board of Education ever publicly questioned the out-of-town hires, or the sometimes bizarre departments that Byrd Bennett was establishing for them.

By December 2012, Byrd Bennett recommended that the Board hire, at an annual salary of $165,000 per year, a "Chief Officer for Incubation and Innovation." Jack Elsey was listed as a "New Employee," and no indication was given in the official record as to what his qualifications were for this job. Nor did the Board members inquire as to why the nation's third largest school system suddenly needed an "Office of Innovation and Incubation."

As soon as Barbara Byrd Bennett became CEO of the nation's third largest school system, she and the Chicago Board of Education discovered that the school system needed an "Office of Incubation and Innovation" under a $165,000 "Chief Officer." Above, out-of-town "Chief Incubation Officer" Jack Elsey at his first meeting as a highly paid executive of the Chicago Public Schools on January 23, 2013. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.But Elsey was not the first nor the last from out of town who would head existing departments, or establish new ones.


April 17, 2015 at 11:57 AM

By: Rod Estvan

Was an IG investigation of BBB impeded

What seems most possible is the CPS IG Nicholas J. Schuler went to the Department of Justice with some type of information which went beyond the statutory authority of that office.

105 ILCS 5/34-13.1 requires the CPS IG at subsection (b) to "have access to all information and personnel necessary to perform the duties of the office. If the Inspector General determines that a possible criminal act has been committed or that special expertise is required in the investigation, he or she shall immediately notify the Chicago Police Department and the Cook County State's Attorney. All investigations conducted by the Inspector General shall be conducted in a manner that ensures the preservation of evidence for use in criminal prosecutions."

In this situation it appears the IG provided the information to the United States Attorneys Office for the Northern District of Illinois Public Corruption and Organized Crime Section. The most common cases handled by this unit are kickbacks and gratuities provided in exchange for the influence of a public official for either contracts or services. The office also deals with direct theft of public funds.

Actual money does not have to be handed to an official in order to prove corruption. It can also be gratuities like future contracts for fees upon leaving office. An illegal gratuity does not require proof if intent is to influence. Unlike kickbacks, the gift or gratuity does not have to be given influence, but merely as a "thank you" for something that has been done.

Title 18 of the United States Code, provide for federal prosecution of public corruption in the United States.

Specifically 18 U.S.C. 201(c)(1) provides:

(c) Whoever

(1) otherwise than as provided by law for the proper discharge of official duty

(A) directly or indirectly gives, offers, or promises anything of value to any public official, former public official, or person selected to be a public official, for or because of any official act performed or to be performed by such public official, former public official, or person selected to be a public official; or

(B) being a public official, former public official, or person selected to be a public official, otherwise than as provided by law for the proper discharge of official duty, directly or indirectly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally for or because of any official act performed or to be performed by such official or person . . .

shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than two years, or both.

If the IG makes a claim that any CPS staff or Board members impeded his investigation it could be a state crime regardless of whether BBB is indicted by a Federal Grand Jury.

To make a long story short, this is possibly a very bad situation that potentially could bring down more people than BBB or no one at all. It is unlikely the Public Corruption and Organized Crime Section would move to the interview stage conducted by FBI agents if there was not significant evidence already developed prior to that because they are aware just the act of interview of CPS officials would become public.

Rod Estvan

April 18, 2015 at 8:44 PM

By: Bob Busch

Hoping the feds' net catches these crooked fish

I hope that the feds act in their usual manner. What we are hearing about is just the tip of the iceberg. If they have had a grand jury on this for a year, it would be a good bet to assume there is a whole lot at play here. I hope this gets down to the district level -- and even the school level. So many new principals came out of the woodwork in the last several years -- picked out and promoted by these now targeted groups. Perhaps some people will find justice after having been blind sided.

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