Indictment of Barbara Byrd Bennett leaves most of her cronies, co-conspirators and (Board member) enablers off the hook... Board of Education members and Byrd Bennett's cronies escape justice while BBB plans to plead guilty...

Three of the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education are shown during the June 26 2013 meeting of the city's school board. Above, left to right, are (then) Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz, (then) Board President David Vitale, and Board member Andrea Zopp (at the time head of the Chicago Urban Leage; in 2015 a candidate for the U.S. Senate). All of the members of the Board voted for the no-bid $20.5 million SUPES contract without discussion or debate. The proposal for the contract (see below) signed by Barbara Byrd Bennett, then "Chief Executive Officer" of the nation's third largest school district, was buried in a series of 52 proposed contracts on that day's agenda. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The announcement of the indictment of former Chicago Public Schools "Chief Executive Officer" Barbara Byrd Bennett on October 8, 2015, came as no surprise to most people who had been following the scandal since the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education voted at the Board's June 2013 meeting to approve the $20.5 million, no-bid SUPES contract unanimously and without debate.

Officially the news was simple: Barbara Byrd Bennett, who served as CEO of Chicago Public Schools following her October 2012 appointment by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to replace Jean-Claude Brizard (Rahm's first CEO), pleaded guilty in a scheme to profit from a no-bid contract on October 8, 2015. News reports also said that Byrd-Bennett, will plead guilty to charges in an indictment released Thursday (October 8, 2015). The indictment states that she steered more than $23 million in no-bid contracts from CPS to her former employer, federal officials said.

U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon made the announcement at a news conference. Fardon declined to discuss the details of any plea agreement, including possible prison time. He said that Byrd-Bennett and others �entered into a scheme to secretly profit from schools.� Byrd-Bennett � Mayor Rahm Emanuel�s handpicked choice � becomes CPS� first chief executive officer to face criminal charges in connection with her job. Federal authorities have been investigating the most controversial of those contracts � a $20.5 million no-bid CPS deal for principal training, the largest in recent memory � for more than a year.

Receiving that contract in 2013 to train principals was the "SUPES Academy." That group owned by former Niles West High School dean Gary Solomon and his former student Thomas Vranas. The SUPES contract generated controversy shortly after it was approved because SUPES was not known for training principals while other groups, including the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association (CPAA), had done the job. The deal drew increasing criticism after the "training" began and became obvious even to principals afraid to speak out that the "training" ranged from insipid to ridiculous. Eventually, an article in Catalyst magazine exposed the fact that the contract had been no-bid and reported on the principals' challenges. Solomon, 47, of Wilmette, and Vranas, 34, of Glenview, also were charged in the federal indictment. Also charted were two corporations: SUPES and another company owned by Solomon and Vranas, Synesi Associates LLC.

Barbara Byrd Bennet (above right) and Board of Education member Deborah Quazzo (above left) dialogued during the June 26, 2013 meeting of the Board of Education (above, from the June 26 meeting). Quazzo, a corrupt privatization proponent and millionaire, was appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to the Board after the departure of billionaire Penny Pritzker. Quazzo was one of the seven Board members who voted without discussion or debate to approve the $20.5 million SUPES contract at that meeting. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Solomon�s attorney also suggested Thursday that his client would plead guilty in the case as well. The indicment alleges in a 43-page document that Byrd-Bennett, 66, and Solomon set up a kickback scheme, detailed in emails, in which Byrd-Bennett would get 10 percent of any CPS contracts she steered to SUPES and Synesi. The feds don�t allege how much money, if any, was paid to Byrd-Bennett, although details in the indictment showed that Byrd Bennett was working with Solomon to have the money she would be paid put into accounts controlled by members of her family. In one email discussing the alleged scheme, Byrd-Bennett wrote: �I have tuition to pay and casinos to visit (:...�

While the news on October 8 and October 9, 2015, was dominated by the indictments of Byrd Bennett, Solomon and Vranas, a lot has yet to be examined, even though it is obvious to most close observers of CPS activities that Byrd Bennett could never have gotten away with such a bold scheme without the active collaboration of the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education, all of whom voted unanimously and without debate at their June 26, 2013 meeting for the $20.5 million no-bid SUPES deal.

Another example of corruption that had soared after Rahm Emanuel appointed his Board members and CEO in May and June 2011 was that the Board began hiring its top executives not from Illinois or Chicago, but from out of town. Especially obvious was the fact that more than a dozen people were hired by the Board to six-figure executive jobs came from Ohio, where Byrd Bennett had begun her executive career as CEO of the Cleveland Public Schools. Ohio teachers and others who were brought to Chicago and installed in highly paid executive positions included Tracy Martin-Thompson, Markay Winston, and Rhonda Corr-Saegert.


October 9, 2015 at 10:59 AM

By: Jean Schwab


I read this article with so much sadness. It could have turned out so differently. BBB is so knowledgeable with so much experience that she could have chosen differently and become our hero! What a waste! We need heroes with her education and experience to stand up for our children!

Like Diane Ravich, who changed her stance on education, it is not too late for her to change her life and I hope she does. This was not a joyous day for me.

October 9, 2015 at 1:01 PM

By: John Kugler

Byrd Bennett was a crook from the beginning!

We at Substance have been reporting this crook from the beginning. Anyone who thinks that Barbara Byrd Bennett deserves any kind of sympathy should look at the record, much of which we published in Substance, even before the SUPES scandal became known thanks to Catalyst.

Here is the list of jobs that Barbara Byrd Bennett has connections, including when and by who they were reported:

1. Broad Superintendent Academy "Executive Coach" Reported (February 2013) SubstanceNews

2. SUPES Leadership Academy "Senior Advisor" (July 2013) Catalyst

3. New Schools for Chicago "Director" Reported (January 2014) SubstanceNews

4. Catapult Learning �Senior Advisor for strategic planning" (April 2015) SubstanceNews

5. Synesi "Senior Advisor of school turn around" (April 2015) SubstanceNews

6. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt "Superintendent in Residence" (April 2015) SubstanceNews

7. Education Research and Development Institute (ERDI) �Senior Advisor� (May 2015)

[From May 2015]

October 9, 2015 at 2:49 PM

By: Rod Estvan

The indictment and others

It is unclear from reading the indictment of Barbara Byrd-Bennett whether the "indictment of Barbara Byrd Bennett leaves most of her cronies, co-conspirators and (Board member) enablers off the hook," as the article argues. A look at page 6 of the indictment clearly states that the scheme to defraud CPS included the named defendants and "others known and unknown."

Additional indictments are possible, particularly since Ms. Byrd Bennett may turn over on co-conspirators as part of a plea deal.

Rod Estvan

October 9, 2015 at 3:20 PM

By: Leanee Brown

Lifelong Impact of Barbara Byrd Bennett

Dear Substance,

While the exposure of the corruption-plagued bureaucracy is applauded, it does little for the many employees who were harassed, bullied, and some even FIRE by the very individuals Barbara Byrd-Bennett hired.

Why isn't there a thorough investigation of the principals, their schools, and the grievances and repeated cries for help that were ignored while BBB reigned?

None of this comes as a surprise to anyone who knows Crook County. My prayer, however, is that some journalist, inspector, or attorney will take a genuine interest in the lives of everyday people who gave decades of service to a district that turned around and spit in their faces. The public paid millions in salaries and crooked deals to individuals who were no more vested in our children's education and future, than the mayor is in having an elected school board.

October 9, 2015 at 5:05 PM

By: Bob Busch


My wife is on the Do Not Hire list. she was hounded by a incident that never happened.

it did open my eyes to the to the fact our great CTU is powerless in the face of State laws. It was BBB who signed the papers,I hope she rots in jail.

October 9, 2015 at 5:09 PM

By: Jean Schwab

I agree

I agree with Leanee Brown. No one listened when the system started to single out older and more vocal teachers. Teachers who spoke out are no longer teaching. It was even sadder when schools were closed and wonderful teachers were laid off and fired.

I think George should get the retired trailblazer Award because he did speak out and still does. He has earned his scars. I usually agree with George and when I don't, there is always the benefit of food for thought. Maybe, instead of trailblazer, he needs to be hired by the CTU to continue doing the work that he now does for free.

October 9, 2015 at 6:32 PM

By: Oscar Ortiz

Board President ought to be investigated

Its not disheartening to learn that BBB is going to jail but what is dispiriting is that the BOE President is not investigated with a fine comb to possible ties to the toxic bank deals. Although BBB has committed a tremendous crime, I think for a minute how this pales in comparison to the swap deals by banks especially Bank of Anerica

October 10, 2015 at 2:35 AM

By: Taylor Martin


Has anyone addressed the issue that the REACH evaluations are still not Finalized? It has been 135 plus days since the last observation in May. Something tells me that they are making sure they have all their ducks in a row to lay off the "two developings" and you are OUT clause teachers!

I am betting that a layoff will come and all of these "bad" teachers will be laid off. And there will be no public sympathy when the papers report that "unsatisfactory" teachers will be laid off.

I wonder how many teachers will be labeled unsatisfactory at CPS. I am guessing each school will have 1 to 3 teachers that have been made unsatisfactory by the current contracts "two developings" = Unsatisfactory clause. The numbers will be in the 500 to 1000.

I would be interested to see if anyone has any thoughts on this. I just don't get how CPS can drag their feet on these observation reports.

October 10, 2015 at 5:15 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

REACH report from HOD meeting...

There was a lengthy REACH report at the October meeting of the CTU House of Delegates. I thought that by now each local school delegate would have reported this confusion in detail at every school. I also assume that the CTU website ( also reports these changes.

Substance reported in our BOARDWATCH from the controversial September 29 Board of Education meeting that CPS was wallowing in confusion about REACH, since the EXPLORE and PLAN tests have been invalidated, but somehow CPS still insists that its evaluation system is valid. I know it's time consuming, but if you view the video of the September 29 Board meeting, you will see the nonsense CPS officials (Janice Jackson) are now plugging into the crazy system for evaluating schools. Of course, none of the members of the Board of Education challenged the nonsense. After all, if the two central tests utilized to evaluate teachers and schools are no good, how can CPS continue to claim it has a system of evaluation that is more than a bad joke?

October 10, 2015 at 2:31 PM

By: Taylor Martin


Hey George..can you send links?? We need to the word out. Thanks for.the help

October 10, 2015 at 2:33 PM

By: Taylor Martin


The biggest problem is that a principal could make the hop diamond look like a small volcanic rock with this system. Very scary stuff

October 10, 2015 at 11:28 PM

By: Taylor Martin


Well I can't agree with you that only Black people get singled out for these things (don't grade me on spelling) BUT Blago, Ryan, Maltese (Cicero), Rostenkowski , Dan Walker and a bunch of "white people" have gone to jail too!

This is in no way a case of fact her crime affected many African Americans and it actually could be considered a good thing she is going to jail because it will protect minorities.

October 11, 2015 at 5:51 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

'Racism' and crime...

Earlier, an anonymous comment attempted to say here that the indictment of Barbara Byrd Bennett was the result of "racism." The previous comment is in response to that, but because the person who wanted to talk about "racism" in the crimes of Barbara Byrd Bennett but not give our readers a real name, we had to delete that comment. Anyone is free to offer that opinion here, but whoever wants to do so must provide our readers with a complete name, as we say above. Crooked public officials should be tried for their crimes, not let off the hook because of some fantasy double standard. One of the triumphs of the struggles for equity and diversity of the past 50 years (a struggle that those of us at Substance took part in with courage and paid for dearly) is that Black people can now serve as "CEO" of Chicago's public schools, hustle kickbacks of ten percent of certain contracts (as BBB is admitting to having done), and, if caught, pay the prices... Such is one of the benefits of all our struggles during the past century... Equality means just that, as I told my students at Tilden when they asked me why I was so forceful about desegregation back in the late 1970s. During the previous summers, I had marched and been stoned by racist mobs in some of those infamous Chicago battles for open housing. We discussed it, and my hope was that they remembered those fights for equality. Equality means that Black people can be the overseers now: Frank Clark can recommend all those school closings; Barbara Byrd Bennett can write the Board Report on those recommendations in May 2013; and Barbara Byrd Bennett can write her corrupt Board Report on behalf of the SUPES contract, as she did in June 2013.

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