BUDGET BUSTERS: If Brizard is 'scrubbing' expenses, how did Chicago wind up with former Cleveland schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett at a cost of more than $200,000 a year (plus moving expenses) for the post of 'Interim Chief Education Officer'?

The CPS website, like much else at CPS, is collapsing as the leadership vacuum grows. On July 21, 2012, anyone who goes to the Website will be invited to the "Tele Townhall" with Jean-Claude — on July 18. CPS doesn't provide a time machine for the trip. But the most dramatic problems with CPS show up in the contrast between budget realities and the rhetoric and talking points the public gets from CPS officials and their allies at the editorial boards of Catalyst, Chicago Sun-Times, and Chicago Tribune. Take just one small example, Jean-Claude Brizard's letter to the public that accompanied the non-release of the Proposed 2012 - 2013 budget. In his letter, among other thing, Brizard said: "This year we’ve been just as vigilant as last, identifying another $144 million in spending reductions by scrubbing our budget line by line, contract by contract, and program by program. We have also ended the status quo way of doing business with CPS by implementing rigorous private sector procurement practices that will ensure less money ends up in the pockets of vendors and more goes to our schools..."

Proving once again that they cannot find executive leadership talent inside Chicago or in Chicago's public schools, the members of the Chicago Board of Education have elevated former Cleveland Schools Supt. Barbara-Byrd Bennett to the post of "Interim Chief Education Officer" at a reported salary in excess of $200,000 per year (as of July 21, 2012, CPS has yet to publish a Board Report approving the controversial appointment of Byrd-Bennett to succeed Noemi Donoso, who was forced out in March). Above, Byrd-Bennett (second from right) joins Board member Penny Pritzker (right) and Board President David Vitale (left) in the Pledge at the beginning of the Special Meeting of the Board on July 18, 2012. Substance photo by David Vance.Let's just look at how vigilant Brizard's been in May and June 2012, before the upcoming Board meeting of July 25, and just take three areas: Outside lawyers, outside bureaucrats, and propagandists. In all three areas, Brizard's administration broke new records for reckless spending, although as usual Substance is the only news service in Chicago watching these details. Everyone else is playing the odd game of "He said, but she said..." "reporting" no matter what the easily checkable facts. Although Noemi Donoso, who lasted nine months as "Chief Education Officer," has been gone from CPS since March, as late as May her name still appeared on Board Reports from the "Office of the Chief Education Officer." By June 2012, however, the person sitting in the chair in front of the Board meetings with a sign listing her as "Chief Education Officer" has been Barbara Byrd-Bennett, whom Brizard brought to Chicago from Detroit and the Broad Foundation after Donoso was forced out. According to the information the Tribune was able to get at the time CPS announced that Byrd-Bennett was coming to Chicago (April 30): "Bennett's resume includes time as the chief executive officer for the Cleveland Municipal School District. She was also a supervising superintendent for the Chancellor's District in New York City in the late 1990s, and has held executive positions in Detroit Public Schools and with the national education reform group New Leaders for New Schools. She serves as an executive coach for the Broad Superintendents' Academy, of which Brizard is an alumnus. The academy trains prospective superintendents of large urban school districts."

None of the corporate media reporters who announced the Byrd Bennett story reported her proposed salary, and as of mid-July, only Substance has noticed that the Board of Education is not putting out a Board Report, as required by law, approving the appointment and terms of Byrd-Bennett's contract.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, like virtually all of the executives hired at the highest salaries in CPS history to run the city's public schools, has no Chicago teaching experience, and like most of those with whom she will be serving in Brizard's "cabinet," she will either get a car and driver to help her navigate Chicago or need a GPS to find her way, say, from Bogan to Bowen high schools.

But if CPS was telling the public in March, April, May, June and July 2012 that there was another of the annual "fiscal crises" that become more persistent talking points for those who work at 125 S. Clark St., a close examination shows that under Brizard and the others appointed by Rahm Emanuel, spending on executives from out of town and those with no Chicago or Illinois teaching experience or teaching (or administrative) credentials has reached obscene levels.

Abigayil Joseph, now in the office of the "Chief of Staff" (left) and Becky Carroll (right), Chief Communications Officer, flanked one of the many CPS security officers who were present and blocking reporters during the brief press conference held by David Vitale following the Board vote to reject the report of the Fact Finder on July 18, 2012. Substance photo by David Vance.During the same months Brizard was covering up the cost of Barbara Byrd Bennett, the CPS Proposed Budget showed that he was establishing new departments and offices within the administration and expanding the critical "Office of Communications," which handles all propaganda for the nation's third largest school system. When Brizard took office, the "Office of Communications" had been operating with between six and ten people for several years. Under leaders as diverse as Michael Vaugh (now working in Colorado) and Peter Cunningham (now a top official working for Arne Duncan at the U.S. Department of Education), "Communications" fulfilled several roles, the most important of which was to provide accurate and timely information to the public.

The Office of Communications was always busy, and more often than not, the public's need for information was served. Sometimes this information was circulated in written form, in press releases and other materials, but very often it took the form of a press conference at which CPS officials would explain something and then answer questions. Not one month went by during the past quarter century when CPS did not hold a press conference at which the chief of the school system (before 1995, the "General Superintendent"'; since 1995, the "Chief Executive Officer") and top officials answered reporters' questions.

That ended with the advent of the Emanuel administration. Since June 2011, CPS has held almost no press conference, and those that were held (like the brief appearance by David Vitale on July 18, 2012) usually refuse to answer serious questions, while the officials who might know the answers are kept out of range.

But if the CPS Office of Communications went from being an "Office of Information" to being an "Office of Disinformation," one thing that changed as radically was the size and cost of it. As soon as Rahm Emanuel's team took over, Becky Carroll, a former official of the administration of Governor Rod Blagojevich, became "Chief Communications Officer." The Board of Education voted to pay Carroll $165,000 a year, which was $15,000 per year more than her immediate predecessor (Monique Bond, who is now with the Illinois State Police) and $50,000 more than Peter Cunningham and Michael Vaughn, both of whom left around the time President Barack Obama appointed former Chicago CEO Arne Duncan to be U.S. Secretary of Education.

But the additional expense for Becky Carroll was not the only expense added to the Office of Communications. CPS also doubled the size of the staff of the "Office of Communications", according to the CPS Position Files (public information which includes every person working full or part-time for CPS, but which is not posted on the CPS website).


Add your own comment (all fields are necessary)

Substance readers:

You must give your first name and last name under "Name" when you post a comment at We are not operating a blog and do not allow anonymous or pseudonymous comments. Our readers deserve to know who is commenting, just as they deserve to know the source of our news reports and analysis.

Please respect this, and also provide us with an accurate e-mail address.

Thank you,

The Editors of Substance

Your Name

Your Email

What's your comment about?

Your Comment

Please answer this to prove you're not a robot:

5 + 1 =