How Rahm Emanuel, the Pritzkers, and other ruling class movers and shakers worked behind-the-scenes with Beth Swanson to manufacture the 'pension crisis', push massive privatization (including SUPES), and bring Jean-Claude Brizard and Barbara Byrd Bennett to Chicago at taxpayers's expense....

One of the many mysteries of recent years in the nation's third largest school system is how and why the members of the Board of Education located two out-of-town school administrators, hired them to lead the nation's third largest school system, and have now left the taxpayers of Chicago with a major problem. Let's be precise before we expand on this mystery as it's now being solved: When Arne Duncan left Chicago (In January 2009) to join the administration of Rahm Emanuel as U.S. Secretary of Education, nobody in Chicago expected that within three years Chicago would have hired not one, but two school officials from other states, both of whom would be proclaimed as the best (and only) people to solve the myriad problems of Chicago's public schools.

By the January 25, 2012 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, Beth Swanson, who had become Mayor Rahm Emanuel's chief liaison with the Board of Education, was still sitting in the back at every Board meeting (above) monitoring every move of the public and the Board. After Substance began noting her presence she moved into the shadows behind the Board chambers. Above, Swanson during the January 25, 2012 meeting of the Board, sitting in the rear under the famous stormy seas painting that once decorated the Board chambers. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Now that former Chicago Public Schools budget chief Beth Swanson is back in the news, thanks to the Barbara Byrd Bennett scandal(s) and other Board of Education malfeasance, it's time for an examination of how some of Chicago's wealthiest people worked to create what the Chicago Teachers Union leaders are calling the "manufactured crisis" in Chicago public education finances. The story gets some assistance (but only a little) from the fact that the Chicago Tribune on May 7, 2015 reported Swanson's involvement in getting an outside firm -- SUPES Academy -- a no-bid job to train CPS principals and other officials. The story gets more interesting because at the time SUPES was awarded the privatization contracts to train Chicago's public school leaders, Chicago already had people training Chicago's public school leaders -- and thus there was no reason for the Board of Education to hire SUPES.

And Beth Swanson, who has now acknowledged that she has spoken with federal officials investigating numerous corruption allegations against Barbara Byrd Bennett (and at least three of Byrd Bennett's cronies) was in the middle of it all, first as an official of CPS. Then as a private citizen working for Penny Pritzker (who later became a member of Rahm Emanuel's Board of Education) and finally as Rahm Emanuel's chief of liaison with the Chicago Public Schools by May and June 2011.

But the story, while still mostly in the shadows, begins some years before the May 7 attempt by the Tribune to update some of it in a front page story. For reasons unknown to this reporter, the Tribune story leaves out two main features of the high-flying career of Beth Swanson: the fact that she served as "Budget Director" for CPS (despite the fact that her university training was in English and humanities) and the fact that after leaving CPS and before Rahm Emanuel's election, she worked for Penny Pritzker's charitable foundation.

By the time Beth Swanson sat in the back of the June 15, 2011 special meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, she was working as Mayor Rahm Emanuel's liaison with the school board. Swanson was one of the people at that Board meeting who would have known that the claim being made by the Board members that day was a lie. On June 15, 2011, the Board announced that it did not have the money to honor the four percent raise in the fifth year of the contract between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Board, which had just been appointed by Emanuel. The cost of the raise would have been about $100 million (of the Board's projected budget of about $5 billion). Swanson was in charge of the Board budget office during the years before Arne Duncan left for Washington D.C. and was well aware that the annual "deficit" the Board projected in June or August (when the budget hearings were held) evaporated into a major surplus by the time the fiscal year's books were audited 18 months later. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.By the time Rahm Emanuel's new Board of Education held its first meeting on June 15, 2011, the Board was ready to launch a carefully scripted agenda that almost played out like a Hollywood script for Emanuel. At the time, the Chicago Teachers Union was at the end of a five-year contract that had been signed by former CTU President Marilyn Stewart. In June 2010, Stewart had been unseated in an upset election by Karen Lewis, who led a slate of candidates for CORE (Concerned Rank and Filed Educators) that was swept into power and into control of most of the seats on the CTU Executive Board. Emanuel was elected Mayor in February 2011 and inaugurated in May 2011. His Board of Education immediately began implementing the Emanuel script -- and the facts be damned.

As its very first action, while Beth Swanson sat inconspicuously in the rear of the Board chambers (then at 125 S. Clark St.), the Board proclaimed that it could not reasonably expect to have the estimated $100 million needed to pay the teachers a four percent raise for the last year of the five-year contract. The claim was a lie, as the final audited budget figures proved 18 months later. But the seven members of the Board who had just been appointed by Emanuel voted unanimously, after a couple of speeches about how much they loved teachers, in fovor of the lie. It was the beginning of a series of confrontations and event stagings for which Emanuel has become famous.

The first thrust against the union came over the summer of 2011, when Emanuel and his aides continually claimed, despite the facts to the contrary, that Chicago's public schools had the shortest school day in the USA. They even went so far as to assemble a group of people who became known as the "paid protesters" to attend meetings holding signs demanding a longer school day -- "for the sake of the children." The expose of the paid protesters, first in Substance in September 2011 and finally by January 2012, barely dented the Emanuel script, although by January 2012 Swanson was less assured as she sat monitoring the Board of Education meetings.

By the November 19, 2008 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, Beth Swanson was established as the Director of the Board of Education's Office of Management and Budget, despite the fact that her degrees were in liberal arts and "public policy" and she had no Illinois state finance officer's credential. Above, Swanson sits at the November 19, 2008 Board of Education meeting two weeks after voters had elected Chicago's Barack Obama President of the United States. Three weeks later, Obama would return to Chicago for a media event, that made the front page of The New York Times, to announce that Arne Duncan, the "Chief Executive Officer"of CPS, would become U.S. Secretary of Education when Obama was inaugurated in January 2009. Swanson left the Board to work for Penny Pritzker's charitable foundation shortly after Duncan went to Washington. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Let's start at the end of the Arne Duncan years.

In 2008, Beth Swanson was a CPS official in charge of budget. She ran the annual budget hearings, narrated the Power Point presentations on the budget every summer (always pointing a red arrow to the upcoming "pension crisis" while trying CPS officials successfully steered the money away from solving the pension funding problems), and was in charge of many of the major financial activities of CPS -- despite the fact that she was not a state-certified financial officer and the fact that her college and university training were in the liberal arts.


The consultant at the center of a federal investigation into his firm's $20.5 million no-bid contract with Chicago Public Schools acknowledged Wednesday that he advised Mayor Rahm Emanuel's transition team in 2011 on picking the administration's first school CEO.

The Tribune has also learned that a former Emanuel aide who served on his transition team and is considered an architect of the mayor's education policies has been questioned by federal authorities looking into the contract.

The developments provide new evidence of City Hall's connection to the scandal, which so far has centered on the ties between consultant Gary Solomon and Emanuel's second school CEO, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who worked for Solomon before she joined CPS.

The mayor, asked last month whether his administration played any role in the no-bid contract to SUPES Academy LLC, told reporters: "No, you obviously know that by all the information available. And the answer to that is no."

But it's now clear that federal investigators have sought information from Beth Swanson, the Emanuel aide who worked most closely with the school board and the school system's executives, and that Solomon's ties to the administration predate the arrival of Byrd-Bennett at CPS.

Solomon, the owner of SUPES Academy, confirmed to the Tribune through a spokesman that he was contacted by a member of the mayor-elect's transition team shortly after the February 2011 election and had played a role in the selection of Jean-Claude Brizard as Emanuel's first school CEO.

"Mr. Solomon received a call in 2011 asking about potential superintendent candidates for Chicago Public Schools and discussed Mr. Brizard and others," said spokesman Dennis Culloton. He would not comment on which member of the transition team contacted Solomon or whether he was further involved in the process of bringing Brizard to Chicago.

"He certainly suggested him to the transition team member," Culloton said. He also said that Solomon was not a member of the transition team, "nor did he have any conversations with the mayor."

Culloton declined to comment on whether federal investigators have questioned Solomon about his involvement with the Emanuel transition team.

But Swanson, who led Emanuel's education transition efforts, confirmed to the Tribune through her attorney that Solomon was one of the people she talked to about hiring Brizard. Swanson's attorney, Nancy DePodesta, also confirmed that Swanson was questioned by federal investigators.

Swanson, currently a vice president at the Joyce Foundation, was interviewed April 24 at the U.S. attorney's office in the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, according to her attorney, who emphasized that Swanson was only a witness and was cooperative with investigators. DePodesta declined to provide details about the interview.

"She has been advised repeatedly and definitively that she is not a subject of the investigation," DePodesta said. "Nor is she involved in any wrongdoing."

Swanson says in her biography posted on the Joyce Foundation's website that she "worked with Mayor Emanuel and other leaders to define the city's education policy agenda from birth through college."

On Thursday, Emanuel was asked if he personally knew Solomon. "No," the mayor replied after taking part in a ribbon cutting for a Northwest Side restaurant supply business. Emanuel did not answer when asked if he or anyone in his administration were aware of Solomons history before he made the CEO recommendation.


On Wednesday, Emanuel spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said Solomon was not part of the transition team, adding that "hundreds of people worked with the mayor's transition team and offered ideas and recommendations for Cabinet positions, including candidates for Chicago Public Schools."

Asked whether federal investigators have sought to question anyone in the mayor's office about the contract, Quinn said no.

Swanson was Emanuel's education point person when the Emanuel-appointed school board voted 6-0 to award the SUPES contract as recommended by Byrd-Bennett. An internal investigation by the inspector general for Chicago Public Schools began in 2013, and a source has said that federal authorities have been looking at evidence for at least a year.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon declined to comment.

The first public signs of the federal investigation came April 15, when CPS officials acknowledged that they had received federal grand jury subpoenas. Three days after the investigation was made public, CPS announced Byrd-Bennett was taking a paid leave of absence.

The CPS contracts now under scrutiny both replaced and greatly expanded on an initial $380,000 program to train midlevel school executives through an agreement between SUPES and the Chicago Public Education Fund, a private philanthropy with strong ties to the mayor, Gov. Bruce Rauner and U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

That initial training program featured Byrd-Bennett as SUPES' lead coach.

The fund's executive director, Heather Anichini, said fund officials were contacted by federal authorities and expect to be witnesses in the investigation.

The fun has long been closely aligned with education initiatives at CPS, and there is often significant overlap between the leadership of the school board, the mayors office, and the fund. Rauners wife, Diana, a major player in education reform efforts, also served as a member of Emanuals education transition team. She declined to comment through a spokeswoman at her education group, Ounce of Prevention.

Anichini said the fund's involvement with SUPES began after Emanuel became mayor in May 2011 and overhauled the leadership team at CPS. Anichini said the fund agreed to back the first year of SUPES training at the request of CPS officials but later declined to fund an expansion that would add principal training.

Within months, Brizard was let go and Byrd-Bennett was picked by Emanuel to be his replacement. On the day the school board formally signed off on her hiring in October 2012, it also approved an initial $2.1 million contract for SUPES, expanding its early work training administrators to training principals.

Federal subpoenas dated mid-April asked CPS to turn over all records related to SUPES Academy and two other Solomon-owned firms, Synesi Associates and Proact Search Inc. The subpoenas also request employment records for Byrd-Bennett and three of her longtime aides, Tracy Martin, Sherry Ulery and Rosemary Herpel.


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