CTU president calls on Chicago Board of Education to overturn decisions made during corrupt years of Barbara Byrd Bennett as CEO of CPS... Latest reports say that the feds are naming other Byrd Bennett cronies for possible corrupt practices in SUPES deal -- while others should be investigated...

Tracy Martin Thompson at the March 2014 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. Martin Thompson, currently being noted as "Tracy Martin" in federal investigations, was hired by the Chicago Board of Education as "Chief of School Supports" at an annual salary of $170,000 in December 2012, two months after the Board voted to hire Barbara Byrd Bennett to replace Jean Claude Brizard as CEO of the nation's third largest school system. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.In a press release released one day before the October 28, 2015 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, the President of the Chicago Teachers Union, Karen Lewis, called on the Board to undo the damages done by the Board during the years it voted in favor of proposals made by former CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett. Byrd Bennett is now an admitted felon facing time in federal prison, the length of which depends on how much she cooperates with the feds in helping identify others who participated in the corrupt pay to play and kickback schemes she has admitted. On October 27, 2015, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that federal investigators were looking into corruption in Detroit at the time Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel hired Byrd Bennett in 2012.

Is it possible? Not completely.

Should it be done? Definitely.

Between the time she was brought to Chicago (while continuing to work to destabilize the Detroit public schools as "chief academic and accountability officer" or with some other pretentious title there) in March and April 2012, Barbara Byrd Bennett first pushed a large number of privatization schemes on the side, as the SUPES investigations have shown. Then, after the Board made her "Chief Executive Officer" to replace Jean-Claude Brizard in October 2012, Byrd Bennett went on what can only be described as an orgy of massive privatization.

The corrupt deals fell into two main categories.

One, and the most visible, involved the hiring of executives. Instead of hiring from within Chicago's public schools (or at least from experienced Illinois school leaders), Byrd Bennett hired almost all of her top executives from out of town. Although the majority of them came from cadre who had been her cronies from the days she began her ascent in corporate school reform as Superintendent of the Cleveland public schools in Ohio, she had also picked up others from elsewhere. Tracy Martin (Thompson), Sherry Ulery, Markay Winston, and Rhonda Corr (Saegert) all came to Chicago from Ohio. But Bob Boik had been with Byrd Bennett in Michigan, and John Barker was imported from Tennessee. Between March 2012 and March 2013, dozens of administrators with no experience in Chicago were imported as part of Byrd Bennett's leadership teams (there was not just one), and by June 2013, her tentacles had dug deeply into virtually all of the top ranks at the nation's third largest school system.

Not once did any of the seven members of the Board of Education ask any questions. Why, in December 2012, did Chicago suddenly need a "Chief Office for School Support Services" (that was Tracy Martin Thompson, at $170,000 per year)? And why should Chicago import the person for that job from Ohio, and pay an additional "signing and relocation bonus"? Dozens of others were pouring in during the same months, virtually all of them unreported in the press (except at Substance).

But as soon as she was established as CEO in Chicago, Byrd Bennett was given the green light to escalate her attacks on the city's public schools. By December 2012, she asked, and received, permission to ignore the law and extend the deadline for announcing school closings. The rush was on, beyond a smokescreen of nonsense that at one point claimed Chicago had more than 300 "underutilized" public schools. It was, like so many political media events stage managed by Rahm Emanuel and his corporate supporters, a "crisis" -- indeed a CRISIS!!! And so, by May 2013, when Byrd Bennett, with her sponsor's blessing, moved that the Chicago Board of Education close "only" 50 of those supposedly "underutilized" public schools, one wing of public opinion actually claimed that it was a modest deal.

At the May 2013 Board meeting, the Board members voted without even hearing or reading the names of the schools on what was dubbed the "Hit List." And when one parent (Erika Clark of Parents 4 Teachers) actually tried to read the names of the schools on the hit list, she was told by the Board's Secretary, Estela Beltran, to shut up, and then, when Clark kept reading the list, she was literally dragged from the Board chambers while the Board members dutifully waited for the chance to vote to destroy more of the real public schools of a major city than had ever been done anywhere in the USA before (at leas since the days in the Jim Crow South when the segregated African American schools were being shut down after the 1954 Brown decision supposedly desegregating the nation's public schools).

The scandals surrounding the massive school closings had barely subsided than Byrd Bennett returned at the next meeting of the Board, in June 2013, with a massive outpouring of contract proposals, most of them to expand privatization. There were 52 items on the "Purchasing" part of the Board of Education's meeting agenda. Buried in that pile, number 51, was the infamous SUPES proposal -- viz., to give the SUPES people a massive $20.5 million no-bid contract to do executive and leadership training. Byrd Bennett was so determined to push through the SUPES deal (as the federal investigation has now proved) that she didn't even risk putting it out to bid. And it was that error -- making SUPES a no-bid deal, that caught her: Catalyst magazine, which from Cleveland on had been a cheerleader for Byrd Bennett and for most of the policies of corporate "school reform," actually did some investigative reporting and quickly exposed some scandalous problems with the SUPES deal.

But that revelation (which had also been noted in Substance, which continues to be blacklisted by Chicago's corporate media) along with dozens of others (including the fact reported in Substance that Byrd Bennett was actually living in Solon Ohio and getting the Board to pay for her weekends back home) began to force investigations into the massive corruption that was sweeping through Chicago's public schools, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, during the years Barbara Byrd Bennett was CEO.

And as anyone who wishes to drag herself through the agendas and videos from the Board of Education meetings for 2012, 2013, 2014 and early 2015 can learn, every member of the Board of Education was voting at every meeting to rubber stamp every agenda item put before the Board by Barbara Byrd Bennett. As the corporate press has not noted, Byrd Bennett could not have gotten away with any of the crimes she was trying to committee without having the public support of David Vitale, Jesse Ruiz and the other members of the Chicago Board of Education, vote after vote, month after month, year after year.

And, so, at the same time the Chicago Teachers Union leader was speaking out demanding that all of Byrd Bennett's actions be challenged, another investigative report emerged in Chicago's corporate media. The Chicago Sun-Times, which has been publishing an almost daily update on the Byrd Bennett corruption stories (that's a plural and more) noted in a story on October 28, 2015, that the latest scandal names one of the people Byrd Bennett brought to Chicago from out of town -- Tracy Martin Thompson. Martin Thompson quit as a $170,000-per-year CPS executive following the Byrd Bennett grand jury announcements in June 2015. But prior to Martin Thompson's departure from to top ranks of CPS leaders, only Substance had raised any questions about what she was doing -- in Chicago, and at CPS. In fact, at one point Karen Lewis, who in October 2015 was demanding an accounting for the crimes of Barbara Byrd Bennett, had stood at a public meeting of the Board and praised Martin Thompson's work.

The stories will continue to update the histories, many of which were first reported in Substance and will be now reviewed at Substance before the statutes of limitations on certain of these crimes runs out. But one thing that Chicago and Illinois taxpayers and citizens should be asking: Why did it take the federal authorities to begin investigating the crimes of Barbara Byrd Bennett and the members of the Chicago Board of Eduction, and her staff? Don't Chicago and Illinois also have law enforcement authorities with the power to convene grand juries and subpoena records that CPS and the City of Chicago claim do not exist until they are dragged out of them under legal order?


President Lewis calls for overturn of all Byrd-Bennett decisions made during corruption-plagued tenure


CHICAGO—Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis issued the following statement in response to the corruption and scandal plaguing Chicago Public Schools: “As new information emerges in the expanse of the federal investigation into corruption on the part of former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, it is critically important for us to revisit the scope of her tenure in Chicago,” said CTU President Karen Lewis. “The mayor’s handpicked CEO’s admission of guilt is an also admission of bad management and the culture of failed leadership that have plagued our district over the last five years. This is why we need an elected representative school board."

Another Ohio crony of Barbara Byrd Bennett who was hired by the Chicago Board of Education without discussion or debate was Sherry Ulery. At its December 2012 meeting, the Board voted to create the position of "Chief of Staff to the CEO for Academic Matters" and transfer Ulery into that position at a salary of $165,000 per year. Ulery has been subpoenaed in the current federal probes of Byrd Bennett. Above, Ulery is seen at a Board of Education meeting in March 2013. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. “I am calling for the Board of Ed to overturn every decision she made during her unethical tenure, including closing 50 neighborhood schools, the layoffs of thousands of educators and the awarding of lucrative contracts to politically connected companies and allies tied to both her and City Hall," Lewis said. "The disgraced CEO is at the tip of the iceberg. The CTU has been calling for an investigation into the Board’s dealings for several years. It is unfortunate that it took someone going to federal prison for them to take our pleas seriously."



Corrupt Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and one of her top aides allegedly overrode the strong objections of other CPS officials to steer tens of millions of dollars in district business to companies the two women worked for before getting hired here.

That’s according to a federal search warrant from September 2014, obtained Tuesday by the Chicago Sun-Times, that lays out how investigators uncovered the alleged kickback scheme involving more than $23 million in no-bid CPS contracts.

One CPS official who challenged the largest of the crooked deals — a $20.5 million contract in 2013 with The SUPES Academy, a north suburban consulting firm — said Byrd-Bennett told him “not to raise any more questions regarding this contract,” according to the newly unsealed court records.

Another school district official told investigators “she could not believe that anyone was considering awarding SUPES another contract,” because the firm’s earlier work for CPS was widely viewed as a failure.

Byrd-Bennett, 66, was Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s CPS CEO from 2012 until May. She pleaded guilty on Oct. 13 to a single count of wire fraud, admitting she rigged contracts for SUPES and a sister company, Synesi Associates, in anticipation of a 10 percent kickback. She could face more than seven years in prison and has vowed to cooperate with prosecutors.

Also charged in the case on multiple counts of fraud and bribery are the SUPES and Synesi owners, Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas, who have pleaded not guilty.

The new court records provide the greatest detail yet on the behind-the-scenes machinations of Byrd-Bennett, who used a private AOL account to demand a cut of all the business she steered to SUPES and Synesi.

But Solomon and Vranas apparently were not always keen on the arrangement with Byrd-Bennett, according to the records. After Solomon forwarded emails between himself and Byrd-Bennett to his business partner, Vranas allegedly replied, “Everyone sucks and is greedy.”

In announcing the indictments on Oct. 8, federal prosecutors accused Byrd-Bennett of directing Solomon and Vranas to deposit some of the bribe money in accounts for her young twin grandsons, saying, “I have tuition to pay and casinos to visit (:”

And the FBI search warrant shows she had an even longer-term plan to help her only grandchildren. In July 2013, five days after the big SUPES contract was approved by the Chicago Board of Education, Byrd-Bennett wrote to Solomon: “Anything u can provide to me or a designated person relative to the future college and weddings for the boys might be helpful.”

The FBI agent who signed the search warrant last year, Steven W. Rausch, said Byrd-Bennett’s email to Solomon was a request for money “in exchange for the actions that she had taken to ensure” SUPES got the deal.

A few months earlier, the records show, Byrd-Bennett had hit up Solomon for four Chicago Bulls tickets for her grandsons and their parents. She asked Solomon: “Cost?”

“Zero,” Solomon replied.

“WOW!!! Thanks,” Byrd-Bennett wrote.

In the search warrant, the feds said Solomon had “advised” Byrd-Bennett as she negotiated her arrival to CPS in 2012.

Byrd-Bennett had worked for Solomon’s companies immediately before coming to Chicago, and he counseled her to “offer to take a leave from SUPES, to eliminate conflict,” according to the warrant. But he also allegedly told her to insist to Chicago officials that she would not take a job with the school district unless his companies could continue to be eligible for CPS business.

“I think this needs to be clear,” Solomon allegedly wrote.

Lawyers for Solomon and Vranas could not be reached for comment.

The search warrant also shows federal investigators searched the private emails of Tracy Martin, who was a SUPES vice president before Byrd-Bennett hired her to a high-level post overseeing struggling schools for CPS.

Court records show the FBI believed Martin “improperly influenced” a contracting process so Synesi could land a deal worth more than $800,000 in August 2013.

To buttress that claim, the feds cited an interview that the school district’s inspector general — who initiated the corruption probe and referred the case to the FBI — conducted with CPS official Liz Kirby.

Kirby told the inspector general Martin intervened and salvaged Synesi’s chances for the work after the firm had turned in a “poor proposal” that was rejected by other CPS officials.

Martin, who previously worked with Byrd-Bennett in Detroit and Cleveland, has not been charged with wrongdoing. She quit her $170,000-a-year job at CPS in June and did not return emails seeking comment Tuesday.

CPS initially agreed to pay for Martin’s lawyer in the case, but a district spokeswoman said it had stopped paying Martin’s legal bills. The search warrant details how two CPS officials tried in vain to oppose the $20.5 million, principal-training contract with SUPES.

Steve Gering, who oversaw principal training for CPS, questioned why the district did not put the deal out to bid instead of handing it to SUPES.

“Byrd-Bennett told him not to raise any questions regarding this contract… and to let the process continue,” wrote Rausch, the FBI agent in the case. “According to Gering, Byrd-Bennett made it clear to him that she wanted SUPES to have all of the leadership development contracts with CPS.”

Gering also questioned SUPES’ prices and asked Vranas if he could reduce costs.

“Vranas told him that unless SUPES started cutting services, there was no room for negotiation and the cost was the cost,” according to the search warrant.

Gering left the district weeks before the school board unanimously ratified the SUPES deal.

SUPES originally worked for the district through a privately-funded pilot program, but those funders declined Byrd-Bennett’s request to continue financing their work. That prompted Byrd-Bennett to seek board support to use taxpayer money for the 2013 deal with the consultants.

Kelly Bruno, a CPS procurement official, told investigators she was incredulous that CPS leaders wanted to give SUPES more work because “it was common knowledge that the program was not as successful as it should have been and that the sessions were very disorganized.”

Bruno told the schools’ inspector general that when she had contacted Solomon and Vranas to question their company’s pricing, Vranas “became very upset with her and questioned who she was and why she was calling.”

“Bruno said that Vranas told her he had written the pricing on the back of a napkin in a cab. According to [Bruno], during this call, Solomon had told her that Byrd-Bennett had already agreed on the price months ago and that they were not discussing any changes because everything was final.


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