Byrd-Bennett indicted in SUPES Academy kickback

If President Obama’s former chief of staff and current Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Democrat of Chicago, hires you to close 50 neighborhood schools in one fell swoop, a national record of historic proportions that sent communities into a tailspin and armed police officers into “informational” meetings and hearings, well, naturally, you’re going to want a piece of the action for yourself.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett becomes the first Chicago Schools CEO to be indicted in connection with her job.

Why would any educator in her right mind decimate 50 neighborhood schools if she had no financial reason for doing so? After all, there’s no possible educational reason for doing something that drastic.

For that matter, what educator in their right mind would give kids as many useless tests as we give them today? One of the main reasons we need laws that mandate administration of standardized tests and millions of dollars in payment to companies that develop them is that the actions surrounding those tests and other for-profit activity in the public schools are immoral and, in many cases, criminal.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools who resigned in June, has been indicted on federal charges of wire fraud and mail fraud, in connection with kickbacks she allegedly received in exchange for more than $23 million in no-bid contracts between the Chicago Public Schools and her former employers, The SUPES Academy LLC and Synesi Associates LLC, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

While the charges were being announced, US Attorney Zachary Fardon said Ms Byrd-Bennett would plead guilty. Two executives at the companies, Gary Solomon, 47, of Wilmette, and Thomas Vranas, 34, of Glenview, Illinois, also face charges in connection with the kickback scheme, including bribery and conspiracy to defraud the United States.

Testing laws give cover to school officials and protect them from ethics violations for what are certainly unethical, or at least unprofessional, actions. Likewise, kickbacks provide at least a financial incentive for educators to do things, like closing a massive number of schools, when no mission-related incentive could possibly exist.

Lesson learned: In an ideal world, real teachers seek to make kids smarter, not to gain wealth, and they don’t need financial incentives to do what’s in the kids’ best interest. Real statewide tests seek to make schools better, not to earn profits for shareholders of some corporation, and they don’t need laws to be put in front of real kids by real teachers. Unfortunately, we have neither real teachers nor real statewide tests, and the kids who take today’s statewide tests are more like zombies than real kids. That’s why in an imperfect world in general, and in the CPS-SUPES world in particular, we abuse financial incentives and testing laws.

The association between CPS and SUPES started well enough: In 2011, SUPES began training officials in Chicago under a $380,000 pilot funded by the private Chicago Public Education Fund. After the initial pilot, the fund didn’t recommend that CPS continue with SUPES, but Ms Byrd-Bennett pushed a $2 million contract through the Board of Education anyway. That happened on October 24, 2012, the day Mr Emanuel elevated her to the position of CEO.

Months later, Mr Solomon sent Ms Byrd-Bennett an email message, saying:

When this stint at CPS is done and you are ready to re re re retire, we have a spot waiting for you. … In the meantime, if we can figure out a way to do deep principal [professional development] at CPS, I can find a good home for [friends of Byrd-Bennett’s] and others, and make sure principles [sic] in CPS get kick ass training.

She had sent an email, according to the indictment, in which she talked about gambling and the need to pay for her twin grandsons to go to college: “I have tuition to pay and casinos to visit :)” the feds say she wrote in one of many emails discussing the alleged kickbacks. By July 2012, The SUPES Academy had already arranged to establish college funds for those grandsons, just a small part of the 10 percent of all awarded contracts she allegedly accepted.

In December 2013, Voxitatis reported that current Baltimore County, Maryland, school Superintendent Dallas Dance was moonlighting for The SUPES Academy, which trained principals and other administrators in Chicago. In June 2014, we reported that he had been accused of an ethics violation in connection with that employment.

Byrd Bennett Indictment

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more biographical information, see the About page.