Feds investigating CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett
One thing we know for sure, Chicago’s world of politics, business, sports, entertainment and finance will keep you on your toes. From one day to the next there’s always something to remind us that we’re in the windy city. And so it was Wednesday when we got wind that Federal authorities are investigating Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett regarding a $20.5 million contract the district awarded on a no-bid basis to a training academy for whom she worked previously .
The investigation into the contract with north suburban-based SUPES Academy and Byrd-Bennett’s relationship to the company by CPS inspector general’s office began as early as 2013. Since then the U.S. attorney’s office started its own probe, and a grand jury has been reviewing evidence for at least a year, according to reports.
The possibility of appointing an interim CEO depending on the outcome of the investigation has been discussed by CPS officials. Regardless of how things look, Byrd-Bennett, who was appointed by MayorRahm Emanuel in October 2012, attended a regularly scheduled meeting at CPS headquarters Wednesday and remains in her post.
Not long after She took office CPS signed its initial contract with SUPES for leadership training. This would have been normal had Byrd-Bennett not worked for the company before joining CPS as a consultant in April 2012. Byrd-Bennet worked for SUPES before being hired as an adviser to her predecessor at CPS, Jean-Claude Brizard.
Byrd-Bennett, has has not been accused of any wrongdoing and has made no public statement. As CPS chief, she makes a base salary of $250,000 annually as part of a contract that expires June 30.
Federal authorities have “obtained records and files from SUPES Academy for the investigation and appear to be cooperative.
The company stands behind the countless hours of training it has provided to Chicago Public Schools principals.
The federal investigation was first revealed Wednesday by CPS officials in a release that offered few details. The district said authorities have requested interviews with several district employees.
David Vitale, president of the Chicago Board of Education, said in a statement the district was made aware of the investigation Tuesday.
Vitale signed the agreement in June 2013. The Board of Education approved the contract at its June 26, 2013, meeting.
CPS and the academy had already entered into a one-year agreement in 2012, but records show both sides agreed to terminate that contract and replace it with the updated version.
Under the 2013 contract, SUPES was to train high-ranking network chiefs and deputy chiefs, as well as school principals and assistant principals. SUPES Academy was to “design and deliver the Academies and other coaching services” to all eligible employees.
Byrd Bennett stepped into an unsettled CPS following Brizard’s resignation less than a month after a bitter seven-day teachers strike. Byrd-Bennett found entrenched financial issues and oversaw the closing of nearly 50 under-enrolled schools the city in 2013.
Byrd-Bennett, a former teacher has previously held top posts at school districts in New York and Detroit. While at Cleveland school district from 1998 to 2006 her use of private donations on expensive hotels and fancy restaurants led to a state audit. Fortunately the audit found no wrongdoing. It did recommend the district keep a tighter watch on spending.
To her credit Byrd-Bennett putt the Cleveland school district’s financial house in order, improving test scores and raising the high school graduation rate.