$20 Million No-Bid Contract Spells Trouble for Chicago’s Byrd-Bennett


A federal investigation concerning a $20.5 million no-bid contract Chicago Public Schools awarded to a training academy where CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett once worked as a consultant has caused her to take a paid leave of absence.

Federal corruption investigators are now asking for additional records related to the Wilmette-based SUPES Academy. The scandal has focused on Byrd-Bennett, who once worked for the nonprofit education group who won the no-bid contract to train school principals. She announced her leave of absence late last week at the same time as school officials announced the federal subpoenas to look for records such as contracts, invoices and emails. She will remain on leave as long as the investigation is ongoing.

"In light of the attention given to my position as chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools, I believe that my continuing as CEO at this time would be a distraction," Byrd-Bennett wrote in a letter to board members Friday. "Although this is a very difficult decision for me personally, it is one I believe is in the best interests of the children of CPS that I am so fortunate to serve."

While her contract is set to expire on June 30, she started the renewal process in December. Although board members did not hold any previous objections, the outcome of the investigation could change that.

In the meantime, board vice president Jesse Ruiz will be taking over her role.

Public information requests show that Baltimore Superintendent Dallas Dance was one of over two dozen school officials across the nation to coach principals under the $20 million contract. Six months after being Dance was hired by the Baltimore County school board, the no-bid contract with SUPES was approved. Dance then took a $15,000 part-time job with SUPES, but never told the school board although his contract requires him to do so, reports Liz Bowie for The Baltimore Sun.

Dance claimed he had planned to donate the money to a nonprofit organization that would use the funding to help schoolchildren across the county.

The school board's ethics panel is aware he has broken the rules, but is not releasing the ethics board report, claiming it is a personnel matter.

At the same time, the district is facing a $1 billion budget shortfall in addition to an underfunded pension system and contract negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union this fall. The last round of negotiations in 2012 saw the union go on strike for the first time in 25 years, writes Hal Dardick for The Chicago Tribune.

The shortfall, totaling one-sixth of the total budget, was in large part created by required increases to the teacher pension system after a number of years passed where not enough money was added to keep the funds solvent.

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