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The [Thursday] Papers

The Tribune dives deeper into the SUPES scandal today, and it's not pretty for the Emanuel administration.

Let's take a look.

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"[Jean-Claude] Brizard, in a separate interview, said he never would have considered expanding SUPES' work to training principals because CPS already had a program in place to accomplish that using partnerships with universities already well-established in the field."

This is a point that has been made repeatedly by those wondering WTF.

"The Chicago Leadership Collaborative, which Brizard had launched with Emanuel in 2011, was doing 'pipeline development' to groom new principals, and Brizard said he was looking to leverage Northwestern University to train existing principals.

Brizard said he was still schools CEO when the education fund was in discussions over the future of the SUPES training but by then he was "out of the loop," a consequence of being marginalized by Emanuel.

Brizard's signature was on the CPS staff recommendation for the initial SUPES contract approved Oct. 24 as [Barbara] Byrd-Bennett was replacing him, but he said he had no knowledge of the deal and believes his signature was actually marked by a stamp, which is common practice at CPS.

Brizard said he doesn't recall being involved in a no-bid contract at CPS. There was a lot of buzz in the education community when the school board awarded the $20.5 million contract for principal training without using a request-for-proposal process, known as an RFP, that could have allowed other training organizations to compete for the work, he said.

"When the contract came, a lot of us were surprised there was no RFP," Brizard said. "All of this could have been avoided if they had put out an RFP."

I believe the inference here is that Rahm's fingerprints - not just Byrd-Bennett's - were all over this deal.

My guess is that he was too impatient, as always, to actually follow a process that might get bogged down in niceties, like proper vetting. Meanwhile, Byrd-Bennett was rewarding her pals - and possibly herself. That leaves this key question: Where was the school board?

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"The school board did not discuss the deal in open session before its 6-0 vote at the June 2013 meeting and has declined to release any records of its closed-door executive session at that meeting or of any presentation from CPS or Emanuel officials about the proposal.

In the days after the investigation became public last month, Vitale and board member Jesse Ruiz said the board followed the advice of a CPS "review committee" that examines no-bid contract requests.

So who is on the review committee? I don't believe the individuals have been named, but Catalyst reported in July 2013 that the SUPES contract "was reviewed by the Non-Competitive Procurement Review Committee that has representatives from Procurement and Contracts, Law, Information Technology, the Chief Education Office and Chief Executive Office."

Name those representatives!

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Back to the Trib:

Such contracts are "relatively unique" and are subject to a "separate procurement process in which management makes the case for the services that they are seeking and why the vendor can meet the specifications of those services," Vitale said.

"They make that case to a committee here in the system, and the committee determines whether or not the standards for sole-sourcing have either been met or not met. If they are met, the board is briefed on the sole-sourcing prior to the board voting," Vitale said.

Vitale said the board was satisfied that Byrd-Bennett had no conflict of interest in the SUPES contracts because she no longer worked for the firm. But Vitale said when the board approved the deal there was enough public comment and noise about the nature of the contract that he agreed with the CPS inspector general "that he should look into it." The internal investigation gave way to the federal probe.

I'm not sure how much time lapsed between the board awarding the contract and Vitale "agreeing" with the IG that it should be looked at, but Catalyst reported on the investigation in December 2013, five months after the contract was approved.

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"Since those initial statements, however, Vitale has declined to comment further. So has Ruiz, who was named acting schools CEO after Byrd-Bennett took a leave of absence. The other board members who voted for the deals did not respond to Tribune inquiries or said little.

"I'd really rather not talk about it," said Andrea Zopp, a school board member and former prosecutor who last week announced her bid for the 2016 Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.

Thanks for playing, Andrea. Next!

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"The Tribune has reported that the consultant at the center of the controversy, SUPES' owner Gary Solomon, advised the mayor-elect's transition team on selecting Jean-Claude Brizard as Emanuel's first schools CEO in 2011. Newly examined records show that Solomon was in frequent e-mail contact with Emanuel's deputy chief of staff for education, Beth Swanson, from the early months of the administration.

"The e-mail exchanges between Swanson and Solomon included a flurry in 2012 around the same time Byrd-Bennett left her lead trainer role at SUPES to become Brizard's top deputy at CPS. Once Byrd-Bennett took that CPS job, talk escalated about expanding SUPES' work from training administrators to also training principals."

First, Swanson.

"Swanson, now a vice president at the Joyce Foundation, declined to answer questions. Her attorney said Swanson was cooperative with authorities and is not a subject of their investigation, only a witness."

Here's her bio at Joyce.

Now, Solomon.

"Solomon's career in education had its roots in the Chicago suburbs and dates back to 1992 when he taught at Niles West High School in Skokie. He became an administrator at Niles West, but in 1999 the district suspended him with pay after he was accused of sending sexually explicit e-mails to students and other inappropriate behavior.

"Solomon resigned but was never criminally charged in the matter. He fought the district over his suspension and the district agreed to pay him $50,000 to settle the case."

At the time the case was settled, in 2001, the Tribune reported:

"School officials suspended Solomon with pay in April 1999, accusing him of inappropriate behavior with students. Besides the e-mail messages, they said he attended a Cubs game with students during a school day when no field trip was planned. They accused him of keeping a journal on a school computer that described several unprofessional relationships with students. He also possessed photographs of students using drugs and alcohol, a district spokesman said."

Or, as Margaret Paulson wrote for Chicagoist wrote recently:

"Turns out, SUPES Academy owner and Byrd-Bennett's former employer, Gary Solomon, is one of the most repulsive people ever, according to information the Chicago Sun-Times was able to gather under a Freedom of Information Act request.

"According to court records, while Solomon was the dean of Niles West High School, where he began working in 1992, he was accused of 'immoral and unprofessional' conduct, which included using racial slurs, covering up drug and alcohol use by minors, sending sexually explicit e-mails and preying on the most vulnerable female students - Solomon was even caught kissing one of them. He also apparently kept a diary on a school computer, describing his fantasies and writing of one female student, 'She is there for the taking.'"

What's not clear to me is why Niles would settle with Solomon given the alleged evidence.

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Back to the Trib:

"After Niles West, Solomon eventually was hired as vice president of sales for the test preparation firm The Princeton Review."

Geez, did they do a background check?

"One of his clients in that job was the Philadelphia school system, then run by former Chicago schools CEO Paul Vallas.

Solomon came to develop an on-again, off-again relationship with Vallas. While still working at Princeton Review, Solomon launched a education consulting firm that touted itself as connected to "the Vallas model" of school reform. Vallas, who had no formal links to Solomon's firm, chastised the consultant for trying to capitalize on Vallas' reputation.

As Norm MacDonald once said about Hitler, the more I learn about Solomon, the more I don't care for him.

"Vallas, however, got over his annoyance. He took Solomon with him as a consultant when Vallas moved to Louisiana to rebuild a school district battered in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina. By 2008, Vallas was recommending to school officials in Peoria that they hire another Solomon-run consulting firm to improve school performance in that central Illinois city, according to an account published that year in the Peoria Journal Star and a spokesman for the Peoria school district.

"No contract was ever signed in Peoria and Vallas disputed the assertion that he had pitched work specifically for Solomon's firm.

"Vallas, who later returned to the Chicago area and unsuccessfully ran for Illinois lieutenant governor last year, said he and Solomon stopped working together in 2010. Vallas declined to explain why."

C'mon, Paul. Spill.

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"But by then, Solomon had found a path to get consulting work in Detroit, where Byrd-Bennett was helping run the schools."

And then Byrd-Bennett took over CPS and pretty much minutes later he had a $20.5 million no-bid contract in his back pocket. Take that, Niles!

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TweetWood
A sampling.

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Get it together, Twitter. Your new retweet format hides the original content in embeds. Ruins it for everyone. Does forcing clickthroughs make you money somehow? Because it's aggravating as hell.

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The Beachwood Tip Line: SUPER.



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Posted on May 21, 2015


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