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The Weekend Desk Report

"Federal corruption investigators looking into a $20.5 million no-bid contract at Chicago Public Schools also have asked for any records related to an elite nonprofit education group that has long been at the center of city school reform efforts - the first indication that the public relations problem could extend beyond Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration," the Tribune reports.

This is interesting and potentially significant, but the "public relations problem?" Is that what this is? How about "the criminal probe?"

*

"The Chicago Public Education Fund [link mine] is closely aligned with the education initiatives of both Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner, who once chaired the nonprofit, as well as some of the city's most prominent power brokers and philanthropists . . .

"Launched in 2000, the group was first led by then-Chicago Tribune Publisher Scott Smith. Rauner joined the board the next year and later was its chairman before becoming an emeritus member of the board, along with future U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, a former member of the Chicago school board; and current school board President David Vitale.

"Others currently on the nonprofit board include Ken Griffin, CEO of Citadel, who has financially backed both Rauner and Emanuel's campaigns; Mellody Hobson of the powerful Ariel Investments; Helen Zell, wife of real estate magnate Sam Zell; Susan Crown, a principal of the Chicago firm of Henry Crown & Co.; and Beth Swanson, a former top education deputy to Emanuel."

Oooh, I'm getting tingly! Indict them all!

*

"Now Byrd-Bennett has become a political liability for a mayor just as he needs a way out of a financial crisis without resorting to Rauner's suggestion of declaring bankruptcy."

Rauner indeed suggested that, but it's a bit irresponsible of the Tribune to suggest that it's something that the mayor might have to "resort" to; my understanding is that there isn't even a legal mechanism in place for CPS to declare bankruptcy.

And yet, in a related story, the Trib states:

"While CPS is projecting a $1.14 billion budget deficit, supporting bankruptcy as a way for the district to dig out of its financial hole would be a difficult play for Emanuel politically. Such a move would amount to an admission of failure and inevitably draw national comparisons between Chicago and Detroit following a mayoral campaign in which Emanuel supporters implied that voters needed to re-elect the mayor because under challenger Jesus 'Chuy' Garcia that Chicago would end up like the insolvent Michigan city."

How about a difficult play legally? As Lauren FitzPatrick reports for the Sun-Times, "The trouble is that the idea . . . would require Springfield to change state law."

How about that, Bruce? "After . . . the governor stressed the need to hold teachers accountable, he refused to take reporter questions, saying, 'Come on back to Springfield with me . . . we'll talk in Springfield,' as he left the swank W Hotel."

Rrrriiigght. So I think we're getting quite ahead of ourselves discussing the possibility of CPS declaring bankruptcy.

*

Back to the B3 investigation:

"Federal investigators are looking into the inner circle of advisers Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett brought with her to Chicago, as well as a no-bid, $20.5 million principal-training contract to a company that once employed her, wide-ranging subpoenas released Friday show," the Sun-Times reports.

"And as Byrd-Bennett stepped aside Friday pending the outcome of the federal probe, replaced by the Board of Education's vice president Jesse Ruiz, sources told the Sun-Times that FBI agents have searched Byrd-Bennett's homes in Chicago and a Cleveland suburb."

A couple years ago, Substance reported that "As of April 2013, she is a registered voter in Ohio, where she has an opulent home in suburban Cleveland, the city where her controversial financial practices as school chief were questioned years ago.

"If Barbara Byrd Bennett were a Chicago teacher today, she would be another exhibit in the annual report of the Inspector General. The IGs energies are largely devoted to persecuting Chicago teachers and other school workers for violations of the CPS residency rule. Chicago teachers must live in Chicago, and investigators from the IG's office routinely are tracking down miscreants who really live outside the city."

If you click through, you can see a photo of her suburban Cleveland home.

*

"Federal subpoenas released by CPS, dated April 13 and 14, extended to a close corps of Byrd-Bennett loyalists who worked with her in Cleveland and Detroit before taking six-figure jobs at CPS. Sherry Ulery, the CEO's $175,000-a-year chief of staff and Rosemary Herpel, a $140,000-a-year 'executive director of leadership development' in CPS' HR department, are due before a federal grand jury on Tuesday.

"Investigators have demanded to see records regarding 'financial benefits, gifts, honoraria, meals and reimbursements' from Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas, the owners of the SUPES Academy, which scored the $20.5 million no-bid contract in June 2013. Documents from Solomon and Vranas' other north suburban companies Synesi Associates and PROACT Search are also sought."

This indicates the feds are looking at more than just the $20 million SUPES contract. In 2013, Sarah Karp reported that "a Catalyst analysis of the list of superintendents and other school administrators who work as coaches and lead workshops shows a web of ties between the educators, their school districts and SUPES or its associated companies.

Catalyst found that at least five of the coaches or workshop leaders, called 'master teachers,' work for school districts that have awarded contracts to one or more of these companies. Yet the full picture is unclear, since SUPES refused to provide professional biographies and fully identify all of its coaches and master teachers. (Catalyst identified several through Internet research.)

Because the coaches and master teachers are paid by SUPES, which is a private company and not subject to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, their compensation is not public.

Sources say that coaches are paid a flat fee of several thousand dollars for each principal they are assigned to coach, plus a lump sum for each day of master teaching. According to a log of coach contacts obtained by Catalyst, 34 coaches are working with an average of 10 principals each . . .

The for-profit SUPES Academy has two branches, one that trains superintendents and another that trains principals and other administrators. Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas, the men who run the Wilmette-based SUPES, have two other companies - a school administrator search firm called PROACT Search and one that does turnarounds of school districts called Synesi Associates.

Vranas says that the "three firms all work to improve the quality of public education by providing the best professionals and resources to leaders, schools and districts."

But with three inter-related businesses, school leaders can easily become entangled. An example is S. Dallas Dance, the superintendent of Baltimore County, Md. Public Schools, which serves 108,000 students. Dance is now serving and getting paid as both a master teacher and a coach for 11 CPS principals.

In 2011, Dance participated in the SUPES Academy superintendent training program. In July of 2012, he was hired for his current position. Five months later, in December of 2012, the Baltimore County Public Schools board approved an $895,000 contract to have SUPES work with a cohort of principals over three years, according to the district's website. District officials say the contract was not bid out because they were "piggy-backing" on a contract that SUPES had with St. Louis Public Schools. The St. Louis superintendent is also a SUPES master teacher.

"This is a racket," Karp told Ken Davis this week on his Chicago Newsroom show.

*

"Byrd Bennett's bio states she'd been a coach and trainer for SUPES Academy, but her economic interest forms don't mention it," CBS2 Chicago reports.

"In 2012, she claimed no outside income. Yet she was listed as a senior associate for PROACT, owned by the same man who owns SUPES.

"In 2013, she listed three outside jobs paying more than $1,200: Homer Glen's Education Research Development Institute, where today she's listed on its website as a senior advisor; the Broad Institute in Los Angeles, as an executive coach; and the Pittsburgh Public Schools."

Tangled webs often deceive.

"Sources tell CBS 2 it was Byrd Bennett who strongly pushed the Chicago Board of Education to hire SUPES Academy to do principals training, arguing only that firm was qualified to fill that task.

"CPS watchdogs like Wendy Katten from the parents group Raise Your Hand say that's simply not true.

"The fact that this outside group that almost no one I talked to at the time knew of was being brought in, and Barbara Byrd Bennett worked for this company raised a lot of questions," she says.

"Sources say Byrd Bennett claimed no other contractor in the country could do the training SUPES Academy would supply. That was the justification for not putting the deal out for competitive bids.

"In fact, education departments at Loyola and the University of Illinois-Chicago are already involved in training and coaching CPS principals."

*

Of course, the Board of Education is responsible for going along with Byrd-Bennett's wishes.

*

Back to the Sun-Times:

"Investigators also want to see employment records for Byrd-Bennett, Ulery, Herpel and Tracy Martin, the $170,000-a-year head of a special network Byrd-Bennett created at CPS to oversee struggling neighborhood schools with help from Synesi Associates. Ulery and Martin also worked under Byrd-Bennett in Cleveland and in Detroit, according to records."

*

New board president Jesse Ruiz is a partner at Drinker Biddle "who often had to recuse himself from board votes because of his law firm's connections."

*

Ruiz has long had an interest in public office, by the way, but he's never pulled the trigger on a campaign.

*

*

Meanwhile:

"Byrd-Bennett will be using her accumulated leave time while she is off, Ruiz said, but CPS officials refused to say how many days that is and what will happen if she's off more days than she has."

*

Finally:

CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey said Byrd-Bennett was being "singled out" among "widespread practices by the mayor's Board of Education appointees," such as investments by board member Deborah Quazzo in companies doing business with CPS and Vitale's ties to banks as he negotiates bond ratings.

"In a school district that seems to be all about privatization, private entities continue to play a major role in its operations," Sharkey said, "and if Barbara is the first to fall, then perhaps there are many others who should follow."

That sounds about right.

"Carlos Azcoitia, a member of the board, voted to turn the school over to AUSL, but recused himself from voting on the contract because he currently serves as Distinguished Professor of Practice in Educational Leadership at National Louis University," Valerie Leonard wrote for Substance a year ago.

National Louis is the Academy for Urban School Leadership's (AUSL) exclusive teacher preparation partner. Through the "urban teacher residency" approach, the National Louis University and AUSL program structure teacher preparation more like the clinical model used to train doctors. For a full year, the teaching residents spend four days a week in an AUSL classroom in training with a mentor teacher, while also taking graduate courses at National Louis. It seems to me if you have a conflict of interest in voting for the contract, then you have a conflict of interest in voting to turn the school over to a contractor that uses your program to train its teachers, rather than use CPS teachers.

Since its inception in 2001, AUSL has enjoyed strong relationships with the Chicago Board of Education.

These relationships have only strengthened over time. Board of Education President David Vitale served as an unpaid advisor, and eventually became an unpaid Chief Administrative Officer for CPS between 2003 and 2008. He is the former board chairman for AUSL (2009-2011) while CPS Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley is the former managing director of AUSL. Both men resigned their posts with AUSL and immediately assumed their current positions with CPS. Both men are in a position to approve CPS contracts, including the AUSL contracts. They say they are not in a conflict of interest because they are no longer with AUSL. David Vitale voted to turn the schools over to AUSL. (Tim Cawley is not a member of the board, so he has no vote.)

Having David Vitale and Tim Cawley in their current positions is very troubling. There are several vendors in the state who have been authorized to do this work. Yet, AUSL seems to have an exclusive, no-bid relationship. Competing organizations are not taken seriously. Furthermore, there are no minority- or women-owned businesses that do this work for CPS.

The whole edifice is built upon the scaffolding of privatized interests.

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The Beachwood Radio [News] Hour #53
Is in production!

The Beachwood Radio [Sports] Hour #47
Fanboy media endorses Theo's lies. Plus: Blackhawks In Typical Thrilling Playoff Mode; Bulls Get Bucks; Mock Journalism; The Other Baseball Team In Town; Tribute To Mark Grace.

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BeachBook
* Obama's Trade Agreements Are A Gift To Corporations.

The rest of his agenda too.

* George Carlin Didn't Vote.

"The public sucks; fuck hope."

* Twitter Guy Hoaxed NYT In Teen Vape Article.

They never learn.

* ESPN Reporter Britt McHenry Has A History Of Being Rude.

Medilldo.

* Cheeseheads, Keep Your Mitts Off Lake Michigan.

Oh, um, nevermind.

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TweetWood
A sampling.

*

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The Beachwood Reporter Tip Line: It's go time.



Permalink

Posted on April 18, 2015


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PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - The Sears Motor Buggy.


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