- Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has resigned as feds continue their scrutiny of a $20.5 million, no-bid contract that CPS entered with her former employer, SUPES Academy, in 2013.
- Byrd-Bennett's resignation letter made no mention of the investigation, though Mayor Rahm Emanuel's subsequent statement read that he is "saddened by the circumstances" leading to her decision.
- Byrd-Bennett, who took a paid leave of absence in April, has yet to be accused of any wrongdoing, and interim CEO Jesse Ruiz is expected to continue in that role for the time being.
SUPES Academy, which provides "leadership development services" to school leaders, principals, and administrators, previously employed Byrd-Bennett as a consultant. The contract at the center of the current investigation came about a few months after her appointment by Emanuel in fall 2012. Since then, CPS has paid SUPES about $15 million — just under $4 million a year. It's a staggering amount of money for a professional development company that only focuses on upper-level leadership and not teachers.
While the investigation was initially looking solely at CPS and its relationship with SUPES, it has expanded a bit to the Emanuel's office. According to the Chicago Tribune, subpoenaed letters from SUPES to City Hall brag about the sway they have over the mayor's office, saying that they were "heavily involved in the recruiting the current Chief Executive Officer, both the former and current Chief Education Officer, and the current Chief of Staff."
If anything, this case indicates the need for better oversight of administrators, school leaders, and public officials making decisions about all of these people. Teachers currently have extensive paper trails — every student's score is attached to them — while there isn't as much that follows a school leader.
Take for example the fact that when Byrd-Bennett ran Cleveland's public school system from 1998 to 2006, a state audit was commissioned because there was speculation that she was spending private donations on restaurants and hotels. The Chicago Tribune later reported that while the audit found nothing necessarily illegal, the auditors did suggest the district pay more attention to its budget. In 2010, when Byrd-Bennett was chief academic and accountability officer of Detroit Public Schools, she made news by signing a multi-year, $40 million partnership with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt known as "Destination: Detroit." What wasn't disclosed at the time of purchase was that Byrd-Bennett had been the “superintendent-in-residence” at the publisher prior to joining DPS.