In 2012 after much deliberation according to Barbara Byrd-Bennett she took the job she needed to do but didn’t want. This she shared with online publication Cleveland.com reporter Brent Larkin in December of that year. Today Chicagoans are witnessing her final act, the last appearance on a public stage.
Of course we had no idea it would play out the way that it has. And certainly not Chicago’s Mayor. Introduced to the Mayor’s administration through Gary Solomon, co–owner of SUPES Academy, the dance began and eventually, Rahm Emanuel saw in Byrd-Bennett the same qualities former Chancellor Rudy Crew saw in her in New York and Mike White in Cleveland. So what is it about Barbara Byrd Bennett that others find irresistibly acceptable?
According to Byrd in her interview with Larkin when Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked her to run the nation’s third-largest school system, she didn’t exactly jump at the chance.
She considered the bankrupted Chicago schools — as in $1 billion short of what’s needed to meet their then current expenses.
In the end it was her husband, Bruce who, “asked if she wanted to do this — to run a mess of a school district with more students than Cleveland has residents. Byrd-Bennett knew that she did not want to do the job.
Then he asked if she needed to do it.
The now convicted felon said at the time, “That gave me pause, . . . There was this moment when I said to myself, ‘Hey, I think I do need to do this. I think I bring value. I think I can make a difference.’ “
So here she is after being forced to resign as CEO of Chicago Public Schools, brought up on 20 counts from conspiracy to fraud; but as part of the plea agreement, her promise to cooperate on further cases, in exchange prosecutors will drop the remaining charges.
So who is Barbara Byrd-Bennett?
Barbara Byrd–Bennett began her career in education when she graduated at 16 from a Harlem pubic high school. Little is said about how but she was able to teach there at 19 upon receiving an invitation to join the staff at an experimental district in East Harlem, New York. She says in her own words, “I had to get a special waiver from the state.” No matter how bad she became we have to admit that there was something special about Byrd-Bennett So after spending 12 years in the classroom, she became a principal in Harlem and eventually a superintendent in Brooklyn. Her work attracted national attention as a turnaround artist, an educator who fixed many of that city’s troubled schools. In 1998, after more than two decades working in New York, she moved to Cleveland, where she served as CEO of the city’s public school system.
There, under the scrutiny of many, her
performance received mixed reviews. She resigned from her position in 2006 amid allegations of corruption. However, she was never brought up on charges. On the upside one Cleveland teacher of 35 years and 8-year president of Cleveland Teachers Union, recalls, that he worked for — and tangled with many school superintendents. Byrd-Bennett was, by far, his favorite because, “Most superintendents I dealt with had good intentions, but Barbara had more than that,” said DeColibus. “She really cared about children. And she had the intelligence and willingness to work with everyone on behalf of those children.”
Byrd-Bennett made her mark in Cleveland, within a few years of her arrival. Test scores and graduation rates improved. Foundations and the business community increased their commitment to the troubled district.
As the schools got better, Byrd-Bennett’s popularity soared and she reigned by far as the city’s most popular public figure. In 2001, other politicians purposely steered clear and stood on the sidelines while Byrd-Bennett single-handedly sold voters on a $335 million bond issue to rebuild the city’s crumbling schools.
When a $100 million budget shortfall necessitated school closings and nearly 1,400 layoffs, student progress stalled. Her approval ratings deflated. Since her arrival, every major player in the community had changed from the mayor down and though her early successes were solid she missed her cue
From Cleveland, she moved to Detroit, where she worked as Detroit Schools’ Chief Academic and Accountability Officer, while the city closed 59 schools and laid off hundreds of teachers. Could this have been the deciding factor that sealed the deal for Mayor Emmanuel? . . . Knowing that Byrd-Bennett could be the hatchet he needed to wheel the intended Chicago Public Schools closings.
So here’s where the slope gets very slippery.
While in Detroit she earned $216,000 annually under emergency manager Robert Bobb. Under her direction (2009-2011) DPS awarded some $3.4 million in contracts to Synesi Associates, one of the north suburban companies now under indictment along with co-owners Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas. DPS also awarded more work to PROACT Search, another of Solomon’s and Vranas’ education service companies, to fill five top positions once Byrd-Bennett left that district and became a coach for Synesi and SUPES. Clearly a relationship had been established between she and Solomon/SUPES.
Currently there is an ongoing investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding her Detroit dealings. Byrd-Bennett was criticized for a $40 million contract that the district of about 87,000 students awarded to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publishers, for whom she had previously worked before Bobb hired her. You see the pattern?
Though indicted on 20 counts, Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty to a single wire fraud charge admitting she hid from CPS a lucrative arrangement with Solomon and Vranas in which she’d steer contracts to them — $23 million total — in exchange for 10 percent that would in part funnel into college funds for her twin grandsons. Prosecutors will recommend a prison sentence based on how fully she cooperates with them, as she has said she will do.
The Solomon Factor
When exactly Byrd-Bennett crossed paths with Gary Solomon is not established but was most likely in Detroit. In August 2009 Solomon wrote in an email, obtained from Detroit’s schools system, to Byrd-Bennett, asking on the advice of a mutual acquaintance to set up a meeting with her there. Solomon informed Byrd-Bennett that he’d be in Detroit in September and wanted to meet with her to chat.
Not quite a year later Detroit schools hired Synesi in July 2010 to work with three elementary schools for $760,000, according to the contract. In November 2010, the district dropped two of those schools and added four, under a $3.195 million contract covering five schools. Initially the district did issue a “request for qualifications,” but the later Synesi deal didn’t require a competitive bid once the state of Michigan approved Synesi as an official “external service provider” for schools that won the grants. Illinois denied that approval to Synesi.
Carter, the Detroit school board member, has said that deal was never brought before the board for approval, nor were the others. Another pattern established.
After Byrd-Bennett left Michigan, Detroit hired Synesi for another $160,000 to work with one of the same elementary schools. Detroit then gave PROACT a $77,500 contract to fill top district jobs.
In 2001, Solomon was forced out of Niles West High School while he was an administrator and social studies teacher there, after his bosses accused him of “immoral and unprofessional” conduct, including allegations he kissed a female student, covered up students’ drug and alcohol use and sent “sexually suggestive” emails to students.. He left unable to return to the district.
He went into to business forming three companies with his now partner, a former student at Niles West while worked there. The two business partners and all three of their companies are mentioned in federal grand jury subpoenas recently served at CPS.
Further, he previously faced allegations he used racial slurs in emails sent while serving as dean, according to documents released by his former employers. In particular he referred to African Americans using numertous racially offensive terms.
And, in a personal journal he kept on a school computer, Solomon described another school administrator as an “uppity n—–,” a lawyer for District 219 alleged, according to the transcript.
Of course when asked, Byrd-Bennett, African American, said she was unaware of the allegations against Solomon.
But we are inclined to ask did it really matter to her at that point? She has already crossed over to the dark side as a common criminal. She knew going in CPS what the deal was and went in to reap her reward. Like she saidregarding her bonus signing fee with SUPES, “ have tuitions to pay and casinos to visit.”
Inside information supports that though she may have been a decent person at one time upon her arrival at CPS she was nothing nice and clearly understood what she was doing.
Bennett-Byrd came in like any other leadership lining offices with new hires of her choosing carefully crafting loyalty. However according to CD’s source, she hired many of whom have since been fired after her departure. The Source says and with ‘good riddance.’ As an executive assistant under one of Byrd-Bennett’ chief executives the Source observed much.
The new CEO hired Jack Elsey to run the Office of Innovation and Incubation as Chief Innovation and Incubation Officer to ensure that all new schools, schools that are phasing-in additional grades, or growing in programs or student population will receive the supports they need to be successful. The formerly known Office of Portfolio reported to the Office of Innovation and Incubation and was to focus on “quality school” support for growth regardless of school operator type. Student enrollment will fell under the office and was to work towards a more inclusive enrollment process with more choices for students and families. The office was also expected to bring forward innovative learning strategies to test and pilot throughout the District.
The Source says that it became clear that Jack was a figured head hired at $145,000 to provide leadership, which included managing the budget for the Office. His predecessor had been skilled and experienced in what the office called for whereas Jack was younger, and had worked with Byrd-Bennett in Detroit. At Detroit Public Schools, Jack served as Assistant Superintendent. He was one of five new executives that hailed from Broad Residents (BROAD non profit management careers preparing Public education leaders Residents) with whom Byrd-was closely affiliated and was also one herself. The plot thickens.
The Broad Center operates two leadership development programs: The Broad Academy and the Broad Residency in Urban Education. They partner with Federal, state educational and urban public school districts to come in under contract as leaders to transform their systems to better performing schools. Great! Only one problem. They are a Detroit organization with whom Byrd Bennett was closely affiliated.
Each of her newly hired Broad Residents came in making six figures when the CPS was broke and they in turn hired staff making $80,000 to $95, 000 and also issued raises during at time when there was a hiring freeze.
The source says, case in point, “Doresah Ford-Bey from Philly was hired as Jack’s executive director at $95,000. Within six month she went from ninety-five grand to making $145,000 as newly named Deputy Chief. She has since resigned before being fired once Byrd-Bennett took leave. Neither she nor Jack were qualified to handle the budget, one of their chief responsibilities.” The source also witnessed raises distributed and given to those under qualified for certain promotions and those who were deserving were not promoted or given a raise. Ford-Bey Hired Dwain Bryant to take (10) CPS interns on his boat for $10,000. It was a no bid contract. This was just one of many mismanagement of funds the Source can verify. Also the distinctions made between races as raises were concerned were quite transparent. This was done even after Byrd Bennett hired Mercer to establish parity across the board.
All this the Source says, “Byrd Bennett knew.”
“This failure to quality for what the Broad Residents were hired was consistent and to take the spotlight off their inability, was corrected by hiring the a Consultant group who then provided guidance for Byrd-Bennett’s new executive team,” says the source.
“Further,” says The Source, “Neither Jack or Byrd-Bennett ever, not once while I was employed for them did they meet with the African American parents of Charter School students. They would schedule a meeting and then the day before or day of cancel.” This they did time and time again according the to the Source even though the majority of the students that were put out of the Charter schools were Black.
Finally the Source says that their office was a marriage only in name that they did little to accomplish or come close to what it was suppose to do because none of the staff was appropriately qualified.
So was Byrd Bennett ever an Angel? You decide. Even though she has apologized saying that ‘ the Chicago people deserved better.’ Truth is Barbara Byrd-Bennett, ‘The Race’ . . .We know better. We are not to join the thugs, hoodlums, corporate raiders and any other type of bad guys especially where our children are concerned. Never under any circumstances.
She willingly became a common criminal like the Wesley Snipes character, Nino Brown, in “New Jack City,” destroying young lives and with them our community.
Her fall from grace leaves a legacy that damaged the window of opportunity for future racial parity/for someone Black to move into that powerful position as CPS CEO and abused public education in Chicago more specifically she’s robbed our children harming their future.
Barbara Byrd-Bennett: Fallen Angel or Common Criminal? was originally published on michronicleonline.com