Chicago Schools CEO Takes Leave Amid Federal Probe

By Denisa R. Superville — April 17, 2015 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print


Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, is taking a leave of absence from her $250,000-a-year-job pending the outcome of the ongoing federal investigation of a $20.5 million no-bid contract, district officials announced Friday afternoon.

The announcement of Byrd-Bennett’s leave came two days after news that the FBI was probing an “non-competitive” award to SUPES Academy, which employed the CEO before she joined the Chicago school district in 2012. Byrd-Bennett’s contract expires this summer, and it is unclear how this development affects her future with the district.

Jesse Ruiz, vice president of the city’s school board, will serve as interim CEO, according to The Chicago Tribune.

Several district employees received subpoenas this week as part of the federal probe, including Byrd-Bennett, Tracy Martin, Sherry Ulery and Rosemary Herpel, according to Tribune’s CPS reporter Juan Perez Jr.

The Chicago Teachers Union is using a federal probe allegedly centered on the award of a no-bid contract in Chicago Public Schools to again call for an elected school board for the district.

The CTU’s president Jesse Sharkey said in a release on Thursday that there appears to be a “culture of conflict of interest” that seems to plague the school board and district, and he laid the blame at the feet of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who appoints the members of the school board and picks the district’s chief executive officer.

On Wednesday news broke that the FBI was conducting an investigation into Chicago Public Schools. Unnamed sources told The Chicago Tribune and The Chicago Sun-Times that the probe centered around a $20.5 million “non-competitive” bid that was awarded in June 2013 to SUPES Academy, which trains and provides professional development services for network chiefs, principals and assistant principals.

Chicago Public Schools’ CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett worked for SUPES Academy before she was hired by Mayor Emanuel to run the district, and sources told the papers that the probe was looking at the role that Byrd-Bennett might have played in the deal.

“Twenty million dollars can be put to teachers, counselors, librarians and nurses in our schools,” Sharkey said in the release. “The mayor has the ultimate authority over what’s happening in our district. This new scandal leads to more instability in our school buildings and more revolving doors at CPS.”

The news release referenced allegations of the appearance of impropriety by various board members and CPS administrators over the years, but also noted that none of the board members or district administrators had been accused of wrongdoing.

In the latest investigation, Byrd-Bennett has not been accused of any wrongdoing, and both the Chicago Public Schools and SUPES Academy have said they were cooperating with the authorities.

[UPDATE: (1:20 p.m.) The Chicago Sun-Times reported on Friday afternoon that Byrd-Bennett was taking a leave of absence from her $250,000-a-year-job, pending the outcome of the ongoing federal investigation. The paper said it was unclear whether the leave would be paid or unpaid, and that an interim CEO would be appointed. Byrd-Bennett’s contract expires this summer.]

Chicago, the nation’s third-largest school district, is the only district in the state of Illinois that does not have an elected school board.

Voters in a majority of the city’s wards overwhelming approved a ballot measure in February to switch from an appointed school board to one in which the members would be elected by the public.

But the vote was non-binding, and it will be up to state lawmakers in Springfield to change the law.

The teacher’s union’s contract with the district expires in June, and the two sides are currently in negotiations. You can read more of the union’s statement here.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.