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Company under probe pushed for ex-Chicago schools CEO hiring

July 12, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) — The head of an education company at the heart of an ongoing federal investigation advocated for the hiring of ex-Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and communicated on her behalf with a top aide to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, according to a published report Sunday.

The Chicago Sun-Times story (http://bit.ly/1gu3yXL ) comes as federal investigators have sought records related to the district’s roughly $20 million no-bid contract with Wilmette-based SUPES Academy, Byrd-Bennett and other district employees. Byrd-Bennett, who resigned last month, did contract work for SUPES before she was named CEO of the nation’s third-largest school district in 2012.

No one has been charged, but the probe has raised questions about outside influence and how the district awards contracts.

The newspaper, which cites emails it obtained, said SUPES owner Gary Solomon often lobbied Emanuel’s former deputy chief of staff for education issues, Beth Swanson, about Byrd-Bennett. In an interview with the newspaper, she said it happened so often that he was like “Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s conduit — an extension of her team who pushed for her hiring.”

“When I would ask Barbara for information, she would have Gary send it,” Swanson, who no longer works for the city, said.

Solomon also helped negotiate some of the terms of Byrd-Bennett’s CPS job and passed on complaints she had to Chicago officials.

Swanson said she raised the issue of the connections to Chicago Board of Education members before they voted unanimously on the $20.5 million no-bid contract to SUPES for principal training. Several board members — who are appointed by Emanuel — have since said they were comfortable with the decision at the time and the company is reputable.

Solomon declined to comment, as did his spokesman.

“There is a pending investigation into CPS, therefore it is not appropriate to address your detailed questions,” spokesman Dennis Culloton said in an email to the newspaper.

Chicago Public Schools spokesman Bill McCaffrey and Byrd-Bennett’s attorney, Michael Scudder, also declined comment.


Information from: Chicago Sun-Times, http://chicago.suntimes.com/

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