Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett is taking a leave of absence while federal prosecutors investigate a $20 million no-bid CPS contract granted to a company for which she previously worked.
It was revealed on Tuesday that the feds are investigating the role Byrd-Bennett may have had in the deal with SUPES Academy, a Wilmette company provides training for school principals.
Chicago Board of Education Vice President Jesse Ruiz will reportedly take over for Byrd-Bennett during her leave to work on a number of issues, including the teachers' contract and handling fiscal issues, including working with the state legislature on pension relief for the district.
Meanwhile, Byrd-Bennett has had her homes in Chicago and Cleveland searched by the feds and also hired a defense attorney, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Byrd-Bennett will continue to receive her $250,000 salary during her time away from the post.
When asked whether Byrd-Bennett will get back to work as CEO and be offered a new contract when her current one expires in June, a source told the newspaper that "prosecutors will answer that question."
The school district will be holding meetings on the situation Friday and is expected to hold a press conference later in the day
UPDATE 1 (1:41 p.m.): The Chicago Teachers Union's Jessee Sharkey has released the following statement in response to Byrd-Bennett's leave of absence and the SUPES investigation:
What Barbara is being singled out for is sadly just one incident among widespread practices by the mayor's Board of Education appointees, and the turmoil caused by yet another top-down leadership scandal is a grave concern for all of us as the district faces a crippling financial deficit. As I said yesterday, there is a culture of conflict of interest that is severely disruptive to the lives of both educators and the parents and students they serve, and it does nothing but create a climate of pervasive mistrust.
Barbara will be most remembered as the person who was brought in to sell the mayor's school closing plan. While it is our understanding that she is taking a leave of absence due to her potential inability to lead the district during the investigation into her connection to SUPES, she is not the only individual who may be at fault for any wrongdoing. Board president David Vitale was the architect of a financial deal that has cost the district hundreds of millions of dollars, and no one has asked for him to take a leave of absence. Board member Deborah Quazzo has received millions in profits from her private investments in companies with CPS contracts, and no one has asked for her to take a leave of absence either.
These are the types of relationships that we've been sounding the alarm about for years--those in which there are personal connections between Board members and the banks and companies that profit from relationships with CPS. In a school district that seems to be all about privatization, private entities continue to play a major role in its operations, and if Barbara is the first to fall, then perhaps there are many others who should follow.
UPDATE 2 (2:28 p.m.): The mayor's office also commented on Byrd-Bennett's leave of absence.
"Mayor Emanuel supports today's actions by Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the Board of Education so that the focus of our teachers, principals and parents can remain on the nearly 400,000 students who depend on the district for a quality education," said Kelley Quinn, a spokesman for the mayor's office. "Though there have been no formal allegations, the Mayor has zero tolerance for any type of misconduct from public officials and welcomes today's decision to help ensure this issue does not distract from the incredibly important work happening in our neighborhood public schools."