Updated 10/08/15 – 2:20 p.m.
CHICAGO (STMW) — The former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, will plead guilty to charges in an indictment released Thursday that alleged she steered more than $23 million in no-bid contracts from CPS to her former employer, authorities said Thursday.
U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon made the announcement at a news conference Thursday.
Fardon said Byrd-Bennett and others “entered into a scheme to secretly profit from schools.”
Byrd-Bennett—Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s handpicked choice—becomes CPS’ first CEO to face criminal charges in connection with her job. Federal authorities have been investigating the contract—the largest no-bid CPS deal in recent memory—for more than a year, authorities said.
Receiving the contract in 2013 to train principals was The SUPES Academy, owned by former Niles Township High School dean Gary Solomon and his former student Thomas Vranas. It generated controversy at the time because SUPES was not known for training principals while many other, respected organizations did that very job. The deal continued to draw criticism as some educators questioned the quality of SUPES’ training.
Solomon and Vranas were also charged, as were SUPES and another company it owned.
In return for steering the contract to SUPES, Byrd-Bennett was guaranteed a percentage of the contract’s money once she left her position at CPS and returned to SUPES. The cash would be come in the form of a signing bonus and be paid even if Byrd-Bennett only worked for SUPES for a day, according to an email from Solomon.
In a statement, Emanuel said: “I am saddened and disappointed to learn about the criminal activity that led to today’s indictment of Barbara Byrd-Bennett. Our students, parents, teachers and principals deserve better. Together, we have made significant educational strides at CPS with rising graduation rates, test scores and attendance and our commitment to building on that progress remains as strong as ever.”
After the federal investigation became public, Solomon’s controversial past and current success within CPS came to light. He had been forced out as a suburban high school administrator after making racist and sexually harassing remarks. Despite that, he later played a key role in getting Byrd-Bennett her top job with CPS.
Solomon left Niles Downtown School District 219 under a cloud in 2001 after he was accused by administrators of “immoral and unprofessional” conduct, including allegations he kissed a female student, covered up students’ drug and alcohol use, and sent “sexually suggestive, predatory” emails to students, court records show.
Years later, he and Vranas founded SUPES Academy to train school leaders, and the two other education consulting companies in the northern suburbs. They recently sold parts of all three.