CHICAGO (CBS) — A scathing report from the inspector general for the Chicago Public Schools has accused one of the district’s most powerful alternative school providers of bid-rigging, and the fallout could be significant.
According to the inspector general’s report, Camelot Education gained improper access to former CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett with the help of undisclosed lobbyists, to win approval to open four schools, resulting in $67 million worth of business at CPS.
Camelot Education now operates six schools in the city, and the inspector general wants the company debarred – meaning the company would be banned from doing business with CPS.
Short of that, Inspector General Nicholas Schuler recommended the Chicago Board of Education fine Camelot $6.7 million, and appoint an independent monitor to review the company’s conduct for three years.
The report stated Camelot hired education consultants Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas in 2012 as undisclosed lobbyists who could put the company in contact with Bryd-Bennett. According to the inspector general, emails from Solomon prove his influence peddling was effective.
On Aug. 25, 2012, Solomon wrote to Camelot executives “got off with BBB. She was the driving force behind the board action with you guys this week. She basically told … (staff) … and the community people to make it happen, or suffer a miserable fate.”
Months later, a week before a critical Board of Education meeting, Solomon wrote:
“On 12/19 CPS Board will approve an additional school and contract for a grand total of two schools.
“Joe, Todd, Tom, and Gary are going to go out the night of the 19th to celebrate.”
Schuler said Byrd-Bennett personally took over the contract process.
“What happened is that the CEO sort of personally took over the contracting process. The boss took personal control over this and ran it through channels that weren’t the ordinary channels,” he said.
Schuler said that should have been a red flag in the contract process, especially for $67 million worth of CPS business.
“If people are getting work through shortcuts or through connections or who you know, then I think it’s definitely a concern about the work that we do,” he said.
The inspector general’s office said safeguards must be put in place to prevent similar schemes from ever happening again.
Byrd-Bennett, Solomon, and Vranas all have been convicted of federal charges in connection to an unrelated bribery scheme.
Camelot Education has released a statement saying they strongly disagree with the inspector general’s report. They said it’s based on inaccurate findings, and insist the company competed fairly and won on the merits.