CHICAGO -- Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett is taking a leave of absence pending the outcome of a federal investigation, the Chicago Tribune reports.
The probe involves a $20 million no-bid contract that was awarded to her former employer, SUPES Academy in Wilmette. The three-year contract was to train CPS principals who want to become superintendents.
The CPS inspector general’s office started investigating it shortly after the contract was signed in 2013. The U.S. Attorney’s office launched its own investigation last year.
Byrd-Bennett has not been accused of any wrongdoing. Her three year contract with CPS expires at the end of June.
Sources tell the Chicago Tribune that while Bennett is out, Chicago Board of Education Vice President Jesse Ruiz will serve as interim CEO.
Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey released the following statement:
“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.”