Civic leaders seek to distance themselves from SUPES Academy, now target of fed probe

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One of Mayor Emanuel's inner circle has been interviewed by the FBI in connection with the SUPES Academy investigation.

Mark Van Scyoc/

One of Mayor Emanuel's inner circle has been interviewed by the FBI in connection with the SUPES Academy investigation.

Governor Bruce Rauner, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Public Education Fund–the non-profit organization that paid to pilot the initiative at the center of an ongoing federal investigation into the circumstances surrounding a controversial $20 million contract–all sought to distance themselves from the situation on Monday.

The Chicago Public Education Fund, a non-profit that Rauner and Emanuel have both been involved with, originally gave SUPES Academy $380,000 to provide coaching to network chiefs and deputies. In a statement issued Monday, the Fund acknowledged that they had been contacted by federal investigators, but said they have been informed that it was “solely as a witness” and not as a target.

In 2013, SUPES received a $20 million no-bid contract for principal training that is the focus of the federal probe that has targeted Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who is now on leave from the CEO position. She has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

A source tells Catalyst Chicago that in 2011 and 2012, Byrd-Bennett was paid through the SUPES contract with the Fund to provide coaching for then-Chief Education Officer Noemi Donoso, whose position Byrd-Bennett eventually took over.

The Fund is a politically connected group made up of Chicago’s civic elite. The 15-year-old organization has funded a variety of projects, from a consultant who helped to write a CPS action plan to staff time at the University of Chicago to help develop the current teacher evaluation system called REACH.

In May of 2012, when CPS hired Byrd-Bennett to be the chief education officer, it was widely reported that she had been in Chicago for 10 months doing “executive coaching” and was being paid by the Fund. At the time, the Fund did not refute that, but now officials say that the Fund never paid Byrd-Bennett directly.

The Fund was asked by CPS leaders to continue to pay SUPES, but it declined, according to the statement from Fund Executive Director Heather Anichini. Anichini would not say whether the Fund ‘s decision to end SUPES’ funding was connected to quality, the contract itself, or something else.

“We work differently than other philanthropies,” Anichini said. “We set very clear expectations for what we want those programs or opportunities to provide for teachers and principals. In cases where those expectations are being met, we continue to work with those organizations.”

Since then, the Fund has had no involvement with SUPES, according to the statement.

Then, by October 2012, SUPES got its first no-bid contract with CPS for $2 million. In June of 2013, they were awarded the $20.5 million that raised suspicions and led to a Catalyst article that spurred an investigation by the inspector general.

Board of Education Vice President Jesse Ruiz, who is a lawyer, was appointed interim CEO. Ruiz sent out a memo to staff this weekend saying that he is asking for a third-party to review the process for awarding single-source bids.

At a luncheon on Monday, Rauner at first said that the Fund did not pay for SUPES. Once corrected, he said the Fund did “what the mayor or what the schools leadership wanted to do.”

“It was a little bit more of a support group rather than a truly independent group,” he said. “And that was a source of frustration to me over time.”

Anichini later said she disagreed with Rauner’s perspective and that the Fund operates independently of CPS.

Emanuel said his administration played no role in the contract given to SUPES. Emanuel says he supports Ruiz having the procurement process reviewed. He also said he thinks that Board President David Vitale is doing a good job. Both Ruiz and Vitale voted to award the contract to SUPES.

Also on Monday, several groups made up of parents and activists held a press conference at City Hall to call on Emanuel to remove Vitale and board member Deborah Quazzo. Quazzo is a partner in a firm that invests in educational technology companies that are reportedly doing more business with CPS since she came on the board. Vitale was board president for the Academy of Urban School Leadership before assuming the role at CPS. AUSL has a number of contracts to manage schools.

“We want a school board with integrity,” said Jeannie Biggs, a CPS parent of three and a board member of Raise Your Hand. “A school board that we can trust and that includes leaders who have the best interests of our children at heart. We do not have that right now.”



  • Concerned Parent

    What makes anyone think that Rahm will push Vitale and Quazo out? It’s circle the wagons. When one hand washed the other, the bigger hand has to be careful of what the little hands have on him/her. Watch carefully how this plays out. Good-the media is putting pressure on ALL players-there are many.
    Will BBB fall on her sword – doubtful. She has her Cleveland clan to protect.

  • Pingback: Rahm aftermath()

  • Jamie Wolfwood

    Sanchez/Karp for the Pulitzer…yeah I said IT!!!!!

  • Concerned Parent

    Which investigative reporter will break a story about the no-bid Aramark contract? The IG did report on the Aramark food services contract and the conflicts there. Word on street-Aramark, with Rahm re-elect, will now begin layoffs. Anyone find out who paid for the new Dawes gym after the fire while Aramark was cleaning there?

    • YaYa

      Concerned Parent: You are absolutely right! If the public is outraged over the $20 million dollar SUPES deal, they better hold on to their hats! The dirty dealings behind the $90 million dollar Aramark custodial management contract need to be exposed. My money is on Tim Cawley being the main guy receiving kickbacks or “perks to be named later” for that debacle. However, you have to wonder why the board would go along with it? Quid pro quo? You vote yes for my special interest, self-serving deal and I’ll vote yes for yours? Elected school board NOW!

  • YaYa

    Despite trying to “distance themselves” now, it’s obvious many players in the movement to privatize public education have been in bed with the dubious duo behind SUPES Academy, ProAct Search and Synesi Associates. These so-called innovators have become multi-millionaires robbing cash strapped districts around the country by offering district leadership consulting work in one of their 3 firms in exchange for big contracts. Vitale and the board approved BBB’ s continued secondary employment with ProAct despite the huge SUPES contract, and a smaller but still lucrative contract with Synesi going on at the same time. Why would the board do that? Why is the Chicago Board of Ed helping Gary Solomon and Tom Vranas amass millions, starting with seed money from The Chicago Education Fund? There are still dots to be connected. Karp & Sanchez will be remembered as Chicago’s Woodward & Bernstein for their work in truth-telling!

  • Concerned Parent

    Ms. Zopp – tell the charter commission that we do not have money for charters so the commission can pay for them. CPS goes out of their way to get charters to apply and support them on the neighborhood schools students’ backs. . Stop this nonsense of blaming someone or something else. Where is your moral compass? = anyone?

  • Concerned Parent

    On Goode Academy – the leadership has issues because the leadership over the principal is poor. Substance has news today on Coor-Saegert, another BBB placement from Ohio. She is over the principal of Goode Academy. Her deputy, Garcia Sanchez told teachers at Hernandez where she was for a brief time, that all teachers get a satisfactory from her for evaluation. Guess what? Now she is telling principals she evaluates, to pick one distinguished rating – while the principals are lead to believe the rest of the evaluated areas will be proficient or less. She does not live in the city while teachers and principals are required to. And why did she have to leave network 8?
    Close these wasteful network offices.

  • Anonymous User

    I interned for Synesi, PROACT and Supes for several months this year, during 2015. I am the naive, social justice type, and was drawn in by their false brand. (Also, judging by the comments, some of you seem not to know that these three companies are run by the same people: Gary Solomon and Tom Vranas.)

    Anyway, it was a miserable experience. There were constantly CPS officials or consultants walking into the office, plastered with fake smiles, and retreating into the conference rooms in the back office for God knows what.

    My direct supervisors were borderline abusive and running an illegal internship program, yet I hung on for the sake of keeping my school credit and maintaining a good reference in the future. After the internship ended, they used a shockingly manipulative tactic to coerce me into doing work for them (Offering to give me a reference for my job, and then, once I’d already submitted them as a reference to my prospective employer, they — Proact Search — immediately sent a follow-up e-mail, piling 2 weeks worth of work onto me for the equivalent of less than minimum wage.) They never paid me for my work.

    When I talked to a lawyer and my school, Northwestern University, about how to proceed with SUPES and Proact, they told me the companies were under federal indictment. I’ve been reading the stories all day and feel like I’ve been doing the gruntwork of the devil.