The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first-term education point person, Beth Swanson, was interviewed on April 24 by federal investigators looking into CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and her relationship with SUPES Academy. This is the first time that the scandal has been connected to someone in Emanuel’s inner circle. Swanson is now working as a vice president for the Joyce Foundation.
Swanson’s attorney tells the Tribune that she has been advised by investigators that she is not accused of any wrongdoing. Emanuel’s transition team reportedly reached out to Gary Solomon, who owns SUPES as well as a superintendent search firm called ProAct, to ask him for names of potential CEO candidates. According to the story, he suggested Jean-Claude Brizard, who was eventually named CEO. Swanson was on the transition team.
While these connections are interesting, the federal investigation apparently is focused on whether Byrd-Bennett inappropriately had SUPES awarded no-bid contracts to do principal training and whether or how she benefited personally from the deal. Byrd-Bennett worked for SUPES and Solomon’s other companies up until the time she was hired by CPS. In fact, sources have confirmed to Catalyst that when she came to CPS as a coach for then Chief Education Officer Noemi Donoso, she was being paid through a contract SUPES had with the Chicago Public Education Fund, a foundation that supports public education in Chicago and is closely tied to the CPS administration.
2. Reshaping school board? Crain’s Chicago Business asks whether Emanuel plans to change up the school board as four members’ terms are set to expire at the end of June. William Sampson, chairman of the Public Policy Studies Department at DePaul University, predicts that Emanuel will use the opportunity to clean house and try to win some approval from parents who have been dissatisfied with the board, especially in light of the FBI investigation into SUPES.
“He’s going to use this investigation to clean house and then pat himself on the back,” Sampson says. “In a sense it may be a godsend for him because it gives him the political cover to do it.”
The board members whose terms are up include Carlos Azcoitia, Deborah Quazzo, Henry Bienen and Andrea Zopp. The only one of those four who spoke with Crain’s was Azcoitia, a former principal who said he’d be interested in sticking around for another turn, but hasn’t been asked yet.
Board President David Vitale’s term isn’t up for another three years, the article notes. Last week, Crain’s had a separate story criticizing borrowing decisions and other financial gimmicks he’s been a part of at CPS.
3. Selective enrollment HS… Ald. Walter Burnett is worried that the formerly-named Obama High School will follow the path of its ill-fated name. As you will remember, Emanuel justified putting another elite high school on the Near North Side by pointing out the tax increment financing district in the area has enough money to cover the costs of construction. Burnett notes that money is still waiting to be spent. However, considering CPS’ projected $1.1 billion deficit and tough teachers contract negotiations ahead, he is concerned that the district will pull out of the project. “TIF money can’t be used to run it and staff it,” said Burnett.
The new selective enrollment high school has had problems from nearly the moment it was proposed. First, a number of civic leaders and community members were incensed that a high school named after Obama was going to be on the North Side and not the South Side. Then, residents objected to it being put into Stanton Park, where Emanuel wanted to put it. Now Burnett wants it on a vacant riverfront piece of land at Division and Halsted.
4. Expensive care for all … The Christian Science Monitor has an interesting feature on the challenges faced by families of all income levels to find — and afford — quality child care. The story is based in Chicago and shows a variety of ways parents are trying to balance work and child care — including a new market for flexible office spaces that allow parents to work near where their kids are being cared for.
One of the take-aways from the story is that no matter where you fall on the income spectrum, “having a baby is one of the top risks for falling from above the poverty line to below it. Lower-income single parents pay on average 40 percent of their earnings on child care, while wealthier, married couples still regularly use up the bulk of one parent’s salary on care.”
The story also explains why so many Illinois low-income parents who get state assistance are often child care workers themselves. It’s one of the worst-paid job sectors.
5. Failure to improve… New research shows that the federal government’s major initiative to improve the lowest-performing schools was not effective as hoped, reports the Washington Post. That’s because states lacked essential things that they needed to spur improvement. Schools that were awarded the substantial grants either had to fire all the teachers in a turnaround, shut down and reopen in what was called restart or do something less dramatic called a transformation, keeping staff and bringing in an outside group to spur change.
Yet most school districts did not have the staff, technology and expertise to really make the needed changes.
In Chicago, up until last year, all the schools that were given School Improvement Grants were high schools. While many of them have improved slightly on some measures, they have also lost students–and therefore money from the district.