Take 5: Byrd-Bennett resigns, no budget deal, Koch lands a job

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CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who has resigned amid a federal probe, is shown with General Counsel James Bebley at the Jan. 2015 board meeting.

Photo by Marc Monaghan

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who has resigned amid a federal probe, is shown with General Counsel James Bebley at the Jan. 2015 board meeting.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett has resigned as CEO of Chicago Public Schools, effective today, the Sun-Times reports.

Her resignation comes six weeks after it was revealed that federal authorities were investigating Byrd-Bennett and SUPES, the principal training firm that received a $20 million, no-bid contract from CPS. A few days later, Byrd-Bennett stepped down temporarily from the post, taking paid time off. She apparently submitted her formal resignation letter to School Board President David Vitale on Friday, but for some reason district officials withheld the news until Sunday night.

Byrd-Bennett has not been indicted in the case, although many top CPS officials have been interviewed by a federal grand jury in recent weeks.

Her departure from CPS means that, since former CEO Arne Duncan’s long tenure ended in 2009, the school district has had four CEOs. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first pick — Jean-Claude Brizard, who was brought to Chicago with the help of a company connected to SUPES’ owners, lasted only 17 months. Duncan, who was in town last week, said the whole ordeal surrounding Byrd-Bennett “makes you really sad for the city […] There’s been a lot of turnover and we just need stability.”

CPS spokesman told the Sun-Times that Byrd-Bennett’s paid time off was due to run out this week, though her employment contract had been automatically renewed earlier this year before news of the FBI probe had come to light. “Had she not resigned, her contract with CPS would have allowed her to remain CPS’s $250,000-a-year CEO through June 30, 2016,” according to the story.

Board member Jesse Ruiz, who assumed CEO duties on an interim basis after Byrd-Bennett took a leave of absence, will remain on the job indefinitely. It’s unclear what kind of search for a new schools leader is being undertaken by the mayor’s office or CPS.

2. Meanwhile in Springfield … Illinois lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner weren’t able to agree on a budget deal before the spring legislative session ended this weekend. State representatives were ordered to return to session on Thursday, while senators were told to return next week, according to a Reuters story. Democrats, who control both the House and Senate, have “opted for their own $36.3 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 instead of a $32 billion budget proposed by Rauner in February.”

The delays in Springfield don’t bode well for CPS, where principals say they’re hearing they won’t get their own school budgets until July. (District officials previously said they wouldn’t release the school budgets until after state lawmakers pass their own budgets.) Principals say they’re expecting major cuts next year — with Chicago schools facing a projected $1.1 billion deficit — and some had already set aside money in preparation for for essentials like books and supplies.

One good piece of news, as it relates to the budget, is that the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) previously indicated it may change the way it doles out money when the state doesn’t allocate the statutory $6,119 per student baseline funding. Under a proposed alternative to so-called “pro-ration,” Chicago would have actually gained money this year instead of losing more than $45 million in general state aid.

3. Speaking of ISBE … Illinois’ former superintendent of schools Christopher Koch has apparently landed a job as interim president of the troubled Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). Both teachers unions and the main group that represents teacher ed programs, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education have criticized CAEP in part for its mission of tougher, evidence-based standards for new teachers, according to a detailed article in Insider Higher Ed.

“Many college leaders (and education faculty unions) complained that the tougher admissions standards CAEP sought for education students would keep would-be teachers who are members of minority groups out of the teaching profession,” according to the story. “Teachers’ colleges and faculty unions rarely complained openly about the tougher standards; given public sentiment about the quality of the K-12 system, public statements suggesting that they were against more rigor would not have played well.”

Koch, who was ousted from ISBE in April, is familiar with toughening state standards for future teachers. Under his tenure at ISBE, the state raised the cut score for a basic skills test that teacher candidates need to pass before entering education programs; the change resulted in teacher education programs losing students of all races. Some education professors have begun criticizing a new evidence-based teacher performance assessment now required of all prospective teachers.

In a press release issued by CAEP last month, Koch says the nation’s future demands strong schools led by excellent educators. “That future can only be achieved if those programs tasked with preparing prospective teachers are held to the highest standards and expect the best from all involved. Under CAEP’s continued leadership, we will be able to ensure that an education degree has real meaning and that this new era of accreditation sets the highest standards possible for teacher preparation.”

4. Ending pricey buyouts … Lawmakers were able to make progress on at least one education related-bill over the weekend. The Illinois Senate approved legislation to cap severance packages for the state’s community college presidents, the Tribune reports. The bill was crafted after trustees at the College of DuPage voted to give their president $763,000 to retire in March 2016, three years early.

The bill has been amended from the original version passed by the House, which now gets it back before sending it to the governor for final approval. Meanwhile, the Tribune reports that a Senate subcommittee will hold  hearings on administrator compensation this summer, “following a scathing report from Senate Democrats that accused the state’s community college and university presidents of living in a ‘fantasy world of lavish perks’ that included housing allowances, cars, club memberships and generous bonuses.”

In addition to criticizing the  DuPage deal, the report “also chastised public universities and community colleges statewide for providing ‘excessive fringe benefits’ such as a $32,000 annual housing allowance for the president of Harper College, a $450,000 retention bonus for a former University of Illinois at Chicago chancellor and $30,000 toward two retirement plans in addition to state pension contributions for the Elgin Community College president.”

5. Training charter boards … Education Week looks into a recurring issue at charter schools across the country: “poorly prepared school boards that fail to stop questionable deals or flat out corruption.” While the EdWeek story doesn’t mention Chicago, the scandal-ridden UNO Charter School Network is a prime example of charter school board members failing to question or stop shady insider deals.

A new national non-profit, Charter Board Partners — which is funded by the Gates and Walter Family foundations — is doing some work to professionalize charter boards. “I don’t think there are enough good charter school boards because there hasn’t been enough emphasis from leaders and authorizers on having strong boards,” says the group’s president and co-founder, Carrie Irvin. Only seven states­— and Illinois is not one of them — require charter school board members to undergo any kind of training, according to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the article states.

Regardless of whether they’re trained, some say that charter school boards are inherently problematic because they’re not democratically elected. “’The majority [of states] have no regulation that outlines the operations or makeup of charter school governing boards,” says Luis Huert, an associate professor of education and public policy at Columbia University’s Teachers College. “Ultimately, I’m not convinced that board professionalism would necessarily mitigate [those issues].”

One last note … Today’s the last day to apply to join a Neighborhood Advisory Council, the process set up by CPS to allow parents and community members to give feedback on charter school proposals. To become a member, you must be willing to make a four-month commitment that includes a mandatory training next week, meetings led by an independent facilitator and to review charter school application materials for at least 10 hours per month.

The CPS Board of Education is supposed to vote on whether to approve any of the charter school proposals at its October meeting. CPS received proposals from 13 charter operators to open a total of 20 new campuses across the city, including Hyde Park, Back of the Yards and Belmont-Cragin.


  • Concerned Parent

    subpoenas asked for records from the district for Tracy Martin,
    Rosemary Herpel and Sherry Ulery, all longtime Byrd-Bennett cronies who
    moved to Chicago to work for CPS after Byrd Bennett took the helm. All three remain employed in their six-figure jobs at CPS, CPS is footing the bill for their attorneys,
    though they have not been accused of any wrongdoing.
    ‘professional’ you should know when to quit. Say good-bye ladies and
    please take six-figure Rhonda Saegert with you. It is time for you all to leave
    CPS. You have cost us enough in embarrassment and financially already.

  • Concerned Parent

    Thought – BBB resigned when she could have gotten $250,000 more – Was there a deal to save her 3 (4) ladies jobs? – provide them with lawyers at the tax payers expense instead? Please leave by the end of June. Is there no shame?

    • Jzzyj

      I’m pretty sure there was an under the table “No Bid” deal given to her to quietly walk away,

  • KitabuWazi

    Ha! Charter boards aren’t the only board that need to ask more questions and are open to shady deals.