By Frederick H. Lowe
CHICAGO — Barbara Byrd-Bennett, former chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), once said she wanted to help educate black school children. In some instances she did, but she mostly helped herself because of her unrestrained greed.
Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Edmond E. Chang sentenced Byrd-Bennett to four years in a federal prison after she pled guilty to steering $23 million in no-bid contracts to The Supes Academy LLC and Synesi Associates LLC, two Illinois-based educational consulting firms, where she worked prior to taking the top job at CPS, the nation’s third-largest school district. Judge Chang also fined Byrd-Bennett, a native of Solon, Ohio, $15,000 after she pled guilty to one count of wire fraud.
In exchange for steering lucrative deals their way, Byrd-Bennett, 67, received cash kickbacks from the companies. She also was guaranteed a consulting job at Supes upon her retirement from the Chicago Public Schools. Byrd-Bennett joined the Chicago Public Schools in May 2012, and she earned $250,000 a year.
In her plea deal, Byrd-Bennett explained the kickback was to be paid to her in form of “a signing bonus” on the first day of her new job. In addition, to the expected kickback from steering the contracts, the companies provided her with numerous other benefits, including meals and tickets to sporting events.
“Byrd-Bennett agreed to cheat and deceive CPS from the get go, to eliminate any opposition to her efforts to expand contracts for the Supes entities within CPS, and to line her pockets with money obtained from a cash-strapped school district through her fraud,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Megan Cunniff Church and Lindsay C. Jenkins argued in the government’s memorandum. “She corrupted the process entirely.”
In an email, Byrd-Bennett wrote that she wanted to make money because she had “tuition to pay and casinos to visit.”
Byrd-Bennett resigned as CEO on June 1, 2015 after it was revealed she was being investigated. She is scheduled to report to prison no later than August 28.