Facing jail sentence: Barbara Byrd-Bennett

Published: October 14, 2015

Facing jail sentence: Barbara Byrd-Bennett, When I was growing up in the Chicago Public Schools system, at least one of my parents would go to school every fall to introduce themselves to their two daughters’ new crop of teachers.

My mother would tell them that she believed parents were a child’s first educators. What happened in the school system was supposed to augment and supplement the work done first at home.

Just as important as anything we learned in a book, we were expected to be honest, to work hard, to not scam or cheat or steal. Building character was on par with building intellect.

My father would tell our teachers, “I know what my daughters will do while I’m looking, but I can only hope what they’ll do when I’m not.”

He knew we weren’t perfect and that we’d sometimes fall short. But he said it’s what a person does and who she is when people aren’t looking that defines her.

That’s why the charges against former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett are both sad and disappointing.

She pleaded guilty Tuesday morning to her role in helping an education consulting firm she used to work for win multimillion-dollar no-bid contracts that would net her at least $2.3 million in kickbacks and perks. SUPES Academy co-owners Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas also have been charged in a 23-count indictment.

Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has been indicted on charges she pocketed bribes. (Chicago Tribune photos)

Byrd-Bennett’s alleged quid pro quo deal is horrible on its face. That she did it in an environment where student need is great makes it even worse. Indeed, CPS has pension problems and a massive budget shortfall.

But too many of CPS’s students come from home environments that are less than optimal to say the least, and too many are accustomed to disappointment from grown-ups. And when one in particular has the awesome responsibility of trying to turn around a school district awash in grim news, it feels like an even bigger letdown when she falls.

It feels too much like the same-old, same-old.

Byrd-Bennett allowed her greed to get ahead of her, as detailed by the outlandish (and even juvenile) emails she’s accused of sending. According to the charges, one email implied she needed the money, which was to be placed in trust accounts, because she had “tuition to pay and casinos to visit.” She even added a smiley-face emoticon.

I’m blown away by people who think they can get away with something this huge.


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