Barbara Byrd-Bennett, former Chicago Public Schools CEO, helped company win contracts worth millions, investigation says

CHICAGO (WLS) -- An internal investigation has revealed that Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, helped a company win millions of dollars of CPS contracts.

In a new report, CPS Inspector General Nicholas Schuler said Camelot Education, a for-profit Texas-based company that operates six CPS schools for at-risk youth on the South Side, won nearly $70 million in business from CPS thanks to Bennett and her co-conspirators.

"They grew from no schools to having several in about a one year period," Schuler said.

Byrd-Bennett is now serving a federal prison sentence for a bribery scheme, but her actions continue to haunt the nation's third-largest school district.

In his report, Schuler called their actions highly unethical. In 2012, Camelot paid $300,000 to Supes Academy owners Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas as undisclosed lobbyists to gain access to then-CEO Byrd-Bennett.

"They were specifically rewarded monetarily for sidestepping the procurement official who was in charge of this process," Schuler said.

Schuler said Camelot worked out a deal with Bennett behind closed doors. In addition, the inspector general said Camelot agreed to hire a CPS colleague of Bennett's on the condition Camelot would continue doing business with CPS.

In a written response denying the inspector general's conclusions of its investigation, Camelot said: "We competed for and won the Board of Education's contract fairly and on our merits."

Meantime, CPS is taking the report very seriously by implementing lobbying reform. CPS will require all lobbying activity to be disclosed by the bidder and the lobbyist.

"It would be a better opportunity for people to know who is involved and who has financial stakes in deals," Schuler said.

CPS is also taking action to hold Camelot responsible by either imposing a steep fine or barring the company from future business with CPS.
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