Chicago Public Schools under federal investigation

Wednesday, April 15, 2015
CPS under federal investigation
Chicago Public Schools is under investigation by the federal government, and some CPS workers have been questioned by federal authorities.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The scope of a federal investigation into Chicago Public Schools is becoming clearer as a suburban company responds to questions about its alleged role in the probe.

The Chicago School Board president says federal authorities have asked to speak to several employees, and multiple reports say that investigation of CPS goes all the way to the top.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the public face of the nation's third-largest school system, was handpicked by Rahm Emanuel. But on Wednesday, the mayor couldn't say if she still had his vote of confidence.

"I don't, I can't answer. I don't even know who they're looking at. It's a CPS matter," Emanuel said.

But multiple news reports say that Byrd-Bennett is the feds' target, and that the investigation involves an Evanston-based firm called SUPES Academy, which provides training to school administrators.

Before becoming CEO, Byrd-Bennett worked for SUPES. And in 2013, SUPES received a $20 million no-bid contract from CPS. The deal was blasted by education writer Sarah Karp of Catalyst Chicago.

"The first thing I said to myself is why are we paying this for-profit company to do professional development for principals when we have all these universities in town that specialize in professional development?" Karp said.

In 2013, Chicago School Board President David Vitale was asked by ABC 7 about Byrd-Bennett's relationship with the company.

"The fact that she was with this one or some other ones that we might do business with doesn't disqualify them from doing business with CPS in my judgment," Vitale said.

On Wednesday night, a spokesperson for SUPES Academy says records and files are in the hands of investigators. A written statement said: "SUPES will of course cooperate with this investigation. At the same time, the company stands behind the countless hours of training it has provided to Chicago Public Schools principals."

CPS says it's also cooperating.

"I have very little information. It's an ongoing investigation that's active as I'm standing right here," Emanuel said.

CPS and SUPES Academy have declined to comment further, and ABC7's attempts to reach Barbara Byrd-Bennett have been unsuccessful.