Among first to go at CPS: ex-CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s inner circle

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Among the earliest Chicago Public Schools employees given the ax in a brutal round of layoffs were administrators from former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s inner circle, the district has confirmed for the Sun-Times.

In one fell swoop, CPS saved more than $1.4 million in salary and benefits, according to CPS’ most recently publicly available data. Six women are gone who followed Byrd-Bennett to Chicago after working together in Detroit or Cleveland or both, where she had previously run public school districts. Also gone is a crisis communications officer she hired here. Two of those employees resigned, while five were laid off.

One member of her inner circle, Tracy Martin, who made $170,000 a year to run a special, new department Byrd-Bennett founded to help struggling schools, resigned on Tuesday, according to CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey. Sherry Ulery, who remained as the $175,000-a-year chief of staff to interim CEO Jesse Ruiz after Byrd-Bennett stepped down in mid-April in the wake of a federal investigation into a controversial no-bid $20.5 million contract, also resigned this week, McCaffrey said. The contract was awarded to The SUPES Academy for principal training. The company, co-owned by controversial former educator Gary Solomon, had previously employed Byrd-Bennett.

Other key Byrd-Bennett hires were not affected.

The employees laid off were:

  • Rosemary Herpel, a $140,000-a-year “executive director of leadership development” in the district’s human resources office who administered the now-defunct SUPES program.
  • Paulette Poncelet, a $165,000-a-year “chief of educator effectiveness,” also in human resources.
  • Rhonda Corr-Saegert, a $151,000-a-year chief of Network 10 on the Far South Side.
  • Leaura N. Materassi-Eaton, a $140,000-a-year senior network manager.
  • And Ron Iori, a $165,000-a-year chief communications officer Byrd-Bennett hired after Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s ally Becky Carroll stepped down from that post.

As part of their ongoing investigation, federal authorities have sought from CPS employment records for Ulery, Herpel and Martin.

Ulery and Herpel also were called before a federal grand jury. CPS has been paying for lawyers for all three. No one has been accused of any wrongdoing.

Byrd-Bennett and Martin both worked for The SUPES Academy before moving to full-time CPS positions. Byrd-Bennett also worked for Synesi Associates, which is owned by Solomon.

Byrd-Bennett hired Martin in November 2012, about a month after Emanuel elevated Byrd-Bennett to the city’s top schools post. Martin oversaw a pet project of Byrd-Bennett’s called the Office of Strategic School Support Services or OS4, which helps struggling neighborhood schools and manages their federal grants.

Ulery and Materassi-Eaton worked with Byrd-Bennett in Cleveland and Detroit; Herpel, who once managed a private education foundation in Cleveland that worked closely with Cleveland Public Schools, was hired under Byrd-Bennett in Detroit.

Martin, a Cleveland native, and Ulery, also from Ohio, were at the Cleveland district when Byrd-Bennett was appointed to the top job there in 1998. They both had high-level jobs there when Byrd-Bennett left Ohio in 2006.

By the end of that year, Byrd-Bennett was in Washington, D.C., leading a principal-training group called New Leaders for New Schools. She stayed in D.C. until 2009.

Martin and Ulery worked in Washington during roughly the same time  for the public schools there under the leadership of a former city administrator named Robert Bobb.

In May 2009, after Bobb moved to Detroit to become the financially troubled city’s emergency manager, he signed Byrd-Bennett to an $18,000-a-month deal as chief academic and accountability auditor consultant.

Martin joined Byrd-Bennett in Detroit as her chief of staff for academics, making nearly $16,000 a month. Ulery was hired as the $15,000-a-month chief of teaching and learning. And Herpel got an $11,000-a-month consulting post.

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