CPS bid-rigging scandal leads to $1M settlement from private school operator
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A for-profit alternative schools company that won business with the Chicago Public Schools thanks to a bid rigged by disgraced former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has agreed to a $1 million settlement with the city’s public school system.
Camelot Education, which still runs six schools for about 850 at-risk students, dodged a permanent ban on doing any business with CPS as the schools Inspector General Nicholas Schuler had recommended in July when he released a bombshell report outlining the misconduct. Schuler had also recommended $6.7 million in fines and three years of independent monitoring of the Texas-based company, which had to date been paid about $67 million for its work in Chicago.
As part of the $1 million settlement, Camelot will submit to a monitor of CPS’ choosing “to ensure Camelot is held responsible for its conduct,” schools officials said. But the fines under the settlement terms are limited to $1 million, with $700,000 paid directly to CPS and another $300,000 worth of “compensatory services.” A Camelot spokesman said the settlement will be paid over five years.
Camelot must exclude two of its officials — who were not named — from any CPS work during the monitoring term, and subject its executives to training on the school board’s Code of Ethics.
In his report, Schuler found that Camelot — in order to skirt the district’s procurement rules — paid Byrd-Bennett’s former employers and co-defendants Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas to work as lobbyists to help the company land big contracts to open publicly-funded schools for students who are close to dropping out or have already done so. The emails about the Camelot scheme came to light as Schuler continued to dig through the records that helped imprison Byrd-Bennett, or “B3” as Mayor Rahm Emanuel affectionately called her, along with Solomon and Vranas, in a separate contract-kickback scandal with a principal training firm.
“We continue to dispute those findings, while also acknowledging the Board’s need to take action when presented with such findings,” Camelot CEO Andrew Morrison said in a statement. “We are proud of our track record over the past seven years and of the achievements of our students. In CPS, we have helped more than 1,000 students successfully graduate who otherwise would not have earned their diplomas.”
CPS also said in July that it would tighten ethics rules for anyone bidding on work, and would publish a searchable database of the additional disclosures on its website. It’s not yet clear whether either has taken place.