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Zopp defends SUPES no-bid CPS contract vote

Former Chicago School Board member and U.S. Senate candidate Andrea Zopp on Tuesday defended voting for a $20.5 million no-bid SUPES Academy contract that is now under federal investigation, saying she relied on then-Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s expertise.

“We had an educator — a very experienced, talented educator — that we respected and felt this organization that she had experience with was going to help train principals,” Zopp told the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board.

“That’s what she had done. At the time, there was no reason to question that,” Zopp said. “That certainly for me was a significant part in why I supported it. There’s certainly information that we did not have that was relevant to that decision.”

Zopp said board members didn’t rubber stamp the contract, which aimed to train principals over three years.

“I don’t recall it being a pro-forma thing,” Zopp said. “The topic was an important topic. But also remember that Barbara was relatively new in her role and felt very strongly about doing it. That certainly is relevant. She was the expert in the field and felt very strongly this was the way to go and certainly something I listened to.”

Federal investigators have subpoenaed CPS, demanding documents related to the contract as well as Byrd-Bennett, who later resigned amid the probe.

Byrd-Bennett joined CPS after working for SUPES Academy, a north suburban company that got a $20.5 million no-bid contract to train Chicago school principals in 2013, shortly after Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed her to head the city school system.

“Given the current environment, at the time, given the information we had and the processes that we had in place, the focus of that contract was principal development. … You can’t have a good school with a bad principal. So that was the focus,” Zopp said. “We were anxious to do it and do it quickly and, with the information we had at the time, that decision made sense. We have a lot of different information right now. There was a need to move quickly because the more quickly you can move and improve principals …. That’s not why we didn’t bid it out. It wasn’t a speed thing. We just thought the issue was an imperative issue.”

Zopp’s key opposition in the Democratic primary is U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. Zopp, a former prosecutor and former CEO of the Chicago Urban League, said she believes she’s on pace to raise $1 million by the end of this quarter.