Another day, another infuriating story of Chicago corruption.
We’ve seen this movie before, starring greedy officials cooking up rotten schemes that destroy trust in our public institutions and mock the honest work of everyday employees.
This time, the greedy official and her co-conspirators are familiar faces: former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and SUPES Academy co-founders Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas.
All three, you will recall, are doing time now for a scheme in which Byrd-Bennett steered a $20 million, no-bid contract to Solomon and Vranas in exchange for thousands in kickbacks.
As it turns out, SUPES may not have been the only crooked plot they hatched. The trio allegedly also conspired to help Camelot Education, a for-profit chain of alternative schools, win rigged bids to open four schools here,
According to a report from CPS Inspector General Nicholas Schuler, Camelot paid nearly $700,000 to get “access and favor” to Byrd-Bennett, including $294,000 to Solomon and Vranas. Byrd-Bennett allegedly was in line for a job with Camelot when she left CPS — except she left instead for a cushy federal prison in West Virginia.
Camelot, its foot firmly in the door at CPS, has since reaped the benefits: $67 million in contracts to run six schools.
Camelot CEO Andrew Morrison this week denied any “bidding impropriety,” and he touted the company’s academic track record. Camelot has a reputation for doing good work in a tough field: educating former dropouts.
CPS says it plans to negotiate fines — hefty fines, we hope — against Camelot, and that would be a start in making this right. The district also has begun debarment proceedings, meaning Camelot eventually could be prohibited from doing business with CPS.
As we see it, what matters most is what’s best for the students, and the sudden closing of the four schools could disrupt the last chance at a decent education for hundreds of young people who sorely need it.
A better solution would be to hire an independent monitor to oversee Camelot’s contract, and then re-bid that contract once it’s up, as the inspector general recommends.
In the meantime, Camelot should fire any employee who was involved in the alleged bid-rigging, or the company’s time in Chicago is up.
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