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Costs mount for firms at heart of federal CPS investigation

He allegedly broke two of the biggest taboos in education: Using offensive racist language and sending predatory emails to students.

Now the costs of those alleged transgressions are mounting for the businessman at the heart of the federal investigation of Chicago Public Schools.

School administrators in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, on Friday became the latest to end their contract with a firm owned by Wilmette CEO Gary Solomon, whose businesses have been under fire since federal investigators last month subpoenaed records from CPS about him, his three companies and CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

While the largest deal Solomon has lost in recent weeks remains the $20.5 million no-bid contract CPS handed to his principal training academy, SUPES, school districts in Kentucky and Georgia also have fired his firms.

The school board in Lancaster said Friday that it would no longer use PROACT, another of Solomon’s education companies, to find a new superintendent.

“Within the past week, disturbing allegations have surfaced concerning the CEO of PROACT Search, the firm selected in February to conduct the hiring of a new superintendent,” that board wrote on its website. “While this individual has not been involved in the district’s process, the Board of School Directors strongly opposes continued support of his firm.”

District spokeswoman Kelly Burkholder pointed to Chicago Sun-Times stories detailing Solomon’s past troubles as a Niles Township School District 219 teacher and administrator as the reason the district canceled its first and only Solomon contract for about $24,000.

Solomon had, according to transcripts from a 1999 state administrative hearing, written racial slurs in emails to a former student and in a journal he kept on his school computer, called an African-American administrator an “uppity n—–.”

Those Sun-Times stories also quoted a transcript of a District 219 lawyer who said at that hearing that Solomon would pick on “unsuspecting victims, minor female students, most of whom suffered from an eating disorder, anorexia, bulimia, psychological self-doubts about themselves, alcohol and substance abuse, and prey on them.”

Solomon’s spokesman expressed “disappointment” that Lancaster walked away “based on old allegations.”

“No law enforcement authority of any kind ever substantiated any misconduct,” said the spokesman, Dennis Culloton, declining to comment on the impact the cancellations have had on the companies. ”Mr. Solomon apologizes and deeply regrets his statements of many years ago and stands by the outstanding work that PROACT has provided to this Board of Education and others.”

Culloton reacted similarly to cancellations by Fayette County, Kentucky, and DeKalb County, Georgia, of their contracts with PROACT Search, known nationwide for scouting and screening superintendent candidates.

The DeKalb Board of Education also cited “disturbing” allegations, saying it wanted to ensure “the individuals representing us reflect our values and those of our community.”

After the feds searched Solomon’s office last month, the American Association of School Administrators in Alexandria, Virginia, ended its work with SUPES on a joint superintendent-training program, according to a spokesman for the association.

CPS Interim CEO Jesse Ruiz, who took over the day-to-day running of CPS from Byrd-Bennett last month, voted in June 2013 as school board vice president to approve the no-bid SUPES deal, but canceled it on April 20 after Byrd-Bennett went on paid leave.

By then, CPS had already paid SUPES more than $12 million. The district also has halted all new no-bid deals while it audits the process that resulted in the awarding of the principal training contract to SUPES. It has yet to choose a firm to conduct that audit.

Contributing: Dan Mihalopoulos