Even before she was hired to run Chicago Public Schools, Barbara Byrd-Bennett set up a scheme to get a 10 percent kickback on all the CPS contracts she could steer to a former employer, in part to set up a college fund for her twin grandsons, authorities said Thursday.
The feds found damning, detailed emails between her and her ex-boss, Gary Solomon — apparently so damning that Byrd-Bennett will plead guilty in the case involving $23 million in CPS contracts. U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon, in an unusual move, announced Byrd-Bennett’s intention to plead as he announced the charges.“I have tuition to pay and casinos to visit :)” the feds say Byrd-Bennett wrote in one of many emails discussing the alleged kickbacks.
The damning evidence and indication that she will plead guilty to the charges hasn't stopped some reformers from defending her, however:
So what will her legacy be?
Attorney Fred Nance worked with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and was involved in the process of interviewing Byrd-Bennett.
"It depends on how much information you have, we know that people have short memories and may not recall all the terrific work that went on here, that would be a shame if they didn't," said Nance. "I got to know her as a tireless worker. Somebody who brought innovation, someone who understood urban education, what it takes to motivate our kids, bring our kids along and who, most importantly, let our kids know that somebody cares about them. She started that process, and it's a tough job, and it's a tough job to do for a very long period of time. You have to remember going back into the 1990s, Cleveland schools were in terrible shape, and Barbara Byrd-Bennett was the beginning of the transformation."
Her legacy will be that she was a crook who shook down contractors for kickbacks and job promises in return for a $20.5 million contract and ended up going to prison.
She did this all the while doing her best to destroy the public school system in Chicago and shed as many teachers and schools as possible so that money could be diverted to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's charter allies.
That's her legacy.
Good luck in prison, Barbara.