Today's Sun-Times story by Lauren Fitzpatrick takes us even deeper into the seamy underbelly of Chicago's pay-for-play contracting process under the current system of mayor control of public education.
The most interesting part of the story for me was the way CPS practically stuffed it's $20.5 million, no-bid contract into Synesi/SUPES founder Gary Soloman's pocket. This after the State Board had found the group(s) unqualified to help the city's schools improve.
Though CPS touted Synesi’s past work in other urban districts, the Illinois State Board of Education found that Synesi failed at a fundamental level to show how it would actually help the schools improve if they were awarded the money, according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
“No indication of a daily work experience that garnered results,” is how another state scorer summed up a segment of the review, awarding just 362 points out of a possible 580. In another graded section of its application, Synesi got just 5 points out of a possible 40, the records show.
In April 2013, grant applications were submitted for Carver Military Academy, Corliss, Farragut and what then was called Marine Math and Science Academy, now the Marine Leadership Academy at Ames. Each planned to pay Synesi $270,000 per year for its help, according to the schools’ proposals. None of the principals answered Sun-Times questions.CPS leaders contracted with them anyway, coming out-of-pocket after being turned down for state grants. The reason for such a giant waste of taxpayer money becomes obvious as the feds begin turning over rocks, ultimately leading to the cancelling of the SUPES contract and Byrd-Bennett's hasty departure.
Here once again, I feel this overwhelming need to keep reminding people that Synesi was from its very start, connected to Paul Vallas. I don't mean to dwell on Vallas other than to show the origins of this shady approach to winning district contracts. It was always Valls' M.O. but an approach not just used by Synesi/SUPES, but throughout the entire system. Vallas continues to deny the connection and Solomon claims he used Vallas’ name without permission and it was a “mistake.”
But the idea from the time Vallas left for Philadelphia after being booted out of town by Mayor Daley, was for Synesi to capitalize on its Chicago connections and have Synesi offer districts a free consultation with Vallas in hopes that it would lead to a fat consulting contract. And it usually did. But not just because of Vallas.
The Synesi/Vallas connection was revealed back in 2005 by Sheila Simmons and Paul Socolar from the Philadelphia Public Schools Notebook.
The trail suggesting a business arrangement involving Vallas and Solomon began with SolTyra, a Chicago-based online marketing firm, which on a web page displaying a “case study” of its work, stated that its services were called upon by Solomon Consulting, “when some of the most successful leaders in educational reform came together to form a for-profit enterprise upon the exclusive rights to Paul Vallas’ model.”Now we learn (actually many of us already knew) that Soloman and others sweetened the pot by offering both current and former top district administrators jobs as high-paid consultants, as in the case of Chicago schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and her head of strategic services (whatever the hell that is) Tracy Martin, in exchange for those no-bid contracts.
Back then, Soloman touted the "great Chicago successes" under Vallas' leadership and listed on his Synesi roster, the late Phil Hansen, Vallas' chief accountability officer in Chicago; Cozette Buckney, Chicago’s chief education officer under Vallas and now a senior consultant for SUPES; Sue Gamm, chief specialized services officer in Chicago during Vallas’ tenure, who also went with Vallas to Philly; and Gery Chico, who served as chair of the Chicago Board of Education during Vallas’ tenure.
More on this as the rocks continue to turn.