The blogger who brought down Chicago Public Schools chief

The national media barely gave any attention to the criminal bribery of the head of the Chicago Public Schools admitted to with a guilty plea last week.  (AT was on the case when she was indicted, though.) After all, public schools are supposed to be noble institutions starved of money, and it just looks bad to see an African-American woman admitting she pulled over two million bucks out of the schools’ budget and enjoyed lavish Vegas vacations for steering no-bid contracts to her former employer.

In case you missed it, The Chicago Tribune reported last Tuesday:

As she took over as chief of the Chicago Public Schools three years ago, Barbara Byrd-Bennett was touted as an experienced administrator who was going to help the Emanuel administration turn around a system beset by a recent teacher's strike, huge budget deficits and pending school closings.

On Tuesday, the mayor's handpicked choice to lead the nation's third-largest school system became instead the latest in a long line of Chicago public officials caught trying to line their own pockets.

The 66-year-old onetime New York City elementary school teacher faces up to about 7 1/2 years in prison after pleading guilty to a single felony count of wire fraud for steering multimillion-dollar no-bid contracts to a former employer in exchange for the promise of up to $2.3 million in kickbacks.

But there is another remarkable story here. It was a blogger, a mom of a student in the Chicago Public Schools, who brought down the high and mighty chief of the nation’s third largest public school system. The Illinois Review offers well-deserved credit where it is due:

When blogger Sarah Karp started digging through a pile of Chicago Public School papers in 2013, neither she nor anyone else could have imagined that her curiosity and sense of public service would lead to the downfall of the nation’s third largest school district’s top official.

Sarah Karp, whose son attends sixth grade at a Chicago public school, said while reviewing CPS paperwork, she found that the CPS Board had quietly approved a $20-million contract with SUPES Academy, a non-profit educational group where Byrd-Bennett had worked before taking charge of Chicago Public Schools.

That scenario didn’t set right with Karp. She wrote in July 2013 about her findings onCatalyst Chicago, a blog that covers urban school issues.

“After covering CPS for almost a decade, I knew it was unheard of for the district to award a no-bid contract of that magnitude, especially for something that other organizations are able to handle. It was suspicious for SUPES, a small company not well known to education experts in the city, to be awarded such a large contract,” she explained.

Not only did the information concern Ms. Karp, her story on Catalyst Chicago caught the eye of Chicago Public Schools’ Inspector General Jim Sullivan. Before long, the Chicago area FBI was looking into the deal.

“Graft and corruption in our city’s public school system tears at the fabric of a vital resource for the children of Chicago,” said Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.  “School officials and city vendors who abuse the public trust will be held accountable.”

It would be appropriate for Ms. Karp to receive a Pulitzer Prize for her work. Somehow I suspect that because she is a mere blogger, feared and loathed by the traditional media, she will not receive that honor.

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