Principle-Free Principal Training

Chicago taxpayers undoubtedly slept better this week after being reassured by former Board of Education President David Vitale that they got their money's worth from the now-infamous $20.5 million, no-bid contract between CPS and SUPES Academy.

But what else was Vitale supposed to say about the contract that his board unanimously approved back in June 2013 -- the same contract that will soon earn his former CPS colleague Barbara Byrd-Bennett "safe passage" to a federal prison?

Vitale has been defending the SUPES deal since July 2013, when veteran education reporter Sarah Karp (then with Catalyst Chicago) began investigating a financial arrangement that struck her as unusual. Don't expect him to stop now.

Vitale has zealously defended the no-bid nature of the contract, insisting SUPES offered CPS a principal training program with a unique "mentor-coach" component. He also acknowledged knowing back in June 2013 that Byrd-Bennett had worked for SUPES before joining CPS.

This week, however, in an interview with Crain's Greg Hinz, Vitale went beyond defending the decision to enter into the deal and defended (if only in general terms) the quality of the training that SUPES, in fact, provided to CPS principals under the contract, insisting that "it actually was a service promised and a service delivered."

Vitale would obviously like this whole matter to go away. And by telling Crain's, in essence, that SUPES gave the district what it promised to give the district, he's effectively saying that there's no reason CPS should sue SUPES to get some or all of its money back. Sure, Byrd-Bennett had a piece of the deal, but Chicago taxpayers, according to Vitale, got the benefit of the district's bargain with SUPES.

Consider for a moment, though, the political mess Vitale would have created had he said otherwise.

Were CPS to sue SUPES in an effort to recover taxpayer money spent on the "unique" training the cash-strapped district saw fit to purchase outside of the competitive bidding process -- training many principals found to be a complete waste of time -- well-connected folks like Vitale, Democratic Senate hopeful Andrea Zopp, and others might have to explain under oath just what they knew and when they knew it.

Such a lawsuit would also shine light on a long list of questions the June 2013 members of the mayor's rubber-stamp board (including Zopp, a former prosecutor) failed to ask about the SUPES deal -- the same questions that were second nature to Catalyst's Karp.

Expect Vitale and his successors on the board to continue their "nothing to see here, please move on" approach to the SUPES scandal simply because they can. The appointed board answers only to Mayor Emanuel, and no one in this city thinks for a minute that he wants the court system to get to the bottom of this unholy mess.

Hinz described his October 12 interview with Vitale (which took place just one day before Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty to wire fraud) as "eyebrow-raising." It was.

So, too, was the statement last year by CPS spokesman Joel Hood explaining that Byrd-Bennett "sometimes informally stops by SUPES Academy trainings for aspiring superintendents around the country and will talk to participants."

Hood then added, "She is not paid for these visits."

Whatever you say, Mr. Hood.