Chicago Corruption Education Reform Emanuel Rahm

Chicago: Board Member Picked by Rahm Invested in Companies Doing Business with Schools

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The Inspector-General of the Chicago Public Schools called out a former board member, Deborah Quazzo, for significant financial conflicts of interest.

Blogger Fred Klonsky invented a new verb for corruption: “We got Quazzoed.”

Disgraced former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, now in prison for a kickback scheme involving millions of dollars in school contracts, accepted lavish meals at some of the city’s priciest restaurants from a CPS vendor whose investors included Deborah Quazzo, who at the time was a Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointee to the Chicago Board of Education.

That’s according to a new report from CPS Inspector General Nicholas Schuler, whose investigation led the FBI to Byrd-Bennett.

Among the findings Schuler has reported confidentially to the school board:

• Byrd-Bennett steered a $6 million contract to Think Through Math, a company in which Quazzo was invested.

• Byrd-Bennett and the coterie of top aides she brought with her to CPS had a series of expensive meals on that company’s dime during the bidding process for that deal.

• Quazzo violated the school system’s ethics code by talking up her companies’ products to CPS principals and introducing them to company representatives — which she at first denied to Schuler she’d done but acknowledged after being shown emails proving that.

“While Quazzo’s ethical violations were arguably less egregious than Byrd-Bennett’s violations involving her dealings with TTM,” Schuler wrote in the 26-page memo, obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, “Quazzo’s violations were significant, nonetheless.”

According to the inspector general’s memo, CPS’s ethics policy violates state law and needs to be changed. Schuler wrote that it’s not enough for board members to decline to vote on matters in which they have a significant financial interest. He says CPS can’t do business at all with those companies — unless the board member with an ownership stake either divests or resigns.

In 2015, Quazzo said she saw no conflict of interest but asked Emanuel not to reappoint her after a Sun-Times investigation revealed that companies in which she had a stake had seen their business from CPS triple in the year since her appointment, taking in more than $3.8 million from deals with the city’s schools. Also, the Quazzo companies had gotten $1.3 million from CPS-funded charter schools.

It just goes to show that the person who gives the graft gets off easier than the one who took it.R

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