Company with Baltimore County school contract under federal investigation in Chicago

Liz Bowie
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
Illinois company with contracts in Maryland under scrutiny

Federal authorities are investigating SUPES Academy — an Illinois-based company that has trained school officials in Baltimore County and across the country — for a $20 million contract it has with Chicago Public Schools.

The company's separate $875,000, three-year contract in Baltimore County will expire July 1. County Superintendent Dallas Dance came under scrutiny for taking a part-time job with SUPES after that contract was approved.

Though Dance was a consultant under the $20 million contract being probed in Chicago, Baltimore County officials say they are not aware of any federal investigation into the county's contract with SUPES or into his work for the company.

"No, there is no investigation into our contract with SUPES, which expires this school year," Dance said in an email.

The Chicago Tribune reported recently that the U.S. attorney there has spent the past year investigating SUPES and its connection to Chicago schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who worked for the company. The Chicago school system issued a statement, meanwhile, saying federal authorities had subpoenaed employees and taken documents.

Byrd-Bennett worked as a coach for SUPES before taking the job as the school system's CEO, according to Catalyst Chicago, an education news organization in Chicago, which first reported the connection two years ago. After becoming schools CEO, she got the school board to approve the $20 million SUPES contract.

On Friday, the school system said Byrd-Bennett is taking a leave of absence pending the completion of the investigation.

Catalyst Chicago also found through public information requests that Dance was one of more than two dozen school officials nationwide who began coaching principals under the $20 million contract.

In December 2012, six months after Dance was hired by the Baltimore County school board, it approved a no-bid contract with SUPES to train principals over three years. In August 2013, Dance took the $15,000 part-time job with SUPES but failed to inform the school board, despite a requirement in his contract that he do so.

Dance said in December 2013 that he was donating the money to a nonprofit foundation that would use it to benefit schoolchildren in the county.

But shortly after a Baltimore Sun report, he gave up the job in Chicago. Last June, the school board's ethics panel found he had broken the rules. The school board has declined to release the ethics board report, saying it is a personnel matter.

School board President David Uhlfelder said, "I can't see any reason why the board should take a second look into the issue, as it appears that the situation in Chicago is vastly different."

School board member Lawrence Schmidt, who was president when Dance's consulting job came to light, said he has not been contacted by federal authorities.

The FBI did not respond to a request for comment, and the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore would not comment on the matter.

When SUPES Academy was asked whether it was being investigated for its work in Baltimore County, the company released the same statement it has issued previously, saying it will cooperate with the federal investigation.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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