The great Sarah Karp, who now does education reporting at Chicago’s public radio station, WBEZ, describes how the spirit of the felonious CPS CEO Barbara Byrd Bennet and SUPES consultant Gary Solomon still walk the halls of CPS’s Clark Street headquarters.
This is a story about how a savvy company came to Chicago and raked in more than $50 million in contracts from the school system in just four years, becoming one of the district’s biggest vendors.
Camelot Education runs six small schools that re-enroll high school dropouts or students who have been expelled. It’s a service the city needs, the school district insists, and by most accounts Camelot runs solid programs that are making a difference for some troubled teens.
But Camelot is also a for-profit company willing to play ball to get contracts, school buildings and students. The Austin, Texas-based company’s growth in Chicago is a textbook example of how private companies are working the system in Chicago — using and being used by city and community leaders for political and financial gain. Call it the new Chicago Way.
Chicago Public Schools is increasingly privatizing services, hiring companies and organizations who often promise cheaper and better services. But it can have troubling consequences. Private companies like Camelot are not subject to stringent reporting requirements, and most of the work is done outside public view. This makes it harder for the public to see how its schools are run and to ferret out conflicts of interest and shady deals.
A WBEZ investigation into Camelot’s rise in Chicago reveals the depths of those potential conflicts.
Meanwhile today’s Sun-Times explains how things have never been worse for CPS teachers paying for their own supplies.
Catherine Chacon — a computer teacher at James Ward Elementary School, where eight out of 10 students live in low-income households — has received money through DonorsChoose for technology like headphones and cameras.
Now Chacon has moved to more basic supplies. One of her most recent fundraising project — “Traveling Books” — is requesting $1,183 for school bags.
Chacon, who teaches pre-K through eight grade and has collected about $2,000 in donations, said the backpacks would help some of her students who can’t afford them or are homeless.
She, too, has invested her own money in her classroom, spending about $1,200 on school supplies last year.
But she and Foust both say they have no choice.
“Every day [my students] do something that makes me think it’s worth it,” Foust said. “When they come back on Monday they write me letters saying, ‘Thank you. This weekend I used the crayons you let me borrow,’ [or] ‘I read a new book you gave me.’”
Foust knows in other school districts, teachers don’t have to resort to buying their own supplies or asking strangers for donations.
“It’s awful,” Foust said. “They [CPS] are giving us no choice but to dig into our own pockets [or] to beg others. The state should be able to fund all these schools equally and fairly, so that we have what we need.”
Hear and download the podcast: Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers. Episode #4