Indie Outlet Broke Chicago SUPES Scandal — Two Years Ago!

By all accounts, it was Catalyst Chicago and one of its star reporters Sarah Karp that first discovered and wrote about the now-infamous no-bid SUPES contract that the Chicago Board of Education gave to an organization with ties to Barbara Byrd-Bennett (quoted above).

The Catalyst expose started with a simple Google search, according to Carol Marin’s retelling of the tale in the Sun-Times. Here is what might be the first article about SUPES, from way back in 2013 ($20 million no-bid contract raises questions about Supes Academy).

 The story didn’t get picked up very well by other outlets, and it wasn’t until after the mayoral elections that its full awfulness came to light. But since then, the news has continued to unfold and Byrd-Bennett has resigned and been indicted, and just today pled guilty.

“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,” wrote Karp in a recent blog post (Reporter recalls suspicions of Barbara Byrd-Bennett). “It was suspicious for SUPES, a small company not well known to education experts in the city to be awarded such a large contract.”

Since the news has broken, interviews, roundtables, and accolades have flowed.

Alas, not all is clearly well with the longstanding nonprofit news outlet. Now in its 25th year, Catalyst has since lost Karp to another nonprofit in town, and its founder Linda Lenz is retiring.

And something’s wrong with Chicago news coverage of education, it might be argued, given the long lag time and weak followup that seemed to flow from Catalyst’s original 2013 story. How did this take two years to break big? I just don’t get it. 

For the full history of Catalyst stories about SUPES, go here.

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.