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Apology not accepted, Barbara Byrd-Bennett


Heidi Stevens writes the Balancing Act column for the Chicago Tribune, where she has worked since 1998.

Ohanian Comment: I recommend this column to CTU president Karen Lewis, who has expressed sympathy and friendship for Barbara Byrd Bennett.

Reader Comment: A fish rots from the head down. Byrd-Bennett is the tail...

Reader Comment: Great stuff by a Mom who has skin in the arena. This should have been on the front page.

by Heidi Stevens

Barbara Byrd Bennett's apology too little, too late; it lets too many people off the hook.

Dear Barbara Byrd-Bennett,

On behalf of my Chicago public school-attending kids: Apology not accepted.

"I am terribly sorry, and I apologize to them," you said on your way out of Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on Tuesday. "They deserve much more, much more than I gave to them."

Not only is that (under)statement too little, too late, it lets too many people off the hook.

"There is nobody to blame but me," you said Tuesday, "and my failings could not have come at a time of greater challenges for CPS."

What about Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who acknowledges his office knew about the no-bid contract before the school board approved it? What about the SUPES co-owners, your former employers who allegedly schemed to give you hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks once you left CPS?

I don't accept your apology, because it implies you're a bad apple, rather than a symptom of widespread corruption, and it papers over enormous problems with useless sentiment.

Most important, it does nothing to give the almost 400,000 CPS students that "much more" they deserve.

My kids are lucky to attend one of the city's public schools that make it onto best schools lists, and I am grateful for the stellar education they receive. They and their classmates routinely test among the top students in the state, and they come home most days bursting with knowledge and enthusiasm.

All thanks go to their teachers, who are, to my mind, miracle workers. They're the same teachers who are being told the district is too broke to keep funding their pensions, too broke to give them decent raises, too broke to avoid laying a bunch of them off.

And their work environment supports that narrative.

We have no school nurse.

Three years ago, our tiny, windowless music room was turned into a classroom because of overcrowding.

The following year, the library was turned into a classroom. The school librarian, an absolute gem, created a makeshift library-on-a-cart, which she pushed from classroom to classroom.

My son's kindergarten class had 40 students. (He's down to 31 students in first grade.)

His preschool teacher, another absolute gem, coaches high school basketball on the side. In his free time, he's launching a fundraising campaign, so his team can purchase uniforms and equipment.

Dozens upon dozens of Chicago public schools -- and thousands of children who attend them -- have it far worse.

So when I learned you wrote an email saying you had "casinos to visit," it became obvious you were gambling with our children's futures. When you threw in a smiley-face emoji, I stopped trusting your sentiments -- tearful or otherwise.

And when you apologize for trying to line your own pockets while kids go without, it rings as hollow as a drum. Especially because your failings, as you call them, are undoubtedly part of a larger web of deceit.

And that's a drumbeat we've heard far too many times.

hstevens@tribpub.com

— Heidi Stevens
Chicago Tribune

2015-10-14

http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/ct-barbara-byrd-bennett-apology-cps-balancing-20151014-column.html

IL


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