Our children pay the price.
Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the former head of the Chicago Public Schools who ripped the city off, cried as she stood before a judge on Friday and tried to explain why she did what she did.
There was pressure on the job, she said, and she leaned on the wrong people, and…
She could not really say.
“I still struggle with that question,” she said, head down.
She added, “I ought to be punished.”
The judge gave her 54 months. That’s four and a half years. And every day she serves of that sentence will be a human tragedy, given her intelligence, skills, accomplishments and — so we once believed — commitment to children and public education.
Byrd-Bennett was the real deal, until she was not.
But 54 months is not too long or too harsh. It is not unreasonable in any way, not even by a day.
Because our children pay the price.
All last week, some 380,000 children went to school in Chicago not knowing if there were about five weeks of school left or eight.
And you could draw a line between that pathetic uncertainty — a form of institutional chaos that made teaching a mess and put graduation ceremonies up for grabs and left working parents wondering who would watch the kids — and Byrd-Bennett’s greed.
If Chicago’s schools closed early, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel finally promised late Friday will not happen, it would have been because the Illinois Legislature and Gov. Bruce Rauner let our city and children down. As it is, they continue to fail in one of the most basic tasks of state government as laid out in the Illinois Constitution, which is to provide at least minimally sane funding to the public schools.
But the minute Byrd-Bennett stooped to her greedy scheme, fixing school district contracts for friends in return for a generous kickback, she made it so much easier for Springfield to turn its back on Chicago and its schools. Every Downstate and suburban legislator who built a political career by beating up on the big bad city could point to Byrd-Bennett and say, “See, there you go — the Chicago way.”
And only a fool, they could say, throws more money down a rat hole.
They are wrong about that. They are wrong to trade in one-dimensional stereotypes about one of America’s great cities, and they are wrong to forget that without a thriving Chicago, this state is nothing. Chicago is the economic engine. It is the transportation hub and the cultural capital. As Chicago goes, so goes Illinois.
They are wrong, as well, in their failure to put children first.
Poor children, quite often. And black and brown children. As precious as every other kid.
But the Chicago Public Schools were close to bankrupt when Byrd-Bennett was superintendent and they are closer to bankruptcy now. And for her small but ugly part in that decline, she deserves her 54 months.
As Byrd-Bennett stood before the judge Friday, she was dressed like a teacher, with the cardigan sweater and the long skirt. If only she had never forgotten she is a teacher. Or was.
Source: Chicago Sun Times Editorial