Friday, May 01, 2015

What about Gary Solomon?

Proact Search Firm CEO Gary Solomon also heads a Chicago SUPES Academy which got a $20 million No-bid contract in 2013

 Accusations of unprofessional relations with students

On Sunday morning, at 8AM, the FCPS Board of Education will gather to consider whether Proact search firm CEO Gary Solomon reflects the core values of the Fayette County schools. 

If those values include hitting on students, racial slurs, and shady dealings in no-bid contracts, there shouldn't be a problem.


This from the Chicago Sun-Times:

Murky past of company boss in Chicago probe

It was “Ditch Day” at Niles West High School, and a group of seniors played hooky in classic Chicago style — skipping classes to catch a Cubs game at Wrigley Field.

One of the companies — a principal-training firm called SUPES Academy — was given a $20.5 million, no-bid contract from CPS in 2013. 
You might have expected the school’s dean, Gary R. Solomon, to be angry. But Solomon, then 29, wasn’t at all upset, according to school officials and students who remember that day in May 1997. That’s because he was in the Wrigley stands with the teenagers, according to court records.

Later, in 2001, Solomon was forced out of Niles Township School District 219 under a cloud after he was accused by his bosses of “immoral and unprofessional” conduct, including allegations he kissed a female student, covered up students’ drug and alcohol use and sent “sexually suggestive, predatory” emails to students, court records show.

For many teachers, it would have been a career-ending scandal.
But Solomon, who has denied any wrongdoing, rebounded to build a highly profitable career in education. He went into business with a former Niles West student and started a trio of education firms that have gotten government contracts worth tens of millions of dollars.

Now, Solomon, who wasn’t charged with any crime, again finds himself under a harsh spotlight, his business empire at the center of a federal probe that prompted one of his former employees — Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett — to take a paid leave of absence on Friday.

Subpoenas show federal authorities are seeking records from CPS pertaining to three north suburban companies owned by Solomon and Niles West graduate Thomas Vranas. They also seized records from them, according to a spokesman for their companies, who wouldn’t comment on the investigation.

Byrd-Bennett once worked for SUPES. She also has been called a “senior associate” of PROACT Search, another Solomon-Vranas venture.

The Chicago school system has paid a total of more than $15.2 million to the two men’s three companies.

Thomas Vranas
Thomas Vranas
In addition to their visit to the Chicago Board of Education, federal investigators took records from SUPES’ offices and Byrd-Bennett’s homes in Chicago and in Ohio, putting Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration into crisis mode just days after his re-election.

It’s an unwelcome return to the public eye for Solomon, who attended the University of Illinois at Chicago, was certified as a teacher in 1990 and taught social studies at Niles West and later was also made a dean.

In 1999, the Niles Township school board moved to dismiss Solomon. Beside improperly attending the Cubs game with students, the board said in court documents, Solomon had exchanged suggestive emails with current and former students on “numerous occasions.”

Records confiscated from Solomon’s computer indicated that, “on at least one occasion, you kissed a female student and/or had unprofessional relationships with students,” the board told him.

And photos seized from Solomon showed students drinking alcohol and using illegal drugs, the board said. It said Solomon knew a parent had supplied the booze and drugs but that he failed to alert the state Department of Children and Family Services, despite being a so-called mandated reporter.

Solomon also was accused of putting “obscene, profane, sexually oriented and/or racially offensive” material on district computers and allowing students to use his email account. He refused to answer questions or undergo a psychiatric evaluation, his employers said.

He fought the allegations aggressively. A two-year court battle ended with his resignation, but only after the district agreed not to seek to strip him of his teaching license and paid him $50,000 to settle the case.

For his next act, Solomon joined Princeton Review, the test-prep and college-admissions giant. One of his colleagues at Princeton Review was Vranas. Now 34, Vranas graduated from Niles West the same year the Niles Township board moved to force out Solomon.

Former classmates and teachers at Niles West don’t remember Thomas Vranas and Solomon being close there. Vranas was known as an outgoing and gifted student, headed for Northwestern University, where he majored in economics.

Niles West yearbooks show he was active in school activities — the Symphonic Orchestra, the Tutors club, the “West Helps Others” charity group and the Model UN club, as well as being a member of the National Honor Society.

Today, according to his online LinkedIn profile, he volunteers with Open Heart Magic as a bedside magician for children at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.

In 2008, Vranas and Solomon left Princeton Review within a month of each other, according to their LinkedIn profiles, and they went into business together. Their PROACT firm, which conducts executive searches for school districts, had clients in 45 cities in 24 states, according to a proposal it filed in August 2012 with officials in Norwalk, Conn.

In that application, the company listed Byrd-Bennett — who became Chicago schools chief three months later — as a “senior associate” with a PROACT e-mail address.

Listed as a reference in the proposal was Sherry Ulery, who worked under Byrd-Bennett at school districts in Detroit and Cleveland.

Ulery later reunited with Byrd-Bennett at CPS as her $175,000-a-year chief of staff. She was one of three of the CEO’s underlings whose employment records federal authorities demanded. She also is due to testify Tuesday before a federal grand jury in the case, according to the subpoenas delivered to CPS.

Another Solomon-Vranas venture, Synesi Associates, worked for the Detroit schools when Byrd-Bennett was a top official there, records show.

Synesi got a contract from CPS in 2013 to perform professional development services in a part of the district overseen by Byrd-Bennett aide Tracy Martin. Like Ulery, Martin had worked for Byrd-Bennett in Cleveland and Detroit. The subpoenas asked for records pertaining to both of them.
CPS records show the district has paid Synesi and PROACT a total of about $300,000.

By far the most lucrative Chicago schools deal for Solomon and Vranas, though, was the SUPES contract. CPS has paid the company nearly $15 million.

Vranas signed the no-bid contract with CPS as president of SUPES in June 2013.

Some former classmates from Niles West who remember Vranas and Solomon were surprised to hear they are business partners.

“We still talk about what happened with Mr. Solomon when we get together,” said a 1999 graduate of the Skokie school who asked not to be named. “I just can’t believe that he’s still in education.”
This from the Chicago Sun-Times:
Chicago Schools CEO steps Down amid FBI Investigation involving Proact CEO Solomon

Among other questionable dealings,
Investigators have demanded to see records regarding “financial benefits, gifts, honoraria, meals and reimbursements” from Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas, the owners of the SUPES Academy, which scored the $20.5 million no-bid contract in June 2013.  Documents from Solomon and Vranas’ other north suburban companies Synesi Associates and PROACT Search are also sought.
Byrd-Bennett is Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's second appointment as schools chief
Solomon and Vranas declined to comment through their spokesman, Dennis Culloton, who said both men are fully cooperating and stand by their work, training CPS principals.
This from the Chicago Sun Times:

Man behind controversial CPS contract allegedly used racist language, sent predatory emails

In 2001, Solomon was forced out of Niles Township School District 219 under a cloud after he was accused by his bosses of "immoral and unprofessional" conduct, including allegations he kissed a female student, covered up students' drug and alcohol use and sent "sexually suggestive, predatory" emails to students, the Sun-Times has reported.

Now, records obtained Thursday shed additional light on the allegations against Solomon while he was a high school dean and teacher there.

In one email to a former female student who recently graduated, Solomon allegedly refers to African-American people as “Mooks, shines, burrheads, yard apes, porch monkeys,” and a host of other racially offensive terms and says that black people will never set foot in his house, according to a transcript of a state administrative hearing regarding Solomon’s initial dismissal from the school district. He also allegedly referred to a school administrator as an “uppity n——.”

In another email to a female student, he allegedly asked,”Do you think you are a good flirt,” according to the transcript.

In an email a day later, he allegedly asked her several questions, including “What position do you sleep in? What clothes do you sleep in? When are you most vulnerable? Completely describe your bedroom. What are you favorite turnons?”

The student hand wrote responses to those questions, according to the school district, and that document was allegedly found in Solomon’s school office along with photographs of the female student.

Solomon eventually had a two-year court battle with the school district which resulted in his resignation but with the school district paying him $50,000 and agreeing not to seek to strip him of his teaching license. Solomon has not been charged with any wrongdoing, and his spokesman had no immediate comment on Thursday.
From 2013, this from

Search firm that botched Texas schools chief hiring now looking for Tucson's next boss

District is using same firm faulted in the vetting of Superintendent in Texas
The search firm hired to find [Tucson's] next superintendent is the same one that recruited Sunnyside's Manuel Isquierdo to lead a San Antonio school district.

The San Antonio search ended with Isquierdo withdrawing his candidacy following a stream of damning media reports about his personal financial dealings, and the school board there questioning whether Isquierdo was properly vetted by the recruiters.

Now Tucson Unified School District leaders want assurance from PROACT Search that the same thing won't happen here as they seek a replacement for Superintendent John Pedicone, who announced his resignation last month.

The TUSD Governing Board awarded a contract to PROACT on Tuesday. Details have not been finalized, but the board agreed the cost is not to exceed $30,000. The San Antonio district paid PROACT $22,000, plus up to $9,000 in expenses, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

Pedicone said the TUSD board knew about the San Antonio connection when it picked PROACT, but the onslaught of media coverage had not quite begun.

This from the Dunwoody Crier (via Newsbank):

DeKalb school search firm under FBI probe

As the DeKalb County board of education narrows its search for a new superintendent, now comes word that the search firm it chose is under federal investigation for its dealings with Chicago Public Schools.

The DeKalb board was notified April 17 by the head of PROACT Search that one of its subsidiaries, SUPES Academy, is handing over files and records to the FBI. School officials formerly with SUPES are being subpoenaed before the grand jury.

SUPES obtained a no-bid contract worth $20.5 million to train principals after Barbara Byrd-Bennett became chief executive of the Chicago schools, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. She has stepped down after questions were raised about her past employment and continuing engagement with companies related to PROACT.

A grand jury is hearing the case.

The Chicago school system faces a $1.1 billion budget shortfall and a $9.5 billion pension crisis. The teachers’ union contract expires this summer.

As the story unfolded, The Sun-Times explored the background of Gary Solomon, one of the company’s co-owners.

In 2001, the paper said Solomon was forced out of Niles Township School District 219 after he was accused by his bosses of “immoral and unprofessional” conduct, including allegations he kissed a female student, covered up students’ drug and alcohol use and sent “sexually suggestive, predatory” emails to students, court records show.

Solomon rebounded to form PROACT with a former student of his and has spun off two other companies to amount to what the newspaper calls tens of millions in business.

New CPS boss Jesse Ruiz takes step toward dumping firm in federal probe
As her inner circle draws federal heat, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett steps down
Union says SUPES deal just part of ‘cloud of unethical behavior’ at CPS
Analysis: Fate of Barbara Byrd-Bennett could sting Rahm Emanuel

Hat tip to Wendy and Sharon. 


lucaya said...

The NAACP warned the board about PROACT months ago during public comment at a board meeting. They didn't listen. John Price was immediately dismissive of our concerns. Watch broadcast archive from January 23 starting at 1:10 mark. The claim by the FCPS board that they parsed PROACT's record correctly is false.

M Winkler

Richard Day said...

Thanks for the comment Mike.

Quick correction: it was the February meeting.

Wendy Mullins said...

The process for dealing with educators who behave inappropriately, or those who are accused of unethical behavior has to be fixed. There seems to be full protection of the educator and no protections for students who may be at risk at the hands of educators who are accused of having done things wrong.