CHICAGO — An hour after pleading guilty to her role in a scheme to steer $23 million in no-bid contracts to education firms for $2.3 million in bribes and kickbacks, the former head of Chicago Public Schools apologized Tuesday to students, parents and employees, saying they deserved "much more than I gave to them."
As part of a plea deal, prosecutors recommended that Barbara Byrd-Bennett serve 7½ years behind bars for one count of fraud. In exchange for pleading guilty to that one count, prosecutors said they will drop the 19 other fraud counts, each of which carried a maximum 20-year term.
Addressing reporters after the arraignment, the 66-year-old's voice quivered as she gave her brief message for the city's 400,000 schoolchildren, their parents and her former co-workers.
"I am terribly sorry and I apologize to them," Byrd said solemnly. "They deserved much more — much more than I gave to them."
Neither she nor her attorney took any questions Tuesday. Byrd-Bennett stepped down from the third-largest school district in the United States in June after word spread about a federal investigation into a contract between the district and SUPES Academy, a training academy where she once worked.
Prosecutors allege the scheme started in 2012. The indictment alleged that the owners of the two education service and training firms offered her a job and a hefty one-time payment — disguised as a lucrative signing bonus — once she left CPS.