- Associated Press - Sunday, April 19, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) - Federal investigators looking into Chicago Public Schools’ dealings with a leadership training academy are also examining records involving an elite nonprofit group led by a powerful board comprised of movers and shakers.

Authorities have sought documents related to the Chicago Public Education Fund, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune (https://trib.in/1D2nxl0 ). The report is the first indication of how far the inquiry could extend beyond Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office.

The nonprofit fund gave seed money for the SUPES Academy, which later obtained a $20.5 million no-bid contract from the Chicago school district. On Friday, Chicago Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who once worked as a consultant at SUPES, took a leave of absence from the district, saying she didn’t want to become a distraction.

There have been no formal allegations or charges against Byrd-Bennett or anyone else. Federal authorities have been quiet about the nature of the investigation.

The Chicago Public Education Fund’s former chairs include Gov. Bruce Rauner and U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

Citadel CEO Ken Griffin is currently on the Chicago Public Education Fund board. So is Beth Swanson, who formerly was Emanuel’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Education. Board members also include Mellody Hobson of Ariel Investments; Helen Zell, wife of real estate magnate Sam Zell; and Susan Crown, of the Chicago private investment group Henry Crown & Co.

Emanuel, a Democrat, and Rauner, a Republican, have led efforts to bring private-sector expertise to the overhaul of public education, drawing opposition from teachers unions.

Lance Trover, a spokesman for Rauner, told the Tribune the governor has not been contacted by federal investigators.

SUPES Academy officials in suburban Chicago have said they turned over records and files to federal investigators.

The nation’s third-largest school district, Chicago Public Schools faces a roughly $1 billion budget shortfall and a severely underfunded pension system. Contract negotiations with the powerful Chicago Teachers Union are coming up this year. During the last round in 2012, Chicago teachers went on strike for the first time in 25 years.

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