Education

Detroit Teacher: $1 Million In Bribes Is Only ‘A Little Bit Unethical’

A public school teacher in Detroit is upset the federal government is daring to prosecute public school principals who allegedly took close to a million dollars in bribes, arguing it was only a “little bit unethical” and was really no big deal.

Cathy Brackett is a teacher at Bennett Elementary School in Detroit, whose principal, Josette Buendia, is among 12 current and former Detroit Public Schools (DPS) principals accused of taking part in a $900,000 kickback scheme. Buendia herself is accused of taking $45,775 in kickbacks from businessman Norman Shy in return for ordering school supplies from his company, Allstate Sales.

According to Buendia’s indictment, these school supplies were often never delivered or only partly delivered in order to make the order appear legitimate. The indictment says Buendia’s conspiracy with Shy lasted for over three and a half years, with Buendia frequently meeting with Shy to discuss how much he owed her and to discuss how she could disguise the payments as gift cards intended for school purchases.

Despite the formidable allegations against Buendia, Brackett told The Detroit Free Press the government shouldn’t be prosecuting bribe-taking principals.

“It’s pitiful that they’re going after principals who are probably just doing what they need to do even if it might be a little bit unethical in order to provide the students in their schools with the supplies and materials that they need that district and the state should be providing us,” Brackett said. It’s not clear why Brackett believes Buendia’s scheme would have allowed the school to obtain more supplies and materials, since a major part of the indictment is that they took bribes to order school supplies that were never delivered in the first place.

Instead of corrupt principals, Brackett argued the federal government should be investigating the emergency managers who have been running DPS since a state takeover in 2009.

“They should be going after the big thieves who have come into the district under the guise of emergency managers and consultants who have skimmed not just thousands of dollars but millions of dollars away from our students and just move on to their next gig, seemingly without repercussions,” she said.

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DPS has been controlled by a state-appointed emergency manager since 2009 in an effort to fix up the district’s devastated finances. The emergency managers have generally been despised by Detroit’s unionized teachers, and not entirely without reason. Emergency manager Darnell Earley, who resigned in February, has been bashed for failing to rectify major infrastructure decay, for his role in the Flint, Mi., lead crisis, and for receiving over $80,000 in consulting fees immediately after stepping down.

But despite Brackett’s claim, Earley actually didn’t skim any money from DPS because his salary and consulting fees have been paid by the state of Michigan instead.

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