A Chicago school operations employee collaborated with at least five co-workers and multiple outside businesses to fabricate expenses and bilk the city’s public schools of almost a million dollars.
That account is merely the most spectacular tale in a lengthy annual report released Monday by the inspector general of Chicago Public Schools, which found dozens of instances of corruption and suspicious dealings by the school district’s employees.
Chicago Public Schools employs over 41,000 people, so perhaps some wrongdoing by employees is simply inevitable. In the year from 2013 to 2014, those employees spurred over 1,300 complaints of wrongdoing which resulted in 280 investigations by Inspector General Nicholas Schuler.
In the most spectacular case of wrongdoing from 2014, a school operations employee was found to have masterminded a conspiracy involving at least five other employees and four business owners to defraud the district of close to a million dollars. In one case, the unnamed employee, helped to channel over $500,000 in phony reimbursements to two supply vendors for goods and services they never actually provided. In return, that employee took a six-figure cut of the proceeds.
In another scheme, the employee took over $100,000 in kickbacks in return for helping an outside business land over $200,000 in contracts. All told, $876,000 was stolen. Despite the significant sum involved, the scheme was able to persist for years.
While five employees involved in the scam have lost their jobs and some could face criminal charges, the principal at the school involved, Beulah McLoyd, was allowed to keep her post with a warning despite the inspector finding that she “facilitated” the fraud.
The case could end in criminal charges, but there are many other cases of reported wrongdoing that end only in employees being fired or even no permanent punishment whatsoever. For example, at least seven CPS employees were found to have fabricated their addresses to claim they lived in poorer neighborhoods than they actually did. By doing so, they were able to get their children preferential treatment in the fierce competition for spots at the city’s selective high schools.
“The teacher’s fraudulent act denied a legitimate [low-income] student of an extremely competitive and valuable seat in one of Illinois’ top-rated public schools,” the report said of one such fabrication.
In some other cases, deception reached systemic levels. One high school attempted to bolster a weak graduation rate by claiming that 296 dropouts had actually just transferred schools. Despite the scale and duration of the deception (which had been in place since at least 2009), so far nobody has been disciplined in the matter. At another school, a principal would briefly enroll family members who never attended in an apparent effort to increase attendance and receive more funding from the city.
Another unusual circumstance that drew the inspector’s eye was the case of two teachers who simultaneously had full-time jobs as Chicago police officers. While suspicious, the inspector’s report notes that the practice is not currently banned and, without direct evidence of wrongdoing by the teachers involved (despite the presumed difficulty of working two separate full-time public service jobs), there is no grounds to fire them.
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