The Inspector General’s office for the Chicago Public Schools Board issued a report on Wednesday detailing widespread theft and abuse perpetrated by CPS employees. The report from Inspector General Nicholas Schuler claims that multiple employees in multiple locations were taking gift cards meant for students and using them for personal spending.

In one case, a principal of a school for vulnerable students stole presents of at least “$500 in gift cards that were donated to the students and were intended to help address their specialized needs,” Inspector General Nicholas Schuler’s office found. The same principal gave to an acquaintance 30 new backpacks filled with school supplies that had been donated, according to Schuler.

The IG’s report does not name specific schools or employees, but outlines a shocking number of offenses besides the gift card scams.

• An elementary school principal spent at least $22,000 in school funds for personal purchases at Costco and Apple stores.

• A district agricultural program employee used his meat processing company to sell eggs produced at the school for a profit.

• A principal used school funds to fund a “teachers’ lunch club” featuring lobster, shrimp and steaks.

• Families continued to use false addresses to get their children into highly competitive selective-enrollment programs.

Lunch club???

Actress Jenna Fischer recently complained about teacher’s being forced to purchase their own classroom supplies. Perhaps she and others like her would be interested to know where some of these funds are going. As I explained in an earlier op-ed addressed to the concerned artist, there is more to the story than just “Teachers aren’t getting enough money”.  How much classroom technology and art supplies could have been purchased with the “teacher’s lunch club” budget?

The IG’s report also details other enraging abuses of student-earmarked gift cards such as:

  • $3,000 in items that “at best, were only somewhat related to educational purposes or, at worst, were clearly for personal reasons.”…including purchases at an Iowa casino
  • telephone bills
  • having a car detailed at a BMW dealership

The Chicago Tribune details get even more disturbing:

Serious theft cases Schuler summarized included a one in which an elementary school principal allegedly stole at least $22,461 of school funds over a four-year period to purchase large amounts of alcohol, food and high-end electronics for his and his family’s personal use.

That principal left the district before any discipline could be carried out, though Schuler said the matter was referred to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.

It might be easy to dismiss this as just a few bad apples, but CPS is the 3rd largest public school district in the nation and it only takes a mere internet search to discover similar abuses in school districts in nearly every state.

Perhaps before we automatically take sides in the next teacher’s strike, more of us should take just a moment to dig in to how other funds in their own schools and districts are managed…or mismanaged, as it were.