Chicago Public Schools employees engaged in improper political activity, stole kids’ museum passes to sell online, smoked marijuana with students, and stole money meant for cheerleader uniforms, according to a year-long review.
The school system’s inspector general released its annual report on Monday. The report offers a summary of investigations conducted by the inspector general in fiscal year 2015, which included the uncovering of a multi-million-dollar fraudulent kickback scheme by Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the school system’s CEO
The inspector general also found that teachers abused their access to make tax-exempt purchases for big-screen televisions, iPads, and DVD boxed sets of The Three Stooges.
Twelve teachers and a school nurse made $101,500 worth of tax-free purchases at a big-box retailer using the school system’s tax-exempt status. Most of the purchases were for personal items, including home-theater systems, tablets, cell phones, and refrigerators.
One teacher spent $5,100, including $1,100 for a MacBook Air, $300 for an iPhone, $800 for a television, and seasons of Breaking Bad, which he justified as being able to show to his students in class.
"He admitted that he had bought these and other items for personal use," the inspector general said. "In other cases, he claimed that the purchased items might have had classroom uses as well. For example, he thought there might be beneficial parts of the Breaking Bad TV series that he could show to his class. He also said that he used other DVDs, like Star Wars, for ‘student self-improvement.’"
A school nurse bought a Playstation 4, an iMac computer, a DVD of The Hunger Games, and a TurboTax package tax-free.
Another teacher bought an $880 computer, a $750 laptop, a $432 notebook computer, a $130 Kindle Fire, an $80 satellite radio receiver, a $20 The Wizard of Oz DVD, and an $80 electric razor.
He defended the purchase of the razor because "shaving made him look presentable in class."
The inspector general exposed other acts of fraud and illegal activity by school employees, including a clerk at a charter school who stole nearly $3,000 worth of local museum passes meant to reward children for attending the first day of school and tried to sell them online.
A public school teacher also stole and attempted to sell the passes, which were given to the school by the museum and worth up to $54 apiece.
"The teacher claimed that she did not actually sell any passes, and had since misplaced them," the report said. "The [Office of Inspector General], however, could not eliminate the possibility that the teacher actually sold some of the numerous passes that she took."
A principal and a special-education case manager also schemed to keep 15 special needs kids from enrolling in a high school fine arts program.
A high school administrative assistant stole $740 in cash meant to purchase cheerleading and school spirit apparel, a custodian stole team uniforms to sell online, and a school security officer stole office furniture to sell it as scrap.
An executive assistant also "stole at least $33,948 from [Chicago Public Schools] through fraudulent overtime payments she made to herself."
A property coordinator was investigated for watching porn on a computer issued by the school system.
"The investigation determined that he had been seen watching television cartoons and game shows at work on his computer," the inspector general said. "One witness opined that the property coordinator was watching television to such an extent that he believed the coordinator was actually an unpaid intern."
The inspector general found that the employee was streaming heavily, but "was unable to determine the exact content he had accessed and did not specifically identify any pornography."
"The property coordinator, however, admitted that he had opened images containing some nudity, although he claimed that he did not know what the images were until he opened them on the [Chicago Public Schools] computer," the report said.
The inspector general found two cases of employees engaging in improper political activity, including an elementary school principal who appeared in advertisements for a mayoral campaign using his title.
A classroom assistant was charged with possession of 18 pounds of cannabis, and another teacher was arrested after being found smoking marijuana with a high school student in a parked car.
A school security officer offered a high school girl a gift in exchange for sex, and the inspector general "could not exclude the possibility that the security officer sexually assaulted the student." A bus driver for the school system pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a nine-year-old girl.
Another custodian, who students and teachers complained "had been looking at them in sexually inappropriate ways," was found guilty in 2015 for a murder committed two years earlier.