CHICAGO (CBS) — Concerned members of the community at Tilden Career Community Academy on the South Side have asked federal investigators to look into payroll irregularities that they claim have been going on for years.
As CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov reports, the question is whether those irregularities are the result of ghost payrolling or improper record keeping.
Some of the abnormalities in Tilden payroll records include children classified as security guards and employees with no photos in their file.
Concerned members of Tilden’s community told CBS 2 that they want to know if money is going where it’s supposed to go, a question they claim they’ve been asking school officials for years.
They’ve taken their concerns to CBS 2 and federal investigators.One Tilden Career Academy staff sheet from 2007 that a former employee shared with CBS 2 News clearly shows the picture of a little girl, but the name listed under her photo is “Julio Matias” and the listed job title is “Security.”
“You have people that exist on the payroll, that exist on the staff sheets, that has never, ever worked at Tilden Career Community Academy,” said the former employee, who asked to remain anonymous.
The CBS 2 source worked at Tilden for two decades until she was laid off after voicing her concerns. She denied that she came forward only to get back at Tilden officials for firing her.
The source claimed payroll irregularities have been going on for years.
Simply looking at past staff sheets raised red flags.
In addition to the little girl listed as a security worker, a staff sheet lists another employee, Bertha Figueroa, as an English teacher. But a time sheet with Figueroa’s name on it lists her as a cleaning lady for an independent company, We Clean Services, Inc.
There’s also Hilda Peña Cruz, whose listing on a 2007 staff sheet has no photo. Cruz is listed on current CPS records as a $54,000-a-year community relations representative.
“Hilda Peña Cruz has never worked for Tilden,” the source said.And there’s a woman named Christine Porter on the same Tilden staff sheet, listed three times with three different position numbers.
“There was never a Christine Porter working at Tilden Career Community Academy in any capacity,” the source said.
Asked why Porter’s name and photo would be listed three times for three different positions, the source said, “I think that’s a question central office should be answering.”
Tilden Local School Council member Ronald Jackson said he is equally concerned.
“If you look at it and you see the staff sheets with kids on there, then you know there’s a problem,” he said.
He said he doesn’t think it was a simple joke to have children’s photos placed on the staff sheets instead of photos for legitimate workers.
“No one else has access to that but staff at the school,” Jackson said.
Both said they’ve taken their concerns to the Chicago Public Schools’ inspector general and in a letter to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.
The government wrote back to them, confirming they got the letter
Longtime Tilden principal Phyllis Hammond left the school last summer. She said an internal audit showed she left “squeaky clean.”
Current principal Marcey Sorensen said she’s checked her records and “everything appears to be in order here.”
That still doesn’t explain all of the irregularities the anonymous source showed CBS 2.
CPS spokeswoman Monique Bond said, “I don’t have any information. I think it’s something the inspector general’s office would be involved in.”
It’s still unknown who is responsible for the irregularities on those staff sheets. There are various people who might be able to alter the payroll and benefit from it.
The CPS inspector general’s office said that investigators received those pictures in 2008 and exhaustingly reviewed them. They found no payroll irregularities at all connected with the photos.
Still, not all of them could be explained.
Federal investigators declined to comment.