Report Details CPS Free Lunch Fraud, Improper Financial Benefits

CHICAGO (CBS)CHICAGO (CBS) — The inspector general of the Chicago Public Schools has issued a devastating report on financial and other abuses in the public school system.

Playing a major role in Wednesday’s report were findings that school employees falsified applications for free lunch programs to get their own children a benefit to which they were not entitled.

CBS 2 Investigator Pam Zekman and the Better Government Association first broke the school lunch fraud story.

The free and reduced lunch program costs CPS an estimated $100 million a year. On Wednesday, CPS Inspector General James Sullivan’s report confirmed findings of falsified applications, calling the violations a serious and possibly system-wide problem.

The report also found more than $1 million in improper benefits paid to retired teachers.

The full report is available on the inspector general’s website.

The federal lunch program was meant to provide nutritious meals to poor children to help them learn.

It requires that parents fill out applications certifying the gross income of their family, with an income cap that varies depending on the number of children in the family.

But as CBS 2 disclosed in 2010, school board employees – including teachers at North-Grand High School – were routinely misstating their income so their own children could qualify for free or reduced lunches.

Among them was math teacher Virgilio Santos, who earned more than $70,000-a-year at North-Grand.

“How can you qualify for the free lunch program with a salary like yours? More than $70,000?” Zekman asked Santos in 2010.

“Sorry, sorry,” was all he said as he drove off.

In the report released Wednesday, the inspector general found 11 North-Grand employees falsified those applications, as well as two parents in law enforcement, so that their children could get free or reduced lunch.

A school clerk also falsified applications for her children, who were attending other schools.

Disciplinary action was being sought for all of the employees involved.

As CBS 2 reported last year, Ascunsion Ayala was removed as principal at North-Grand for allowing falsified applications to be filed by her staff.

Better Government Association Executive Director Andy Shaw praised the move to fire Ayala last year.

“The buck stops at the principal’s desk. She allowed a ripoff of our tax dollars,” Shaw said.

There also was a humorous anecdote in the report. One teacher not only excluded her teacher’s salary from the free lunch application, but she also overstated the size of her household by including the name of her family dog as a child.

School officials declined to be interviewed on camera about the report, but said in a written statement that the findings are disappointing and the new leadership at CPS will not tolerate any activities of this nature.

The inspector general’s report also says the school district improperly paid retired teachers for holiday, vacation and sick time when they worked as substitute teachers. In all, the report says retired teachers working as substitutes collected $1.13 million in improper benefits from 2007 to 2011.

Under a deal with the Chicago Teachers Union in 2007, retired teachers are ineligible for benefit pay and are paid at a per diem rate for substitute teaching.

A system update to block such payments was arranged as a result of the investigation. Sullivan also recommended the district tighten its controls and try to recover money improperly paid.

More from Pam Zekman
  • Maxwell Smart

    The Old Double-Dipping Public Employee Trick!


      hah, that’s nothing,….them fat bubba prison guards every shift belly up to the all you can eat,gougre down like a pig….they get fried chicken, big beef bugres, and as much asthey can goble and sneak a doggie bag out!….Yes they should look at the Dept ofCorrections, if they eat free, why should we support them, bring your own lunch or eat same slop give inmates and pay half price, but pay,…the free maels have to stop.

      • Spel Chek is Fre

        What? Courpption, gougre,burges, goble, maels? Are you a shining example of a CPS educated scholar?

  • Dylan

    Typical public employee rip off artists.

  • Jim

    Wow, I’m shocked….no really I am….I’m serious….corruption in the public sector, I can’t believe it….

  • non

    Meanwhile, raise the user fees and taxes to throw at the failing school system

  • Erin

    Less than twenty people were busted for lunch fraud? Is this even a story?

  • Steve

    CBS’s Pam Zekman fails to mention the real news in the OIG report which details how CPS school officials spent gobs of money on Soldier Field skybox suites, lavish catered lunches for the board’s monthly meetings, and billed holiday parties at a board official’s homes on the CPS account. So while it’s convenient for Pam Zekman to be upset over the handful of lower ranking school employees accused of scamming the lunch program, the real fraud is happening up in the ivory tower.
    A more reliable news source says, “Inspector General Sullivan also examined the role clout played in admissions to the city’s top high schools during the last two school years. He found that a process meant to be fair and impartial had been “tainted by politics and favoritism.” His report implicates high-level employees in CPS and Chicago Mayor Ricahrd Daley’s office. Sullivan also recommends the district discipline some of the selective enrollment principals for giving preferential treatment to politicians, friends, and CPS staff.”

    Thanks anyway Pam.

  • » Report Details CPS Free Lunch Fraud, Improper Financial Benefits Nancy Ziering

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  • Starvo

    Shame on them for filling out the form, most teacher’s and staff are close to the lunchroom staff .
    There children and staff eat free everyday, who don’t know that.
    Hey Pam you seen the long line of needy family’s that go to Navy Pier every year for the free Xmas trees
    They are all whjte from down town Chicago and the suburb’s and they tie them atop there late modle to new vehicle’s
    no one in the poor ares know about the free trees..

  • retiredinAz1

    …And why is this a surprise?

  • joan john smith

    Who should be responsible for lack of oversight? Report targets much more.

  • cps

    Yes, the abuse of the lunch program is system wide. Yes, principals have allow their friends, church members, sorority sisters and family members to go to their school. (I forgot about their neighbors and politicial friends.) Yes, there are abuses of money throughout the system. EVERYBODY KNOWS THAT. EVERYBODY!!! There are plenty more. I am wondering, just wondering, why the homeless program has not been investigated. There are gross abuses taking place in that program. Many of the students are not homeless and they pay for them to be transported throughout the city. If you are living with a relative, you are considered homeless, not withstanding that the parents/parent may be working. I know of a case where 2 children were living in a suburban area with their aunt but still attended a cps school because that was the school they were attending before their aunt found an apartment in the suburbs. This may be a government program but cps is abusing it as it does everything else.

    I wrote this department along with 3 other teachers about the principal that solicited money for her Xmas present and this went on for 3 years. $35.00 is what we had to give or we went on her hit list. The first year, she went to a spa in a limousine. The second year, she receive a gold braclet. The third year, she took a trip to Mexico that her staff paid for. Why haven’t they investigated her? We have evidence to prove it. Additionally, the union knows it too because grievances have been filed but nothing has been done. Why? BECAUSE SHE HAS CLOUT. The average ACT score is 15 and the books are old and raggedy. Why dosen’t the principal replace them? Where is the money?
    I forgot to mention that her husband and his friends were using the pool at the school on the weekends (The children did not have swimming.)

  • Tea Party Hero

    We should’t be giving free lunches to kids anyway.

    They don’t need a handout.

    Their parents should go out and get a godddammn job.

    Stop taxing job creators!!!

    • THEE Yard Ape

      “We gots to be spreadin’ the wealth around”!!!!!

      NObama 2012 !!!

  • Those Sneaky Retired Teacher Subs | District 299: The Inside Scoop on CPS

    […] Report Details CPS Free Lunch Fraud, Improper Financial Benefits CBS: The inspector general of the Chicago Public Schools has issued a devastating report on financial and other abuses in the public school system. […]

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