CPS Watchdog Reveals ‘Widespread’ Employee Misuse Of Gift Cards Meant For Students

CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago Public Schools’ watchdog has issued a report revealing employees stole or misused gift cards meant for students to spend thousands of taxpayer dollars on everything from casino trips to booze for staffers.

According to the annual report from the Inspector General for the Chicago Board of Education, even some principals took part in lavish buying sprees.

The 2017 report revealed a handful of CPS employees allegedly used gift cards meant as incentives for students and families to make personal purchases; in one case to help pay for a wedding.

CPS allows principals and teachers to buy gift cards to reward students and families for good performance or attendance, but the inspector general found dozens of principals and staffers might have had ulterior motives.

The report alleged more than $250,000 was spent on nearly 7,500 gift cards between 2012 and 2016; some of those cards were used as intended, but others were used to pay for expensive steak dinners, casino gambling, car detailing at a BMW dealership, and in one case to buy wedding favors.

The inspector general said, in some cases, this widespread practice was a way to get around the district’s ban on the use of petty cash. He concluded the 18 percent markup service fee on gift cards made them a wasteful use of taxpayer dollars.

Some other violations detailed in the report included a principal who allegedly stole $22,000 dollars in funds to buy goods for his family at Costco and Apple stores.

That principal resigned while under investigation, but the matter has been referred to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office.

The names of the employees and schools involved were not disclosed.

In response to the report, CPS spokesman Michael Passman issued a statement:

“We appreciate the Office of Inspector General’s assistance in identifying employees who have not upheld the values of our district, particularly when their actions deprive students of resources or access to a full education. During the past year, CPS has worked to address the incidents outlined in the report, and we are reviewing the Inspector General’s recommendations to determine whether they will strengthen district operations and prevent misconduct.”

Passman said anyone who misused gift cards has either been terminated or resigned, and have been placed on the district’s “do not hire” list.

Chicago Teachers Union Recording Secretary Michael Brunson also issued a statement regarding the inspector general’s report:

“This kind of shameful mismanagement and lack of oversight doesn’t surprise us in the least, and speaks to the ongoing need for an elected, representative school board. The dollar amounts mentioned, while insignificant to some, represent the willingness of district employees and school administrators to place their own interests before the needs of our school communities—going so far as to risk their own employment and livelihoods by committing theft and acts of fraud.

“With all of the resources that our students and their families lack, both inside of the classroom and in their own communities, it’s extremely disappointing to witness such selfishness coming from school administrators and Central Office. We appreciate the work Inspector General Nicholas Schuler and his office have done in uncovering this and other malfeasance, and ask that he continue his rigorous investigation into other community concerns such as the Art In Motion Performing Arts Charter School proposal, which we believe is rife with conflicts of interest, the involvement of at least one individual with a history of corruption in Chicago’s public schools and potentially serious ethics concerns related to principle parties involved in the privatization project.”