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Nude Teacher Photos, Free Lunch Abuse Detailed in CPS Watchdog Report

By Lizzie Schiffman Tufano | January 7, 2013 1:51pm | Updated on January 8, 2013 4:11pm
 A Chicago Public Schools bus.
A Chicago Public Schools bus.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

CHICAGO — Sexually explicit photos taken with school equipment, fraud that gave the children of principals free lunches reserved for low-income families, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in theft highlight the newly released ethics assessment of Chicago Public Schools in 2012.

In a posting on the CPS site Monday, the schools' inspector general, James Sullivan, said "significant ethical lapses — wining and dining employees and providing other inducements in exchange for preferential treatment — highlight the need for enhanced internal controls."

Sullivan lamented that his office's continued recommendation that CPS enhance its Ethics Office "has fallen on deaf ears."

The inspector general uncovered "egregious ethical misconduct" from one unnamed high-ranking CPS administrator who accepted more than $16,900 in the form of earmarked scholarships, skybox seats at athletic events, fine dining, plane tickets and more from three vendors in exchange for districtwide sales.

One vendor received at least $287,692 of business directly from CPS after giving the administrator a $10,000 scholarship and an accompanying $1,240 "celebratory dinner" for her staff.

Marielle Sainvilus, a spokesperson for CPS, told DNAinfo.com Chicago that the district "took immediate action on CPS employees who were involved in wrongdoing and they are no longer working with the District."

CPS also conducted ethics training with all its vendors and enacted a gift ban.

In another instance, a student found photos of a teacher's genitals and other pornographic images on a classroom computer. Further investigation found that two external hard drives in the teacher's classroom were full of graphic photos of the teacher having sex with another adult. 

The teacher told inspector general investigators that many of the pornographic photos were taken in his home, or in many cases, in his bed.

The teacher admitted to regularly taking CPS computers and cameras home and resigned.

The report details investigations launched by the CPS Office of the Inspector General in fiscal year 2012, from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012.

Offender names are omitted from the inspector general's reports out of deference to ongoing due process hearings and criminal investigations.

The inspector general's office fielded 1,651 complaints during fiscal year 2012  — 15 percent more than the previous year, according to the published data. 

Only 27.5 percent of those complaints where investigated by the office, which claims to have a smaller staff and less funding proportionately to any other watchdog agency.

The report posted Monday also includes updates on CPS actions in response to ethical breaches cited in last year's assessment.

Sullivan writes that "numerous changes recommended last year were not enacted," though many individuals accused of misconduct last year have since faced disciplinary and legal action.

One of those changes involved tackling subsidized lunch fraud.

Last year, Sullivan's office found multiple instances where CPS staff falsified documents to enroll their own children in a federally funded free and reduced-price lunch program for which the family did not qualify.

A teacher assistant reported that one clerk encouraged her to apply for subsidized meals because "She should not have to pay for lunch, and nobody checks the applications anyway."

This year's assessment found free and reduced lunch fraud is still rampant.

The office found 26 cases of meal application fraud, more than half of all incidents uncovered in the last four years involving 55 CPS employees.

In two cases, children whose parents were both on the CPS payroll and together made more than $200,000 a year were receiving free or reduced lunches.

CPS calculates the amount of money needed to feed qualifying students using citywide poverty data, so false claims for free or reduced lunches limits the district's ability to meet the actual need.

CPS opted out of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Community Eligibility Option, which bases meal eligibility on citywide meal reimbursement participation instead of self-reported information, but could risk disqualifying CPS from other funding sources.

Instead, CPS got special permission from the Agriculture Department to check applications for the students of staff members against employee salary information and plans to launch a matching program to vet future applications.

Additionally, 252 schools in the CPS district have opted in to the Community Eligibility Option evaluation process.

The inspector general's report also details multiple incidents of laptop theft or misuse by staff members, personal use of CPS money, and exemption from some residency and tuition requirements extended to staff members or friends.

"CPS employees have an obligation to the students, families and taxpayers of this District to hold themselves to the highest ethical standards." Sainvilus said. "We do not tolerate violations of these ethics standards and will not allow any CPS employee to break the trust that parents and children of this District place in us every day. We continue to work cooperatively with the OIG on these matters and have been aggressive in communicating and training to all staff CPS expectations on abiding by this mandate."

The full report is available online on the CPS website.