Investigation: CPS employees stole gift cards meant for students

Investigation: CPS employees stole gift cards meant for students

From 2013 to 2016, Chicago Public Schools purchased more than $250,600 worth of gift cards, most of which were meant for students and families. But CPS employees stole some of them, according to the inspector general’s office.

Chicago Public Schools employees stole thousands of dollars in gift cards meant for students, according to a report from the Chicago Board of Education’s Office of Inspector General, or OIG.

The OIG’s annual report released Jan. 3 “included a series of theft cases in which CPS employees used gift cards, paid for with school funds, to make personal purchases.”

In addition to documenting the improper use of gift cards, Inspector General Nicholas Schuler detailed a variety of alleged thefts in the report, explaining how CPS teachers, staff and principals used funds meant for students for personal purposes. The report does not name those individuals accused of wrongdoing.

From Jan. 1, 2013, to Dec. 21, 2016, CPS spent more than $250,600 on nearly 7,500 gift cards, according to the OIG’s report. Most of these were for specific stores and were meant to serve as student and family incentives. The other gift cards were “large dollar amount Visa, MasterCard or American Express cards.”

According to the report, one CPS high school principal used public funds to purchase 16 MasterCard gift cards worth $3,100. These gift cards were supposedly for costs incurred on school-funded college visits. However, the OIG’s report states that this high school principal spent more than $1,500 worth of gift cards on personal expenses, including “telephone bill payments for his personal account.”

The OIG’s report further explains this same principal “stole an additional $404.99 directly from the school.”

In addition to the theft, the OIG found that this principal severely mismanaged school funds over the course of three school years. The report says nearly $8,600 is still missing, including eight other gift cards worth $4,000 purchased from a single vendor.

The report points to incidents at three other CPS schools in which CPS employees misappropriated or stole school gift cards to make more than $5,500 worth of purchases. The employees used the gift cards for several “improper purchases,” including car detailing and service at a BMW dealership, a steakhouse dinner and a social lunch at The Cheesecake Factory.

The OIG’s report argues that gift card purchases are wasteful, as vendors charge processing and service fees on top of the value of the gift cards, and recommends the Chicago Board of Education craft a policy to more tightly control this practice.

Another principal stole more than $22,400 from his elementary school over a four-year period. Using checks, this principal purchased “goods from Costco Wholesale Clubs and Apple Stores located throughout metropolitan Chicago for his and his family’s personal use.”

The OIG’s report also alleges other improper uses of school resources, including a CPS principal using school funds for a teachers’ “lunch club” in which “expensive gourmet food was prepared for the teachers.”

The dishes included lobster, crab, shrimp, salmon and steak, according to the report.

In addition to these thefts, the report covers more routine OIG investigations, such as probes into payroll fraud and sick time abuses, ethics violations and application and admissions fraud cases.

The OIG’s report also addresses earlier investigations and an alleged cover-up that led to the exit of CPS CEO Forrest Claypool.

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