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CPS funds were spent on bug sweeps, booze: report

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

The Chicago Public Schools’ inspector general is questioning more than $800,000 in spending under two former school board presidents — from $3,000 to check the board’s offices for “eavesdropping devices” to $12,624 for holiday parties at a president’s home.

The expenses, Inspector General James M. Sullivan wrote in a report released Monday, undercut the board’s message that the cash-strapped school system needs to be responsible with taxpayers’ money.

“The board allows for double reimbursements, the purchase of alcohol with public funds, catered lunches, publicly funded holiday parties and other gratuitous expenditures,” Sullivan wrote. “The message that budget cuts need to be made rings hollow when the board itself uses CPS funds irresponsibly.”

Sullivan’s report questions why the board used its budget to pay a surveillance company $3,000 to have certain school administrative offices “swept for electronic eavesdropping devices.”

“You have to spend public money for a public purpose,” Sullivan told the Chicago Sun-Times. “It would be hard to explain the public purpose for that.”

The sweep, according to a source familiar with the report, happened in July 2009 and included the offices of late School Board President Michael Scott and former schools’ CEO Ron Huberman. That’s the same month that Scott, who committed suicide in November 2009, and the board were subpoenaed as part of a federal investigation into whether clout had influenced admissions at elite Chicago public schools.

Huberman declined comment. No one has been charged with any criminal wrongdoing regarding school admissions.

In all, Sullivan’s report highlights $822,000 in questionable expenses under both Scott and his predecessor, Rufus Williams.

Williams, who also couldn’t be reached for comment, hosted board holiday parties at his home in 2006, 2007 and 2008, according to the report and a source with knowledge of it. A total of $10,639 for those events was charged on CPS credit cards, while CPS funds covered another $1,985 in party-related expenses.

Among other board expenses:

†$92,900 worth of donations to not-for-profits on which Scott or a family member of Scott’s at some point “served as a member of the board of directors.”

†$979 for a one-night stay by Williams in a New York City hotel when he visited the Harlem Children’s Zone, and a $1,734 limousine tab during a Washington trip.

† $1,978 on alcoholic beverages.

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