In some cases, CPS employees making as much as $70,000 per year were applying for free or reduced lunch benefits, a report alleges. Mary Ann Ahern reports.
The Chicago Public School system has removed 20 officials, 12 of which are either principals or assistant principals, for allegedly falsifying free and reduced lunch forms for their own children, according to a report from the Office of the Inspector General and CPS.
None of the 12 assistant principals or principals have been charged with a crime, but they have been removed from their posts pending due process hearings. Their names have been withheld during the hearing process. The program costs about $100 million per year and is meant to provide nutritious meals to needy children.
“The investigation by the OIG has uncovered continuing fraud in this program and we will not stand for any lapse in ethical judgment by our school leaders," said CPS Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard. "CPS employees have an obligation to the students, families and taxpayers of this District to hold themselves to the highest ethical standards. We simply cannot, and will not, allow any employee to break the trust that parents and children of this District place in us every day."
Under the program, parents are required to fill out applications certifying their income is below $29,055 per year for free lunches and below $41,348 for reduced rate lunches. But in some cases, CPS employees making as much as $70,000 per year were applying for the benefit, the report alleges.
In many cases, the principals or assistant principals were applying for benefits at the schools where their children attended, not at the schools they supervised.
"All public employee misconduct is disturbing, but when high-paid administrators are involved in lying to get a little extra for themselves and the schools it proves that the problem is systemic and must be dealt with by CPS and its federal funding sources," said Inspector General James Sullivan. "With these newest cases, the OIG has now uncovered 55 CPS employees in the last four years involved in falsifying lunch form data."
This isn't a new problem. The Inspector General began investigating in 2009. In 2011, the Inspector General found "rampant" lunch falsification at North Grand High School.
Following that investigation, 14 CPS employees were disciplined. Of those, five were terminated by the Chicago Board of Education, two resigned in lieu of termination hearings, one termination case is still pending with the Illinois State Board of Education, and six employees have been suspended or are still facing disciplinary action.
A USDA Food and Nutrition Service spokesperson said the agency is aware of the possible violations and was working with officials to "ensure program integrity."
"The vast majority of schools and families who participate in the National School Lunch Program do so honestly. This Program, which provides lunches on a daily basis to 32 million children, is a vital part of the nation's efforts to ensure that our children get healthy meals," said spokesman Alyn Kiel.