CPS $67,000 Cappuccino Costs Steam Some

Staffers evaded the rules and cost district money

Many teachers find their morning coffee to be an essential and valuable part of their day. But just how much is that coffee worth? Two dollars? Six? How about $67,000?

According to a report by the Chicago Public Schools Office of Inspector General, officials in a department dealing with work-school programs allegedly bought 30 cappuccino/espresso machines for nearly $70,000 of the district's money. Even worse, most of the machines went unused because the schools they were ordered for had not requested them.

This is just one of over 1,000 complaints of fraud and financial waste that the inspector general's office dealt with between July 2007 and June 2008.

Central office administrators are accused of separating the coffee-machine purchases to make it look like they came from 21 different schools. The purchases appeared to be under $10,000 each and were then not subject to competitive bidding or school board approval.

After the investigation, school officials were reminded that "stringing" purchases together is not allowed. CPS also plans to change its policy so that competitive bidding is required for any order over $10,000, no matter how many schools are involved.

A manager who was involved in overseeing the purchases has resigned, but investigators say a different employee did the actual buying.

The district also investigated claims of staff changing grades at an unnamed high school to boost transcripts of student athletes. Once the transcripts were picked up by college admission offices, the grades were changed back. Because several people had access to the password-protected grading system, the guilty parties could not be identified.

At Rachel Carson Elementary School, five staff members falsified records to get six relatives into the already crowded school. By changing the children's listed addresses, the employees were able to get around the school's designated attendance boundaries. Sixty-nine other students from outside the neighborhood, who were completely honest about their home address, were also admitted.

When Carson filled up, as many as three dozen kids who did live in the designated area had to be transported to other schools, costing the district about $252,000 a year.

Three of the accused employees have resigned; the remaining two have been or will be fired, said CPS spokesperson Michael Vaughn.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley didn't seem to be too upset about the discovery when asked about it Wednesday.

"They must like coffee," he said, amid laughter.  "That's up to them."

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