Chicago School Board presidents give away education monies to charities

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Two former Chicago School Board presidents reportedly gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to charities in which they or family members were involved, with no oversight or approval by fellow board members.

The two executives were Rufus Williams, who served from 2006 through 2009, and Michael Scott, who served from 2001 through 2006, and again beginning in Feb. 2009 until he committed suicide in November of that year.

Last month, a report issued by the Chicago Public Schools inspector general said the two former board presidents misspent over $800,000 on improper expenditures, including charitable donations, lavish restaurants and hotels, parties, office artwork and tickets to football games.

The latest information on the magnitude of the charitable donations was reported in Tuesday’s Chicago Tribune, in which it disclosed donations made by the two men since 2005. The five-year tally amounted to more than $525,000.

Some of the findings were:

  • A donation of $53,400 to the Chicago Urban League, for seats at two fellowship dinners, a conference registration and to sponsor youth programs at CPS. At the time, Scott sat on the board of the CUL.
  • Other organizations at which Scott sat on boards and gave money were $10,000 to the Better Boys Foundation and $14,500 to the Sinai Community Institute.
  • Scott also gave $10,000 to Mujeres Latinas En Accion, a charity for Hispanic women in Chicago where Scott’s wife, Diana Palomar Scott, was a board member.
  • Another $77,500 was given by Scott to the Holy Starlight Missionary Baptist Church during a three year period for a new church boiler and summer youth programs.
  • The school board donated at least $80,000 to sponsor an African-American Women’s Expo, for seats at fundraising dinners for the Anti-Defamation League and Rainbow/Push Coalition and for various community fairs.
  • A $10,000 contribution was made to an unspecified West Side political organization.
  • More than $140,000 was funneled to the CPS’s own charity, Children First Fund.

None of the donations required board approval since the threshold had been set for donations only exceeding $25,000. The monies were paid out of private accounts, although they contained public funds, that were under the control of the board presidents.

After beginning his second term in 2009, Scott convinced the board to change the rules on donations and gifts, so that there was virtually no oversight. After that, his unchecked spending accelerated.

Following his death, the board changed the threshold amount for which donations needed to be approved, from $25,000 to $1,000.

“Any dollars that Chicago Public Schools invests should be for services provided directly, not indirectly, to Chicago kids, which are measurable and fully transparent,” said Timothy Knowles, director of the Urban Education Institute at the University of Chicago. “Given the scarcity of resources in the Chicago Public Schools system, (gifts) should be tied to particular deliverables and achieving certain outcomes.”

“They shouldn’t be a good will gesture to spread taxpayer dollars that may or may not do important things for kids.”

Information from: Chicago Tribune

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