Former Whitney Young swim coach faces charges and principal suspended over off-the-books pool rentals, watchdog says
The ex-swim coach is accused of pocketing nearly $30,000 in payments he collected to lease the pool to three outside groups — “essentially stealing money that should have gone to the school,” according to the report.
The longtime principal at one of Chicago’s elite public high schools was suspended and the school’s former swimming coach was criminally charged over alleged off-the-books rentals of the school’s pool facilities to outside clubs, according to a new report from the Chicago Public Schools inspector general.
The watchdog report released to the public Monday comes less than three years after the IG’s office first discovered potential wrongdoing by the principal and coach, who were reprimanded by the school district at the time for similar dealings.
The charges against former Whitney Young High School coach Andrew Parro and the suspension of one of the district’s most respected principals, Joyce Kenner, were revealed in Inspector General Nicholas Schuler’s 2019 year-end report, which details the office’s oversight investigations for the year.
Kenner and Parro weren’t named by the inspector general’s office — which also didn’t identify Whitney Young as the school in question — but all three have been revealed in previous reporting.
In this latest investigation, Schuler’s office found that Parro pocketed nearly $30,000 in payments he collected between April 2013 and September 2016 by improperly leasing the pool to three outside groups, “essentially stealing money that should have gone to the school,” according to the report.
In some instances, Parro was subletting the pool during times he was renting it, and in other cases, he had no authority to be there but was still renting it out and pocketing the cash, the report said.
The inspector general referred the matter to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, which last August charged Parro with four felony counts of theft and a felony count of official misconduct. Parro has pleaded not guilty and was released on his own recognizance until his next court date, Jan. 27, according to court records. He didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Chicago’s school board placed Parro on a do-not-hire list, and he has been barred from employment by CPS and can’t use CPS facilities. Parro has since taken a head coaching position at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
As for Kenner, the IG’s office said she “either knew or should have known about the coach’s informal pool-rental agreements with the outside groups,” despite claiming otherwise.
Schuler’s team pointed to emails which “showed that a representative from one of the groups informed the principal and assistant principal that she rented pool time directly from the school’s swimming coach, not the school.” The report also noted that Kenner was previously put on notice of the coach’s dealings when she got a written warning for overlooking his behavior.
Kenner “clearly maintained a very permissive approach toward the coach and his activities at the school,” according to the report. Kenner was either “complicit in the coach’s scheme to profit” from the school’s pool facilities or “willfully turned a blind eye” to his arrangement with the outside groups, the report alleged.
Citing those lapses, the IG’s office recommended serious discipline against Kenner, including possible termination from her $167,417-a-year job.
Instead, the board handed out a five-day, unpaid suspension, which Kenner served last spring.
“From our point of view, that’s definitely on the weak side of discipline,” Schuler told the Sun-Times. “We have concerns about the message that sends.
“That’s highly problematic, the fact that we’ve reported on it once and [the coach is] back,” Schuler said. “That’s why we recommended significant discipline for the principal.”
Kenner did not respond to requests for comment.
An assistant principal was also issued a written warning in connection with the investigation.
CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said in an emailed statement that “as with all OIG reports, we closely evaluate the findings and recommendations and make a determination about appropriate discipline. In this case, we determined a five day unpaid suspension was the appropriate course of action.”
Bolton did not explain why the discipline didn’t more closely align with the IG’s recommendation.
Both Parro and Kenner had previously been disciplined by the CPS board after a 2016 investigation by the inspector general’s office found the coach had benefited from an “extremely low price” to rent the school’s pool for $1.20 an hour for his own private swim club, giving the club up to “half a million dollars (or more) in free rent through an inside process.”
As a result, the board started the process of cutting business ties with Parro, preventing the coach and his swim club from engaging in further business with the district.
During those proceedings, Parro tried to merge his swim group with another, then tried to secure use of the pool for that club, the inspector general’s office subsequently found, though the merger ultimately never occurred.
Kenner, however, assisted him during those proceedings by “pushing the CPS Real Estate Department to rent the pool to that new club and to accept a low rental rate of $25 per hour, which was very favorable to that club and was far less than the rate the coach had been charging outside groups to rent the pool,” the IG’s office wrote.
Shortly after that new club began renting the pool, the board approved a settlement with Parro, in which he agreed to being permanently barred from doing business with the district. Despite that, the IG’s office said, Parro later violated the agreement by hosting a for-profit swim meet for his club and the other club from that attempted merger. Parro was paid $750 for working the event.
Kenner claimed Parro had misled her about the event, the inspector general’s office said, though evidence showed she had known about the event and his involvement and still allowed it to continue.
“Furthermore, [Kenner] allowed the coach to continue coaching the school’s swim team, even after the OIG presented her with this information about his activities,” the report said.
“This boils down to if people are willing to look the other way or turn a blind eye, then these things are going to continue to happen,” Schuler said. “This is what we’re here for, to do the best we can to prevent that.”