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CPS inspector general opens investigation of board member’s investments

After the Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that a Chicago Board of Education member’s companies have tripled their business with the city’s school system since her appointment last year, CPS’ new inspector general said Tuesday he has opened an investigation.

Nicholas J. Schuler confirmed that his office is investigating the Sun-Times’ findings that several companies in which Deborah Quazzo has invested have received more than $3.8 million of business with Chicago Public Schools, $2.9 million of that since Mayor Rahm Emanuel put her on the board in June 2013. Schuler would not elaborate, citing the pending investigation.

Five companies in which Quazzo has an ownership stake have been paid more than $3.8 million by CPS for ACT prep or online help with reading, writing and math — with one standing to collect an additional $1.6 million this year from a district contract.

Quazzo recused herself from that contract but has continued to invest in the companies — Academic Approach, Dreambox Learning, MasteryConnect, Think Through Math and ThinkCERCA — since her appointment. She said she hasn’t tried to hide her involvement and sees no conflict of interest, saying, “It’s my belief I need to invest in companies and philanthropic organizations who improve outcomes for children.”

The Chicago Teachers Union and mayoral challenger Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) have called for Quazzo’s resignation. And the CTU renewed its call for an elected school board.

Quazzo said Tuesday in an email: “I absolutely welcome the inspector general’s review and affirmation of my service as a member of the Chicago Public School Board. I fully expect that this investigation will confirm that throughout my 18-month tenure on the board, I have fully complied with both the letter and the spirit of all applicable disclosure and ethics requirements. As I have said, I am fully committed through my civic, philanthropic and professional work to supporting organizations that drive increased learning outcomes and strong academic achievement for all students.”

Emanuel’s office has yet to answer questions concerning when the mayor first knew of Quazzo’s interests in the five companies that have done substantial business with the district. Asked again Tuesday, a mayoral spokeswoman said, “We’ll get back to you.”