Thanks to a new report from the Chicago Public Schools inspector general, we now know that the district’s code of ethics is tougher on local school council members than the bigwigs on the school board.
We can’t fathom why an ethics policy would prohibit a parent or community member or teacher — but not a well-connected CPS board member — from having a financial interest in companies that do business with the district.
That policy violates state law, and it has to be changed.
If it is not, it’s just a matter of time before we read about yet another multimillion-dollar contract scandal like the one outlined in the confidential IG report.
The details of the IG’s findings, obtained by Sun-Times reporter Lauren FitzPatrick, are pretty much what you’d expect, complete with fancy steakhouse dinners and rigged bids. Disgraced former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and her aides feasted on $8,000 worth of steak dinners, with the tab picked up by an online math tutoring company linked to one-time board member Deborah Quazzo. Byrd-Bennett and her chief of staff then rigged the competitive bidding, tailoring its request-for-proposals to services the tutoring company linked to Quazzo could provide. The firm won a $6 million contract.
Quazzo later denied that she had “talked up” the company to get CPS business, only to backtrack when the IG showed her emails to prove it. That’s what happens when a person is linked to multiple companies that tripled their business with the district while she sits on the board, as a 2015 Sun-Times investigation found. At some point, that individual is going to get tripped up.
The moral of the story is simple: Stop it.
CPS must follow through on its promise to toughen its ethics policy. It’s not enough to disclose financial interests and recuse yourself from voting on related matters, which Quazzo did. Board members must divest themselves completely of any interest in companies that do business with the district.
Either that, or resign. Put children, not your wallet, first.
Since this latest scandal, activists have renewed their call for an elected city school board. But simply changing how members are selected won’t guarantee integrity. A tough ethics policy is critical.
Everybody should be buying their own pricey steaks.
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