Let us count the ways Nicholas Schuler, the Chicago Board of Education inspector general, has rooted out fraud, saved taxpayer money and made the school system a little bit fairer for students and parents.
If you are an alderman, by the way, pay close attention, because this is precisely why Chicago’s corruption-prone City Council needs a more powerful inspector general of its own.
In a report released Monday, Schuler, on the job for six months, describes how nearly $900,000 allegedly was stolen from two public high schools. He reveals that CPS employees lied to get their kids into the best schools. He reports that school administrators misclassified dropouts to make their schools look better. And he concludes that a CPS administrator “engaged in questionable conduct” when a contract worth almost $100 million was being awarded.
As a result, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office is looking into some of this stuff. CPS is conducting a “high level review” of one case. Several CPS employees were fired or quit in the wake of Schuler’s conclusion that they lied about their addresses to get their children into selective enrollment high schools. And CPS is looking into better ways to catch deliberate lies on school applications.
Not a bad haul, Mr. Schuler.
We have to wonder, though, how much more corruption went undetected. The inspector general, working with limited resources, examined only 280 of the 1,335 tips and complaints it received in 2014.
Inspectors general, the historic record shows, are a good idea for governments at all levels. They tend to pay for themselves by uncovering fraud and inefficient business practices. And they give the public some small assurance that the ideal of clean government is not a complete joke.
Meanwhile, however, the City Council, though at times mistaken for a prison waiting room, continues to resist a plan under which Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson would keep watch on the Council. Ferguson would investigate aldermen and their staff members and audit their work, as he now does for City Hall offices. He would take over for the City Council’s inspector general, who runs a hamstrung office that was designed to fail from the start.
The work of an inspector general might send a miscreant to prison, but its greater value may be in exposing or highlighting fundamental failings of the system.
Case in point: Schuler — an apparently solid appointee of Mayor Rahm Emanuel — discovered that a small number of parents who are CPS employees lied about their home addresses to help get their kids into Chicago’s highly competitive selective enrollment test-based schools. Essentially, it is easier to get your child into such a school — test scores matter less — if you come from a lower income neighborhood.
While the immediate response from CPS was to fire some people and remove the children from the schools — sending a warning to others who might be tempted to cheat — the greater value of Schuler’s work could be that it reminds everyone, once again, that Chicago simply does not have enough attractive public high schools.
When people are willing to go to great lengths, even risking their jobs, to get their children into a good school, there must be a woeful shortage.