Chicago Public Schools is examining almost $17,000 in charges on a CPS-issued credit card that a high school principal spent on exotic overseas travel and other extravagant purchases.
Kenneth M. Staral, principal of The Ogden International School of Chicago, racked up exorbitant charges over eighteen months on recent international travel, which included luxury hotels and fine dining across Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Central America and the US, a joint investigation by the Better Government Association and Fox Chicago revealed.
The charges were registered before the school district changed its policies on school credit card use, following the death of former School Board President Michael Scott. Scott was involved in one of several high-profile scandals that led the school system to refocus. CPS spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus told the Chicago Tribune that Board of Education members are no longer authorized to make credit card purchases, and that CPS now conducts daily audits of credit card purchases above $250 or for school purposes.
Tim Cawley, the new chief administrator for CPS, said he's considering tearing up all the district's credit cards in light of the school system's substantial debt, which is in the millions of dollars, according to Fox.
"These are tough fiscal times and every dollar needs to be spent on doing the things that are helping children," he said. "And it's not clear how a nice dinner at a Gibson's helps the children at the school of Ogden."
Cawley is referring to a $1,200 bill Staral charged at Gibson's on the Gold Coast for a dinner hosting students and officials from other countries, along with a $1,400 charge at Hugo's Frog Bar next door. Staral's spending was equally lavish outside the city; BGA and Fox uncovered exorbitant charges at Michelin-rated restaurants in Lyon, France and hundreds of dollars spent at a famous Serbian restaurant in Belgrade. There, he also stayed at a luxury hotel in the city while his exchange students stayed in hostels or with families.
The investigation found further charges from pubs across England and a visit to the Caviar House in London, which sells the world's finest caviar. Domestic travels included charges for limousines, dinners, nightclubs and even a liquor store purchase in Los Angeles, which the district told Fox was spent on snacks.
Meanwhile, students participating in the international studies program Staral created several years ago were required to pay for their international travel and programming out of pocket.
The Chicago Teachers Union reacted strongly to the news that Staral, who makes $142,000 per year, was spending taxpayer money on luxury experiences while many schools in Chicago are woefully underfunded. CTU President Karen Lewis that she feels Staral should reimburse the schools for his credit card charges, since teachers are desperate for school supply funding.
"You will find across the city that teachers spend on average $1,500 a year on school supplies out of their own pocket," Lewis said.
Watch the exclusive Fox report here:
Flickr photo by Images_Of_Money.