Chicago paid faculty bus corporations to maintain staff throughout shutdown. They didn’t. – Chalkbeat Chicago

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Chicago Public Colleges shelled out hundreds of thousands in federal pandemic aid {dollars} for good-faith funds to busing distributors throughout faculty closures — at the same time as some laid off staff and obtained paycheck safety loans from the federal authorities.
Regardless of the district’s funds, which got here to complete greater than $53 million, bus corporations struggled to ramp up operations this previous fall, stranding hundreds of scholars with out transportation.
The findings of misused good-faith funds come from the district’s Workplace of Inspector Common annual report, which gives an summary of investigations performed within the 2020-21 fiscal yr. The report trains a particular highlight on the $2.8 billion in federal COVID aid {dollars} the district has obtained, highlighting the necessity for shut monitoring and transparency in how the cash is spent. The inspector common workplace mentioned it would observe that spending intently and stay looking out for any situations of misuse or fraud.
“For its half, the OIG will proceed to analyze proof of potential waste and abuse in pandemic aid assist spending, in addition to advocate for elevated transparency and efficient inside controls,” the report mentioned.
The district isn’t monitoring bills in actual time or breaking down bills by campus, the report famous, echoing reporting final month by Chalkbeat Chicago. Officers have mentioned they’d have a fuller accounting of spending on the finish of the yr.
The bus firm investigation is of explicit curiosity given the challenges the district and its busing distributors have confronted in standing the transportation program again up amid nationwide faculty bus driver shortages this fall as colleges reopened for full-time in-person studying. Staffing hurdles left hundreds of scholars with out rides to high school — points which have continued months into the varsity yr and compelled the district to forge emergency agreements with various suppliers, equivalent to taxi corporations.
The inspector common’s workplace, led by William Fletcher, reviewed $28.5 million in “good-faith” funds to 14 district busing distributors from the spring of 2020. With the blessing of the state, the objective of the funds was to make sure that bus corporations would proceed to pay their drivers and bus aides so they’d be “mission-ready” when faculty buildings reopened. The state urged districts to obviously spell out expectations for conserving workers on the payroll, however Chicago Public Colleges didn’t put these situations in writing or make any effort to confirm that distributors have been utilizing the cash as meant.
“We assumed the companies would do proper by their folks if the district did proper by the businesses,” the report quotes one district official as saying.
In actual fact, 10 of the 14 bus distributors receiving funds laid off greater than 600 bus drivers and bus aides that spring. A few of them had already laid off their staff once they first began receiving these funds, however district officers by no means checked if staff have been nonetheless on the payroll earlier than they began subsidizing them.
9 district distributors — together with eight that laid off staff — additionally obtained a complete of $13 million in federal Paycheck Safety Program loans, forgivable if a portion of the cash went to payroll bills.
The report notes that the laid-off staff have been eligible for enhanced COVID unemployment advantages, leading to “triple-dipping” into taxpayer {dollars} all meant to cowl the identical bus employee wages.
One vendor pocketed “good-faith” funds from the district, obtained a federal PPP mortgage, and laid off all its drivers and bus aides inside every week of faculty closures, spending solely 0.5% of regular payroll prices that spring.
The inspector common’s workplace alerted the district to the difficulty within the fall of 2020, and the district performed its personal audit. It will definitely signed a written settlement with bus distributors to repay about $3 million. The district additionally amended its contracts with corporations to require them to retain their staff.
Some distributors advised the inspector common’s workplace that after their staff began receiving unemployment checks together with an additional $600 every week in COVID aid, they struggled to get these staff to return to work.
In all, the district has reported nearly $65 million in “good-faith” funds throughout the pandemic, with the majority going to bus distributors.
Different investigations that the report highlighted embrace:
The workplace’s particular unit investigating sexual misconduct struggled to maintain up with the amount of circumstances, the report suggests.
By means of November, the unit, which was launched after a 2019 Chicago Tribune investigation into the mishandling of sexual misconduct complaints, had closed 756 investigations, substantiating misconduct by staff in 63 circumstances. Notably, the OIG investigated a number of situations of sexual abuse and different misconduct at Marine Management Academy although these findings have been printed in a separate report late final yr.
One other 175 investigations confirmed that workers violated different insurance policies, equivalent to ones governing communications with college students and district-sanctioned journey.
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