Chicago paid faculty bus firms 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 acquired paycheck safety loans from the federal authorities.
Regardless of the district’s funds, which got here to whole greater than $53 million, bus firms struggled to ramp up operations this previous fall, stranding 1000’s of scholars with out transportation.
The findings of misused good-faith funds come from the district’s Workplace of Inspector Basic annual report, which offers an outline of investigations performed within the 2020-21 fiscal 12 months. The report trains a particular highlight on the $2.8 billion in federal COVID aid {dollars} the district has acquired, highlighting the necessity for shut monitoring and transparency in how the cash is spent. The inspector normal workplace mentioned it should monitor that spending carefully and stay looking out for any cases of misuse or fraud.
“For its half, the OIG will proceed to research proof of potential waste and abuse in pandemic aid help spending, in addition to advocate for elevated transparency and efficient inside controls,” the report mentioned.
The district will not be 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 might have a fuller accounting of spending on the finish of the 12 months.
The bus firm investigation is of specific 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 1000’s of scholars with out rides to high school — points which have persevered months into the college 12 months and compelled the district to forge emergency agreements with various suppliers, reminiscent of taxi firms.
The inspector normal’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 firms would proceed to pay their drivers and bus aides so they might be “mission-ready” when faculty buildings reopened. The state urged districts to obviously spell out expectations for preserving workers on the payroll, however Chicago Public Colleges didn’t put these situations in writing or make any effort to confirm that distributors had been utilizing the cash as supposed.
“We assumed the companies would do proper by their individuals if the district did proper by the businesses,” the report quotes one district official as saying.
The truth is, 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 had been nonetheless on the payroll earlier than they began subsidizing them.
9 district distributors — together with eight that laid off staff — additionally acquired 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 had been eligible for enhanced COVID unemployment advantages, leading to “triple-dipping” into taxpayer {dollars} all supposed 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 per week of faculty closures, spending solely 0.5% of regular payroll prices that spring.
The inspector normal’s workplace alerted the district to the problem 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 firms to require them to retain their staff.
Some distributors informed the inspector normal’s workplace that when their staff began receiving unemployment checks together with an additional $600 per 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 in the course of the pandemic, with the majority going to bus distributors.
Different investigations that the report highlighted embody:
The workplace’s particular unit investigating sexual misconduct struggled to maintain up with the quantity of circumstances, the report suggests.
Via 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 cases of sexual abuse and different misconduct at Marine Management Academy although these findings had been printed in a separate report late final 12 months.
One other 175 investigations confirmed that workers violated different insurance policies, reminiscent of ones governing communications with college students and district-sanctioned journey.
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