Education

Feds Bring Corruption Charges Against Current And Former Detroit School Principals

CREDIT: Paul Sancya, AP

Water from a leaking pipe covers the gymnasium floor at the Caroline Crosman School in Detroit Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013.

Not long after protests and investigations into school conditions, 12 current and former Detroit principals, a Detroit Public Schools vendor of school supplies, and an assistant superintendent face federal corruption charges. School officials allegedly took bribes and kickbacks as part of a scheme that ensured many school supplies were not actually used for their intended purposes.

Barbara McQuade, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, held a press conference announcing the charges yesterday, and said the scheme went on from 2002 to January 2015.

Norman Shy, the vendor for school supplies, allegedly gave fraudulent invoices for school supplies, and principals would approve them but did not receive all of the supplies. In turn, Shy would pay bribes to the principals. Although the pay for each principal varies, the total for all principals came to $900,000 and Shy received $2.7 million through fraudulent means, McQuade claims. Clara Flowers, the former principal of Henderson Academy and current assistant superintendent of DPS Office of Specialized Student Services, has been accused of taking $300,000 in bribes and will also be charged with tax evasion.

“A case like this is a real punch in the gut for those who are trying to do the right thing … They didn’t conspire with each other, but he paid bribes to each of those school officials,” McQuade said, according to Fox2Detroit.

One of the principals facing corruption charges, Ronald Alexander, principal of Charles L. Spain Elementary-Middle School, went on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in February, where he was informed the school would receive a donation of $500,000 to improve poor school conditions, according to The Washington Post. Then Justin Bieber jumped out of a box to announce that $1 of each ticket sold for one of his shows would go to Spain Elementary.

These charges were brought in the midst of a financial crisis for Detroit Public Schools. In January, school district officials warned of the possibility of bankruptcy in April. In February, DPS had to begin payments of $26 million each month to service over $260 million in loans that have kept the schools open. On Tuesday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation providing $48.7 million in emergency funding to keep the school system going through the end of the school year. Snyder also signed legislation that brings the school system under the authority of the Michigan Financial Review Commission. The governor is pushing a bill that is considered a longer term fix to the problem that would restructure the school district in order to pay off its debt over many years.

As the school district’s financial woes worsened, teachers staged “sickouts,” meaning they called in sick to stage a protest, to bring attention to the poor conditions of Detroit schools. Teachers photographed the conditions and posted them on social media, which included images such as mold, damaged floors and ceilings, bathrooms missing toilet seats, dead rodents, and cafeteria food that presumably should not be consumed by students. Teachers, students, and community members demanded that Detroit Public Schools emergency manager, Darnell Earley, step down from his post. Earley is the same person who served as emergency manager for Flint from 2013 until January of this year, which he meant he was emergency manager during the time that Flint’s water contamination problems developed. Earley stepped down from his position in February.

In response to outrage over the conditions of Detroit schools, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan ordered inspections for all of the district’s schools earlier this year. In January, inspectors reportedly found 16 violations at Spain Elementary Middle School, the school of the principal of The Ellen DeGeneres Show fame, which included rodents, missing floor tiles, water damage, mold, and broken glass. Ben Carson High School had 17 code concerns, such as missing ceiling tiles and needed elevator and bathroom repairs.

The principals have been put on unpaid leave. All business with the supplies vendor has been suspended, the Associated Press reported. The names of the rest of the principals facing corruption charges can be found here.